What is Plattdeutsch

What is Plattdeutsch / Plattdütsch / Niederdeutsch ( Low German) ?

Collection from the Hannover and Oldenburg Mailing-Lists.

Written by Robert L. Owens, Cole Camp, Missouri (mephisto@iland.net) (www.colecampmissouri.com), February 2003
The term „Low“German undoubtedly comes from the description of the geographic areas where the language was paramount; the northern coast of Germany. It comes from the Old Saxon and evolved into the Low German of today. It somewhat parallels Frisian as the Frisians preceded the Saxons in moving down from the Danish peninsula and into what became Holland and parts of Belgium. Saxons stayed put where they are located today and planted their language. When the Saxons invaded/settled England they took their language with them and hence the British are Anglo-Saxons. And Old English is very much akin to Old Saxon, or Low German. This can be seen in reading (or trying to read) Beowulf in the original.

There is a common thread in the Low German from Prussia to Saxony and Friesland but with regional differences which would have evolved because of the limited travel and communication centuries ago. Still it was a viable language and the first known code of German laws, the Sachsenspiegel, is written in the Low German of the times. And Bibles were written in Low German. In fact, one is on display in the museum of the Wartburg in Eisenach, where Luther translated the Bible into what became High German. And the Low German Bible predates Luther’s version. And it can be noted that the primary language of the Hanseatic League was Low German.

Luther’s High German was based on what was known as Kanzlei Deutsch, or German of the Chancellery. While various versions and dialects were spoken in different areas of Germany they found it necessary to have a common language to use in government relations and business.

Written by Marilyn Stulken in Wisconsin (mstulken@discover-net.net), February 2003
Thanks, Robert, for the wonderful information on Platt!!
You noted: „…And the Low German Bible predates Luther’s version…“
Three Low German liturgical hymns–Low German versions of the Gloria, Sanctus, and Agnus Dei–also seem to predate Luther’s hymns by a year.
These hymns by Nikolaus Decius were

    • „Aleyne God yn der Höge sy eere“ (sung in English translation as „All glory be to God on high“)
  • „Hyllich ys Godt de vader,“ (not in use in English translation that I know of)
  • „O Lam Gades unschüldig“ („Lamb of God, pure and sinless“).

Written by Heiko Ahlers in Oldenburg (HeikoAhlers@t-online.de)
Bob put it, Platt is a daughter of the Saxon dialects, surely also influenced – dependent on the region, by Frisian, Danish, Jutisch and other neighboring languages.

And, yes it is true that Platt was the ‚lingua franca‘ of the Hanse League, all over northern Europe, from London to Russia, it was at least known by most sailors, tradesmen, etc. You can still find remnants of it today in, e.g., the English sailors‘ language.

Later, when the Hanse lost it’s influence (especially the Dutch took over), Platt lost much of it’s importance.

Bob stated that ‚Platt‘ = ‚Low‘ derived from the lowlands. There is another theory saying that Platt means ’simple‘ (as opposed to ‚refined, from the city‘. When I today speak of the ‚platte land‘, I would not mean ‚lowland‘ (low is just the normal status of the land, here, and not worth mentioning), but ‚out in the country‘.

Heiko from Oldenburg