Low German or Plattdeutsch – despite its name, it bears a closer resemblance to Dutch, Frisian and English.

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It is spoken as a secondary language north of the Benrath Line in Germany and it expands into some regions of the Netherlands and Denmark.

Don’t worry about what the Benrath Line is, we will be taking a look at it in the next entry of these series. Right now, just think of it as a line that separates German and Low German.

Maps showing the different Low German dialects.
Dialects of Low German. Courtesy of Wikipedia.

Low German lacks a standard language, which means a speaker will not be able to use a common version of the language to understand speakers of different dialects better if needed.

This results in a fragmentation of the language. A good example of this fragmentation in Low German is the word for the language «Lown German» itself:

  • Nedderdüütsch – Northern Low German
  • Nederdütsk – Northern Frisian Low German
  • Plattduitsk – Southern Westphalian Low German
  • Plattduitsch – Eastphalian Low German
  • Nederduuts, Neerduutsk – Low German from the Netherlands

In German the language is called Plattdeutsch but also Niederdeutsch, “Flat German” and, just like in English, Low German.

All these names are compound words where the first component is either Flat or Nether/Low and the second component is German.

In Germany, for example, this usage of words creates confusion among speakers – some people might think the name refers to a version of German linked to people of low status. This is due to the existence of the name Standard German, which in German is called Hochdeutsch, High German.

The confusion is further reinforced by the fact that Low German is a minority language spoken mainly in rural less technologically advanced areas.

In actuality however, the adjective Low here refers to the geographical location where the language is mainly spoken.

Looking at a map, we can easily see that the north of Germany and the Netherlands are much lower or flatter regions than the rest of Germany – and that’s why some dialects of Low German refer to the language as “Flat German”, as well.

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And that is all for today’s entry. In the next entry of this series we will be taking a look at the phonology of Low German.

Till next time.

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