Monday, January 25, 2010

Plattdeutsch Lives !

The map of Europe is far more interesting when it shows all the languages that are really spoken there. Germany actually has more than one language spoken within its borders. Sorbian, which is spoken in the former East Germany around the area near Cottbus is actually a Slavic language, subdivided into two dialects that are close to Czech and Polish. The existence of a Slavic minority within Germany's borders was an embarrassment to Nazi "race scientists"who did not even want to deal with the existence of Sorbs.

Alsatian, which is spoken in France in Alsase Lorraine is a dialect of German heavily influenced by French. It is somewhat related to Allemanisch, which is better known as Swiss German.

My favourite German regional language is Plattdeutsch, also known as Low German. It is spoken in Northern Germany. Its vocabulary and grammar reflect its close proximity to the Netherlands. When I was in the area around Bremen, where it is spoken, I was shocked at how flat the land was. There were simply no hills at all. One could bike for miles and the land was totally flat. It affected the weather, which could alternate several times a day between rain and sunshine. To a New Englander, the geography was very peculiar.

There is one dialect of Plattdeutsch known as East Friesian. It is actually a fairly close relative of English, having parted ways with English centuries ago. Its vocabulary reflects this close relationship. Ear, tomme and tonge are all cognate words for Ear, thumb and tongue. Looking at families of languages is really like looking at a family photo.

In America, the newest immigrant group such as the Irish or the Polish became the butt of jokes that were interchangeable. In Germany, it is the East Frisians, who live in a rural part of Northern Germany who are the subject of such humour. Following are some East Frisian jokes.

Two East Frisians met each other on the street. One said to the other, If you can guess how much money I have in my hand, I'll give you the whole two Euro.

The other East Frisian answered. "No way! I can't be bothered to rack my brains for a lousy two Euro.


An East Frisian went to Bavaria for the holidays. He found a mirror in his room and sent tit to his parents with a note.

"See how nice this hotel is. They even hung up my picture. His father looked at the mirror and said to his wife, "My goodness! Look at how our son has aged. His wife said, "No wonder he looks older, look at how ugly his wife is."


I once heard an ethnic joke that I will tell as an Etruscan joke, since there are no living Etruscans who could take offense.

One Etruscan says to the other, " Hey Eddie ! Wanna climb up the beam of my flashlight?"

Eddie answers, "No way. Do you think I'm stupid? I'll climb half way up and you'll turn it off. I don't want to fall flat on my face."


In Italy Spain, France and other European countries, regional ethnic groups are rediscovering their local languages and culture. It is of benefit to all when such local cultural traditions are preserved. In the age of the internet, it is easier than ever to keep up with this. I hope my readers will enjoy this as well.

The song below is a folk song in Plattdeutsch

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