A Mennonite Low German Short Story

Term Paper, 2007

24 Pages, Grade: 1,3



I Introduction

II A Mennonite Low German Short Story
1. Mennonite Low German and English: Members of the Same Family
2. Who are the Mennonites and what is Mennonite Low German?
3. Language or dialect?
4. A Short Story from my Grandmother
5. Mennonite Low German Orthography
5.1 Discussing Mennonite Low German Orthography, its Tries and Problems
5.2 Phonology & Morphology
5.3 Varieties of Mennonite Low German
5.4 Loan Words
6. The Death of a Former Lingua Franca

III Conclusion

IV Works Cited

I Introduction

The choice to write this paper about a quite tricky subject, namely a try for Mennonite Low German orthography, is due to the fact that my vernacular is the mentioned Mennonite Low German and that neither I nor my family know how to write or read our mother tongue which is, beside other factors, due to the lack of an official orthography for this Low German dialect. However, as I have recovered recently, there exist some works treating our dialect and even literature in the here treated variety. Nevertheless, very few Mennonites read literature in their vernacular because the existing literature seems to be too difficult for them to understand. This is due to the fact that the orthography-suggestions up to now have been geared to the orthography of Low German dialects in Northern Germany. Therefore, reading or writing in that orthography requires certain knowledge of the northern Germany’s Low German dialects that Mennonites usually do not have.

Thus, the approach of this paper is it to present the Mennonite Low German dialect and to develop an easily intelligible orthography for the mentioned dialect. In the first point the roots of the Low German dialect under examination are highlighted and it is shown that it belongs to the same family as the English language. Both varieties belong to the Indo-European languages or, more precisely, to its West-Germanic branch. Then, point two explains where the term Mennonite Low German comes from by unrolling the history of the Mennonites, their moves and their linguistic history. In terms of definition there is a further question that has to be tackled, namely whether Mennonite Low German is a language or a dialect. This question will be discussed in point three, bearing in mind the four criteria Petyt names to decide whether a variety is a language or a dialect.

After having explained and linguistically discussed the term Mennonite Low German, I present my grandmother’s short story and use it to develop Mennonite Low German orthography, which will be expounded in the fifth paragraph. The mentioned paragraph is subdivided into four points, of which the first one discusses Mennonite Low German orthography, its tries and problems. As most of the Mennonite Low German speakers are familiar with High German (but not with other Low German dialects), the Mennonite Low German orthography presented in this paper will follow several characteristics of German orthography, when considered as useful. Moreover, a short sketch of Mennonite Low German phonology and morphology will be provided in the following subparagraph in order to round off the topic. A short overview of the variations of the dialect under examination can be found in point 5.3; namely the Molotschna and the Old Colony accents. The last subparagraph deals with Mennonite Low German loan words and recent word formation. This variety contains several loan words that come from Dutch, Russian or German, for example. Paragraph number six explains the death of a former Lingua Franca, which Low German had been at the time of the Hanseatic League. The decline of Low German might also explain the underestimation of its dialect Mennonite Low German.

II A Mennonite Low German Short Story

1. English and Mennonite Low German are Members of the Same Family

LG is said to be even the older sister of English and not only to be from the same family. Both languages belong to the family of Indo-European languages or more precisely to its West-Germanic (in the following abbreviated as WGmc) branch. The following “family-tree” will highlight this kinship.

illustration not visible in this excerpt

Fig. 1. The West-Germanic family-tree: from Reuben Epp, The Story of Low German and Plautdietsch (Hillsboro, 1999) p. 9.

A slightly different chart – but as helpful as this one – can be found in Roger Lass’ Old English: A historical linguistic companion.

LG and English derive from Old Saxon (OS) which was spoken on the continent. A major contingent, consisting of Angles, Saxons, Frisians and Jutes left the continent to settle on the island of Britain about 15 centuries ago. The Angles or Angli came from what today is known as the province of Schleswig of northern Germany and the Saxons from Holstein. The Frisians came from the costal lands of what is today known as the Netherlands and the Jutes from the peninsula of Jutland, the continental proportion of Denmark. As they were from the same race, they all spoke more or less the same Germanic language. However the development of OS took a different turn on the island than on the continent and the result were two distinct languages.

On the island of Britain they spoke Old English (OE), which is a synonymous term for Anglo Saxon, in the early centuries from about 450 till 1050. The Norman Conquest brought major French influences in 1066 and heralded the Middle English (ME) period which lasted until about 1500. Finally, the introduction of printing fostered the “last” language development on the island into Modern English (ModE). LG also underwent three main stages in its development. The first stage, the Old Period can be subdivided into the OS Period (450-800) and the Old Low German (OLG) Period (800-1200). The Middle Low German (MLG) Period carries on from 1200 till about 1650 which is then followed by the Modern Low German (LG) Period from 1850 up to the present.

The mentioned MLG Period was the Golden Age of the LG language because of the Hanseatic League and its success. The Hanseatic League was an alliance of trading guilds that established and maintained a trade monopoly over the Baltic Sea, bordering the North Sea, and most of Northern Europe between the 12th and 17th century. The east-west dimension reached from northern Europe (Brügge in Flanders) to Novgorod in Russia and this is where LG[1], or more precisely MLG, was spoken for example in business and diplomatic activities. This is due not only the Teutonic Order of Knights, who placed German “colonists in expanse of sparsely-populated Slavic territories eastward and northward the Baltic coasts” (Epp II, p. 20), but also to the League’s counters that were staffed by LG personnel and situated in various leading cities. During the Golden Age of the Hanseatic League (12th–14th centuries) LG, too, had its Golden Age and was a so-called Lingua Franca, like English nowadays. A Lingua Franca can be defined as the third (or foreign) language to which two speakers, who do not share each others mother tongue, can resort in order to communicate. Anyway, by and by Mennonite Low German (in the following abbreviated as MenLG), a dialect of LG arose. How and why this dialect developed, will be examined in more detail in the following chapter.

2. Who are the Mennonites and what is Mennonite Low German?

- The Mennonites:

In order to answer this question I have to trace back in history to Luther and the reformation. Luther criticized amongst other things the abuse of indulgence letters in the 95 theses he posted on the door of the castle church of Wittenberg in 1517. Although he had meant the theses just as a basis for discussion, they were received as a serious critique of the church. Many people were discontented with the Catholic Church and agreed with Luther, so that the reformation arose and provoked the splitting of the church. However, for some people the reformation was not extensive enough, was not close enough to the bible.


[1] The League’s central office was Lübeck, so that its variety of LG was the one spoken in the League and that was spread. This again led to a certain standardization of LG, which paved the way for the gradual replacement of Latin not only in business but also in religion. Even in Denmark and southern Sweden LG had gained such prominence through business, that it “was used increasingly more in writing and among the educated” (Epp II, p. 22).

Excerpt out of 24 pages


A Mennonite Low German Short Story
Bielefeld University
English as a Global Lingua Franca
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ISBN (eBook)
ISBN (Book)
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Mennonite, German, Short, Story, English, Global, Lingua, Franca
Quote paper
Swetlana Braun (Author), 2007, A Mennonite Low German Short Story, Munich, GRIN Verlag, https://www.grin.com/document/91792


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