What Is Plattdeutsch?

Beatrix writes:

‘Alt Hoch Deutsch’ (Old High German) sounds a bit like the Plattdeutsch my older Mennonite relatives spoke. But they left West Prussia for the Ukraine in 1802.

Plattdeutsch is a Low German language, and yes, it is an East Low German language with roots in far northeastern Germany and Prussia across the border into what is now Poland. It is close to Pomeranian, a dying East Low German language formerly spoken in that area that died out with the ethnic cleansing of the Germans there after WW2.

It is not intelligible with Standard German or really with any other German language, including other Low German languages. Low German is a completely different language from Standard German. German speakers cannot understand it at all.

Dutch speakers can actually understand Low German languages better than Germans can. That is because in some ways they are quite close to Dutch even though one is Old Franconian and the other is Old German. But there are also German “dialects” that are straight up from Franconian also, especially those spoken in northwest Germany near the borders of the Netherlands, Belgium and Luxembourg. There are dialects (or really languages in that area that are quite difficult to characterize as either:


I am thinking specially of the languages spoken where German, the Netherlands and Belgium all come together around Kerkrade, Aachen and Stolberg.

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2 thoughts on “What Is Plattdeutsch?”

  1. Dear Robert

    There is a Benrather Linie, which runs in East-West direction. North of it are all the Low German dialects, which include all the Dutch and Flemish dialects, and South of it there are all the High German dialects. It is sometimes called the maken-machen line because North of it, the word is maken, and South of it, it is machen. Neither Low German (Plattdeutsch or Niederdeutsch) nor High German (Hochdeutsch) are single languages. Friesian dialects, although spoken North of the Benrather Linie, are usually not included in the Low German dialects.

    Regards. James

  2. Dear Beatrice

    The situation that you described was common in all German lands. After about 1750, nearly everything was written in standard German while most people still spoke a dialect at home. In many other European countries, the situation wasn’t all that different. One standard language used for nearly all writing and formal speech, and at the same time a large number of dialects used in daily life.

    In Switzerland, there is still diglossia. Standard German is used in writing and formal speech while Swiss German is used everywhere else, also by the educated. A teacher will give his lesson in standard German, but outside the classroom he will use Swiss German with his pupils.

    Regards. James

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