Wiktionary:About Middle Low German

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Middle Low German is a West-Germanic language which developed from Old Saxon and evolved into the several dialects of Low German. It is generally considered to have been used from about 1200 to about 1600, yet some legal texts were printed in Middle Low German as late as the 19th century. (The last actual application of a Low German legal text occurred in the year 2000 in Germany.) It was the language of communication within the w:Hanseatic League and the language of both legal scripture and common people of Northern Germany.

Working on Middle Low German entries[edit]

Normalisation with scholary diacritics[edit]

Most of the research comes from northern Germany, with other contributions from the USA (partially from the same people). Hence the most often found system to normalise Middle Low German words is the one used by the scholars from that area, the writers of the two most prominent grammars of the language. This normalisation uses both circumflexes and macrons and it is most important not to mix them up.

Macrons are used for lengthened vowels, circumflexes for long or diphtongised vowels. Macrons can be omitted in open syllables. Thus the following table is applied:

Normalised sign IPA Additional Notes
ē /ɛː/
ê /eɪ̯/ or /eː/ there was a separate phoneme /ei/, which merged with /ê/ where it was [eɪ̯] or [ɛɪ̯]
î /iː/
ā /aː/ merged into â very early on, maybe even in Old Saxon
â /ɒː/
ō /ɔː/ later merged into /â/
ô /oʊ/ or /oː/ /oʊ/ and /oː/ are the same phoneme in some dialects, they are two separate in others
û /uː/
ȫ /œː/
ö̂ /øː/ or /øʏ/ /øː/ and /øʏ/ are the same phoneme in some dialects and two separate in others
ǖ /yː/ actually an Ü with circumflex, not supported by Unicode

What is the Middle Low German language[edit]

Time of existence and nomenclature[edit]

Middle Low German existed roughly from 1200 to 1600. The migration period from Old Saxon to Middle Low German (which the speakers were still calling 'Saxon') began 1100 and fully ended around 1350 when the last of the dialects had finally stopped using even written archaisms. Middle Low German is thought to have lasted roughly until the Thirty Years War. (Independent from the war itself.) Johann Lauremberg (1590-1685) is generally said to be the first Modern Low German author and sometimes considered the last Middle Low German and first Modern Low German author at the same time. With the beginning of Modern Low German the native term sassesch (Saxon) is replaced with compounds of deutsch (German), which probably originated in German-speaking areas.

Relation to other Germanic languages[edit]

Middle Low German was in a very straight dialectal continuum with Middle Dutch, to that extent that they were sometimes considered one language in the past. All of their dialects were at least partially mutually intelligible, even more so when written. Middle Dutch orthography had some influence on Middle Low German orthography, which reflected some phonological changes restricted to Middle Dutch while in some regards having peculiarities only prevalent in Low German areas.
It was also, especially in earlier times, mutually intelligible with Middle English. This was because both languages were initially dialects spoken by the tribes of the Saxons.
Middle Low German also had a major influence on Old Norse vocabulary, to that extent, that some estimations even assume that half of the vocabulary of Norwegian and Swedish is of Low German origin – which, while probably esteemed a bit too high, shows the importance of Low German vocabulary within Scandinavia. Low German also remained a language of posh people (the language of educational facilities and legal matters was Danish) in some parts of Norway until the 19th century, when it already had become language of peasantry and lower classes in its native regions of the German coastal states.

Phonological difference to Old Saxon[edit]

The main differences in phonology are the vowel reduction, in which all vowels in unstressed syllables became [ə] (which also is true for English), the lowering of short near-close vowels to long open-mid vowels in open syllables and the introduction of final obstruent devoicing.
Around the end of the 14th century Middle Low German also had lost both dental fricatives, which had then become[d̪].

Difference in inflection[edit]

Little distinguished Middle Low German from Old Saxon grammar-wise. The greatest differences are the development of a present participle for all verbs and the change of the verb-ending of the 2nd Person Singular Present from -s to -st.
The latter is thought to have happened by enclitic contraction of the pronoun du (cf. English thou) with following regressive assimilation. Indeed writing e.g. "hast du" as "hastu" was common in the earlier period.

See also[edit]

About Old Saxon
About Low German