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 1100 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.

Usage and nomenclature[edit]

General overview[edit]

The term Middle Low German on Wiktionary should primarily denote a West-Germanic dialect descending from Old Saxon, which has merged all unstressed vowels into a phoneme /ə/, which does not get apocopated. The period is roughly taken to have lasted from around 1100 to 1600.

The Lübeck standard[edit]

If a form is put into brackets in a table, it is most likely diverging from the so-called Lübeck standard, i.e. language as used by the offices of w:Lübeck, which was the nerve center of the w:Hanse. The idea of a "Lübeckian standard" is a modern one, describing an often visible desire of authors to use 'proper' forms, avoiding certain contractions, innovations and regionalisms. While authors from other regions did not slavishly copy the language of Lübeck, as written communication became more common, authors from other regions increasingly avoid archaisms and forms which differ grossly from the language native to the area between w:Elbe and Baltic coast – or rather the conventions of offices from this region, which diverged from the spoken language of the local population to some degree. The Lübeck standard was not, however, a fully standardised orthography as we know it today. Rather, it was a set of conventions that many writers followed to facilitate international and interdialectal communication more easily.
As a rule of thumb, any untagged entry should conform to the Lübeck standard. Regions with visible own writing traditions, and thus prime candidates for labeling, are Brandenburg (notably Berlin and Zerbst), Eastphalia (notably Magdeburg), Westphalia and Groningen.


Entries for Middle Low German words should be their most basic form, i.e. a form without superfluous letters or scholarly diacritics such as the trema. Of course, diacritics actually used in the original texts, rather than modern editions, can receive an entry of their own but should be marked as an alternative spelling linking to the lemma form.


When creating a Middle Low German entry, the {{head}} (but not the actual page title) should follow the tradition of Middle Low German research to mark originally short vowels with a macron and original long vowels and diphthongs with a circumflex. Further, rounded front vowels are to be identified with a trema. This discrepancy between head and page title is a Wiktionary practice to inform the user that diacritical marks are an editorial addition, not part of the original spelling.

Links should always contain the diacritics if possible.

Deviations from this practice should receive a tag identifying the region or context of usage.

Character Corresponding Old Saxon sounds Additional usage notes
ē /ɪ, e, ɛ/ only in open syllables
ê /eː, ɛː, iɒ, æː, æ/ corresponds to Old Saxon /æ/ only in open syllables
ei /ɛː, ɛɪ/ distinguish from ê, use only for ê³ (i.e. êne reise not êne rêse or eine reise)
î /iː/
ie /eː, iɒ/ should only occur in alternative forms
ī /ɪ, e/ only in open syllables, should only occur in alternative forms
ā /ɑ, ɔ/ only in open syllables
â /ɑː/
ä /æ/ should only occur in alternative forms
ä̂ /æː/ should only occur in alternative forms
ō /ʊ, ɔ/ only in open syllables
ô /oː, ɔː/
û /uː/
ū /ʊ/ only in open syllables, should only occur in alternative forms
ȫ /ʏ, œ/ written as u, o in treatments of Old Saxon, open syllables only
ö̂ /øː, œː/ written as ô in treatments of Old Saxon
ǖ /ʏ/ written as u in treatments of Old Saxon, only in open syllables, should only occur in alternative forms
ü̂ /yː/ written as û in treatments of Old Saxon

Stem vowels[edit]

At some point in the 20th century, a system of numbering Low German long vowels according to their origin has developed, which is adhered in this way by the majority of authors. Wiktionary uses a slightly extended form to include original short vowels. Editors are encouraged to leave a note saying which of these vowels the stem of a word carries in the Pronunciation section.
Throughout the Middle Low German period, several dialects develop by merging two or more of these vowels in various ways. As such, the pronunciations provided are usually the most conservative state at maximum distinction. If a diverging pronunciation is added, it must be tagged appropriately.

Vowel name Original pronunciation Origin
ê¹ /æː/ Old Saxon /æː/
ê² /ɛː/ Old Saxon /ɛː/, without umlaut
ê³ /ɛɪ/ umlaut of e²
ê⁴ /eː/ Old Saxon /iɛ/ and /eː/
ê⁵ probably /eː/ past tense of reduplicating (Class VII) verbs
ô¹ / ö̂¹ /oː, øː/ Old Saxon /oː/
ô² / ö̂² /ɔː, œː/ Old Saxon /ɔː/
ē¹ /ɪə/ Old Saxon /ɪ/ and /e/ in open syllables
ē² /ɪɛ/ Old Saxon /ɛ/ in open syllables
ō¹ / ȫ¹ /ʊə, ʏə/ Old Saxon /ʊ/ in open syllables
ō² / ȫ² /ʊɒ, ʏœ/ Old Saxon /ɔ/ in open syllables


Consonants should be normalised according to their most common form, minus any mute H.

Entries deviating from this standard of normalisation should be tagged as alternative forms. The distinction between U and V should be made in accordance with pronunciation.

An exception is pre-vocalic sch, wherein the H may be mute in most regions for most of the time, but there is also a significant number of instances where it represents either s + ch or /ʃ/. Note that this does not apply to orthographic sch before consonants, which is pronounced as /s/ everywhere.

Normalisation Alternative forms word examples
sch sc, ssch, sg, sk, sh twischen, schriven vs. twisschen, scriven
g gh, ggh gesegget vs. ghesegghet
ch gh, g recht vs. reght
v f, w, u visch, lēven vs. fisch, lēwen
w v, u, uu water vs. uuater
s z, sz, cz, sch sik vs. zik
tz z, sz, cz, scz, tcz etc. gentzlik vs. gentczlik
ks x sünderlinks vs. sünderlinx
s before consonants sch before consonants sniden vs. schniden
phonetic spelling morphophonetic spelling got, dach vs. god, dag

See also[edit]

About Old Saxon
About Low German