The New International Encyclopædia/Plattdeutsch

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PLATTDEUTSCH, plät'doich, or Low Saxon. The language spoken in Northern Germany from the border of Holland to the frontier of Lithuania. It is distinguished on the one hand from Low Franconian, which includes the language of Holland, Dutch proper (see Dutch Language), and, on the other hand, from Middle and Upper German, which are grouped together under the name High German. In common with other Low German languages, Plattdeutsch is distinguished from High German by the fact that its surd mutes have not passed through the second or High German sound-shifting. (See Grimm's Law.) There is, however, no definite line of demarcation, some of the Middle German dialects not having shifted p and t. The best criterion of distinction is the so-called ich-line which starts on the Belgian border south of Limburg and runs in a northeasterly direction, crossing the Rhine at Benrath (between Düsseldorf and Cologne), the Elbe south of Magdeburg, the Oder just above Frankfort, and finally reaches the Slavic frontier in the Province of Posen near Birnbaum. To the north of this line the first personal pronoun has the form ik, to the south ich. Within its district Plattdeutsch is generally spoken by the lower classes, while High German is the language of the school and pulpit, and as a rule of the educated classes.

Plattdeutsch is not a homogeneous language, but consists of a number of different dialects which may be divided into two main groups: (1) Northeast Saxon, in Oldenburg, Bremen, Hamburg, Hanover, Brunswick, Holstein, Mecklenburg, Brandenburg, Pomerania, and East Prussia; (2) Westphalian, in Westphalia and the Principality of Waldeck. During the nineteenth century the dialect of Mecklenburg acquired especial prominence through the writings of Fritz Reuter.

Historically Low Saxon is divided into (1) Old Saxon or Old Low German, extending from the ninth to the twelfth century; (2) Middle Low Saxon, from the twelfth to the end of the sixteenth century; (3) Modern Low Saxon, Plattdeutsch, or Modern Low German, from 1600 to the present time.

In the Old Saxon period the principal literary monument is the Heliand (q.v.), a religious epic of nearly 6000 lines in alliterative verse, written about 830 at the request of Louis the Pious. Several fragments of a versification of the first chapters of the Book of Genesis, an interlinear version of the Psalms, and various other smaller fragments of a religious character have been preserved, besides a number of glosses and proper names. Old Saxon may also lay partial claim to the Hildebrand's Lay, the most famous of all old German ballads, as it is written partly in this dialect.

The most noted prose document of the Middle Low Saxon is the Sachsenspiegel, a compilation of Saxon common law, made by Eyke von Repechowe between 1224 and 1230, and which became the model for law books in other parts of Germany. From 1350 through the fifteenth century there is an extensive Low German literature, which is mainly religious in character, consisting largely of legends of the Church and collections of hymns. Among secular poems may be mentioned Reineke der Vos (Lübeck, 1498) and Flore und Blankflur. About the middle of the seventeenth century Low Saxon ceased to be a literary language, the last Low Saxon Bible appearing at Goslar in 1621. In modern times what little literature has appeared has been of a decidedly dialectical character. Especially prominent are Fritz Reuter (q.v.), best known for his humorous novel Ut mine Stromtid and the poem Hanne Nüte; and Klaus Groth (q.v.), a writer of lyric poems, as the Quickborn.

Consult: Heyne, Kleine altsächsische und altniederfränkische Grammatik (Paderborn, 1873); Gallée, Altsächsische Grammatik (Halle, 1891); Schlüter, Untersuchungen zur Geschichte der altsächsischen Sprache (Göttingen, 1892); Holthausen, Allsächsisches Elementarbuch (Heidelberg, 1899); Schmeller, Glossarium Saxonicum (Munich, 1840); Kögel and Brukner, “Geschichte der althoch- und altniederdeutschen Litteratur,” in Paul, Grundriss der germanischen Philologie, vol. i. (2d ed., Strassburg, 1897 et seq.); Lübben, Mittelniederdeutsche Grammatik mit Chrestomathie und Glossar (Leipzig, 1882); Schiller and Lübben, Mittelniederdeutsches Wörterbuch (6 vols., Bremen, 1871-81); Lübben and Walther, Mittelniederdeutsches Handwörterbuch (Norden, 1885-88); Jellingk, “Mittelniederdeutsche Litteratur,” in Paul, vol. ii. (see above); Krüger, Uebersicht der heutigen plattdeutschen Sprache (Enden, 1843); Marahrens, Grammatik der plattdeutschen Sprache (Altona, 1858); Wiggers, Grammatik der plattdeutschen Sprache (2d ed., Hamburg, 1858); Eschenhagen, Zur plattdeutschen Sprache (Berlin, 1860); Gilow, Leitfaden zur plattdeutschen Sprache (Anklam, 1868); Daunehl, Ueber die niederdeutsche Sprache und Litteratur (Berlin, 1875); Zellinghaus, Zur Einteilung der niederdeutschen Mundarten (Kiel, 1884); Gädertz, Das niederdeutsche Schauspiel (Hamburg, 1894); Mentz, Bibliographie der deutschen Mundartenforschung (ib., 1892); Jahrbuch des Vereins für niederdeutsche Sprachforschung (Leipzig, 1875 et seq.).