Weten: Low German in Brazil

In the section ›Weten we present to you information about the Low German language and associated culture.

In Brazil there are three different groups of Low German speakers: first the Plautdietsch Mennonites, then the Pomeranos and third the speakers of the “sapato de pau”.

Let's start with the last group: “sapato de pau” means wooden shoe and is the colloquial Portuguese name of the dialect of Westfália in the southernmost state of Rio Grande do Sul. As the name of the community suggests, the area was populated by immigrants from Westphalia. They have kept their Westphalian dialect to this day and in 2016 published the “Dicionário da Língua Westfaliana Brasileira”. In addition to Westfália as the center, the communities of Teutônia and Imigrante are also shaped by Westphalian culture. However, the language is only spoken by around 3000 speakers and has a rather poor chance of surviving in the long term.

The Pomeranos, on the other hand, are descended from immigrants who came from Pomerania and settled in southern Brazil. They use a Pomeranian dialect accordingly. In the 20th century, the Pomeranos also founded daughter colonies in the Amazon basin.

They still have over 100,000 speakers and live in the five Brazilian states of Espírito Santo, Minas Gerais, Rio Grande do Sul, Rondônia and Santa Catarina.

The third group are the Plautdietsch Mennonites. They came to Brazil in 1930 as refugees from the Soviet Union and settled in the Krauel colony in the state of Santa Catarina, from which today's city of Witmarsum developed. Another group settled on the Stoltz plateau. Both colonies were found to be unsuitable because of their location. In the course of time up to the 1950s, the Mennonites had left both Krauel/Witmarsum and the Stoltz Plateau. Some of them settled in the Curitiba and Bagé area.

In 1950 the Colônia Nova was founded in the municipality of Aceguá (State of Rio Grande do Sul).

In 1951 Mennonites from Witmarsum bought a fazenda (an agricultural property) in the state of Paraná and founded the Colônia Witmarsum, which today has around 1500 inhabitants.

Since 2002, Brazil has allowed other languages to be declared as so-called co-official languages in addition to the Portuguese official language. Pomerano received this status in 2011 and the Plattdüütsch from Westfália in 2016. The speakers of Plautdietsch have never sought the status of a co-official language anywhere in Brazil.