Weten: Orthography of Low German

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

The most widespread orthography of Low German is the one by Johannes Sass. Plattmakers also largely follows it. Characteristics are, for example, the doubling of vowels as in Dutch (“Maat” [= measure] and not for example “Mat”) and otherwise a strong dependence on High German patterns, such as the use of the h in all places where High German also uses it (for example “Kehr” [= turn] instead of “keer”).

In addition to the Sass spelling, individual regions have developed their own writing traditions, some of which are closer to the Sass spelling, some less. In Mecklenburg, for example, many authors prefer a spelling that is based on Fritz Reuter and write “Mat” instead of “Maat”.

Due to its vowel diphthongisation (“briäken” instead of “breken”), Westphalian has slightly different orthography requirements and has therefore also retained a separate writing tradition.

For the East Frisian Low German, the Ostfriesische Landschaft has put together writing rules that are largely based on Johannes Sass, but expand them in some points that affect the characteristics of the typical East Frisian language.

Eastphalian has developed its own vowel spelling traditions, some of which differ significantly from the rest of the Low German-speaking area.

Brandenburg's writing traditions are largely based on the neighboring linguistic areas, as dialect use in Brandenburg was already in decline on a large scale when Low German writing traditions only emerged.

The speakers in the Neumark and Pomerania area as well as in West and East Prussia were expelled in 1945. Since then, their dialects have been written down by a few authors, who have, however, generally stuck to old writing traditions. Their spelling is closest to that of Mecklenburg.

Mennonite Plautdietsch did not become a commonly written language until the second half of the 20th century. In terms of orthography, it was based on the existing orthographies of Lower Prussian, whereby the specific peculiarities of the vowels were taken into account, which already comes to light in the word Plautdietsch itself: “au” instead of plain “a” and “ie” instead of “üü”.

The Pomerano in Brazil has so far only developed weak writing traditions, as the group is small and the language has not been written at all for a long time. People wrote in High German or Portuguese. Ismael Tressmann is one of the pioneers of Pomerano. He uses a spelling that is quite different in appearance from German or Dutch words. For example, “Hochtietslüüd” is written as “hochtijdslüür”. Tressmann does not use capitalization of nouns, for example.

The writing traditions diverge even more in the north-east of the Netherlands, where writers have always orientated themselves on Dutch orthography.

In the 21st century, movements have emerged that want to overcome the opposition between German and Dutch writing traditions. One of the pioneers was Reinhard F. Hahn, who developed the Algemeyne Schryvwyse. Further steps were the Intersaksische Schriivwise and the Nysassiske Skryvwyse. All of these spellings have not found any noteworthy distribution in Low German literature beyond the Internet. But they are an expression of a need to develop an identity of its own that is able to unite the speakers of the language instead of dividing them along political lines.