English Summary

Eastern Friesland “Platt”

Eastern Friesland “Platt” belongs to the northern division of the Lowlands Saxon (or “Low German”) language, with some unique features due to influences of the East Frisian language it replaced. East Frisian was divided into Ems Frisian and Weser Frisian (Ems and Weser being the rivers forming the former outer boundaries of the East Frisian language area). The borderline between these you still can find today in phonematic features and vocabulary. The Frisian language's vanishing process started centuries ago and ended in a few remote places (like the island of Wangerooge) by the end of 18th. century. Today, the only remnant of East Frisian is the so-called “Sater Frisian,” with some 1000 speakers in and around the villages of Ramsloh, Scharrel and Strücklingen, an area outside Eastern Friesland, known as “Saterland.”

In Eastern Friesland, the place of Frisian came to be taken by Lowlands Saxon, which itself eventually underwent a process of replacement by German. Lowlands Saxon used to be spoken in an area from the northeastern parts of the Netherlands across Northern Germany all the way to the Baltic countries. Being the language of the Hanseatic Trading League, it was the language of negotiation, commerce and law all around the North Sea and the Baltic Sea during the middle ages. Beginning with the 16th century, political changes led to predominance of German, but Lowlands Saxon remained the language of everyday communication.

Some 50 years ago, East Frisian Platt was a fully functioning language in use for everyday communication mainly in the countryside of East Frisia. East Frisian Platt then was the first language for most people there, German the second for some. But changes in social structure, technologies, communication etc. led to a superiority of German and today German is the first language for all East Frisian people and Platt the second for some of them.

Because there is no longer any need for “Platt” in communication, its use more and more depends on emotional needs and preferences.

East Frisians often define their "national" identity by knowledge of Platt language. It is connected with terms like home, home country, tradition...

Despite this, the average speaker does nothing to prevent the process of language deterioration. Nowadays, Eastern Friesland “Platt” is highly contaminated by German, and this process keeps accelerating. Few truly proficient speakers remain, and the ones that do are mostly elderly people who, despite better knowledge, also use contaminated speech modes in adaptation to those of other speakers.

There are efforts underway to make “Platt” a subject in kindergartens and schools, but it is doubtful that children learning “Platt” will turn into actual speakers.

In and around the 1970s, Eastern Friesland “Platt” experienced a short-lived renaissance among younger people. It was at that time that I began exploring the potentials of this language for a renewal of local literature other than the usual folksy entertainment and nostalgic schmaltz.

Being dissatisfied with the orthography commonly used for Eastern Friesland “Platt,” I began developing an orthographic system that suits “Platt” phonology and reflects the grammatical structure of this language, since both can be achieved insufficiently using the crude traditional, German-based orthography. This resulted in a practicable orthographic system in about 1975. However, it met with rejection, mainly by those people who worked on or with Eastern Friesland “Platt” along traditional, publicly promoted lines. The most commonly heard argument against my proposal has been that the use of additional diacritical marks would constitute an impediment in teaching and learning. I cannot accept this argument because other people are able to read their languages written with many more diacritics than I propose for Eastern Friesland “Platt.” This experience was one of the reasons for me to stop my efforts and close down work on Eastern Friesland “Platt” for a long time.

In 1998 then some people remembering my early efforts asked me for information about. This inquiry caused me to study the matter anew. I corrected some mistakes left in the 1975-orthography and perfectioned the entire system. On this basis I started writing an overview of Eastern Friesland Platt grammar, morphology and phonology. Meanwhile this is nearly completed. Nevertheless, I learned that there is no real change in the attitude of East Frisian cultural establishment compared to my former experiences while "ordinary people" told me that they didn't find it difficult to read my texts or understand my view of the language. The last meaning primarily to document and as far as possible to save the unique language of Eastern Friesland in spite of the preference of a kind of general Low Saxon denying local heritage.

- Thanks to Prof. Reinhard (Ron) Hahn, Seattle, for improving my English style.-

On this site You find

a) some opinions on the decline of Eastern Friesland Platt in recent years together with an outlook on its future (all in German) written on different times for different purposes,

b) a collection of poems or poem-like texts and stories from my own work (all in Eastern Friesland Platt, written in the proposed orthography) and

A shortened early state raw working-copy of the grammar-manuscript isn't available any more on the site. For people interested in my work I recently published a short introduction (in German) combined with an overview of the recent state of a wordbook project. An improved edition will follow in late 2006 or beginning 2007. If You want to order it, have a look at "Angebote" for the procedure.

For those of You whose computer system doesn't display the examples written in Eastern Friesland Platt correctly some of the texts are also available as GIF-graphics.