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Pennsylvania Dutch Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

Q.     What is the difference between High, Middle, and Low German?

A.       I will quote from The German Research Companion by Shirley J. Riemer:

"The names 'high German,' 'middle German,' and 'low German,' take their names from the geographical altitude of the areas where they are spoken.

High German is a blend of Oberdeutsch (upper, or mountain) German and Mitteldeutsch (midway German of middle upland) German.

Remnants of Low German (north of an imaginary boundary called the Benrath line), which is no longer spoken officially, are found as Plattdeutsch in rural areas north of the Benrath line, Platt is much like English. The Low Franconian dialect farther south merges with the Rhenish Franconian dialects.

It was a coincidence that led to High German rather than Low German becoming the accepted dialect. As a result of the attempt by the duke of Saxony in the early 1500s to standardize the dialects in this duchy, a language for state affairs called Kanzleisprache was adopted. This occurred just at the time Martin Luther translated the Bible from Latin, using the very same German dialect."

"Martin Luther was compromising between the extrememes of upper and lower German. The real coincidence was the he came from the Saxon area and wrote many manuscripts, including the Bible, in the Kanzleisprache.

The blending of dialects grew into what is called New High German, with a grammar taught in the schools to all German."

"Ironically, although everyone writes High german, almost no one speaks it all the time. At home and among friends, Germans speak in their own local dialects. This tradition reflects the reverence and devotion of the German to his local region, hometown, and territorial district."

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