The Saxon Series | Low Saxon’s Dark Age
In this episode of the Saxon Series, we try to get into the 20th century, but there’s still some ground to cover in the 19th century. So before we move into Low Saxon’s dark age, we must first discuss the events leading up to its sudden decline in the latter half, to a point where it was sort of actively ignored.
We discuss how multiple things lead to the situation of today. Firstly, the waning influence of the Hanseatic League and thus the cohesion of the language as a centrally run phenomenon, aided by the rise of the nation states and increased levels of education.
Chris first discusses how Low Saxon gradually disintegrated into various smaller dialects, that lost connection to each other more and more. Martin adds that somewhere into the 19th century, schooling became more standardised. Children had to stay in school longer, and receive education in the standard languages more. At the same time, the multitude of loose states in Germany were unified into the German nation state, which created a want and a need for a unified language, that allowed government to tighten their grip on the different regions.
Chris expands on the Romanticism of the 19th Century, when scholars started to take an interest and write verse in the language. Germany saw the rise of great writers such as Klaus Groth and Fritz Reuter. They even got read across the border. In the Netherlands, the literary scene was smaller.
At 17:00 Martin introduces the concept of the Low Saxon Wedding Poem, a recurring theme throughout Low Saxon literature.
At 22:00 Chris introduces starts talking about the influence of radio broadcasts, and increased mobility of people. Martin interrupts, and feels we should discuss the French influence first, because Low Saxon of today still has lots of French loans from that era.
At 31:00 Chris draws a parallel with other minority languages. He notes that the standard languages have everything going for themselves. He adds that Saxon’s language domains are being pushed back into the stuff of Romantic stuff. Romanticism for Low Saxon lasted well into the 20th century. A General Looking-back becomes a theme for minority languages.
At 35:40 Martin adds that the domains of Low Saxon and what it was deemed suitable for. While more educated people abandoned the language, their particular jargon was forgotten. Only the farm words remained.
40:00 the impact of the media, especially the devastation of the television era. There were zero broadcasts in Low Saxon. There still aren’t. Things improved a bit in Germany when the NDR started doing stuff in Low Saxon, but it’s still marginal or even negligible compared to the massive load of round-the-clock High German broadcasts. Dutch media didn’t (and doesn’t) have any mentioning of Low Saxon, ever. Not even the regional media.
47:00 going by the coverage of Dutch media on minoritised languages of the Netherlands, it is as if they don’t even exist. The General attitude seems to be that anything that isn’t fully standard should fade away into disuse and disappear. It is impeding progress,
48:00 there’s a general belief that only the standard languages have any value. Regional language were considered a hindrance to mutual intelligibility, especially in Germany, where Low Saxon is more difficult to get used to from a High German perspective than in the Netherlands, where Low Saxon and Dutch are quite similar. Of course, it was still widely spoken. But nothing that’s made in Low Saxon is given any notice. It’s actively ignored.
50:00 in the 1970s, something happened. It wasn’t as if nothing was done in the language. It was just not picked up on by the media, be they national or regional. But then, some dialect preservation groups start to spring up. They’re usually very locally oriented.
54:00 In comes Normaal, the rock band that changed everything. A Bit.
About the hosts
Zwolle-born Chris Canter (1980) is a multilingual writer and translator currently residing in Spain. Apart from regular updates in regional Low Saxon literary journals, he’s published a collection of Low Saxon short stories called ‘Moenen’. Martin ter Denge (1985) was born in Ryssen. He is a multilingual writer and translator as well, having recently published his first book called ‘Tukkerspotten’, a cultural description of the region of Twente. Both are confident speakers of Low Saxon and both have been working both professionally and non-professionally with the language for more than 10 years now.