The Saxon Series | The 20th Century Part 2 (episode 4)
In this fourth episode of the Saxon Series, Martin and Chris home in on Low Saxon in the second half of the twentieth century. Chris argues that, in spite of endless speculation about how long the language has left, as a general community language it died out as long ago as the 1960s (in the sense that it has not been passed on to the most people born since then).
Martin tempers this view by arguing that the language is stronger in some areas than in others. He also goes into the phenomenon of ‘New Low Saxons’: young people who weren’t taught Low Saxon, but who want to reconnect with their roots and who are interested in resources for learning the language. Chris rains on this parade a bit by observing that such enthusiasts constitute a very small number of ‘language nerds’, who may not form enough of a critical mass to influence the population in general. However, both hosts agree that there are many young people who have an incomplete or ‘passive’ grasp of the language that can be activated or built out if a stimulus is provided. Now would be a good time then, to introduce Low Saxon as a school subject.
Next up is some number crunching, with the hosts looking at a survey that suggests Low Saxon as well as other regional languages and dialects in the Netherlands are in precipitous decline – and not even a stronger language like Frisian can escape the downward trend.
The podcast then turns to politics. From Europe on down, political recognition of regional languages has been growing, but to what extent is this mere tokenism that does nothing to stop these languages dying out? Martin gives a local example of a political hat tip: in his municipality, residents are invited to speak Low Saxon with town hall employees if they so wish. And what about bilingual town signs?
The hosts move on to areas where Saxon still has important currency, such as care for the elderly. The podcast ends on a discussion of Low Saxon as a study subject at universities. Chris briefly evokes the German linguist Arnold Rakers, who in the 1960s inspired people with his view that Saxon shouldn’t just be a subject for cold academic dissection, but that academics should be in touch and work together with the living, breathing community of speakers.
About the hosts
Chris Canter (Zwolle, 1980) is a multilingual writer and translator who grew up in Nylüsen. He is a regular contributor to Saxon magazines ‘Roet’ and ‘Zinnig’, and his short story collection ‘Moenen’ was published in 2019. Martin ter Denge (Ryssen, 1985) is a multilingual writer and translator as well. He (co-)hosts Saxon podcasts ‘Werldspråke’ and ‘WATATA’, available on Spotify and elsewhere. This year saw the publication of his first book, ‘Tukkerspotten’, a cultural A to Z of the region of Twente. Both hosts are also among the principal writers at the Dutch Low Saxon Wikipedia.