Franconian or Frankish is collective term traditionally used by linguists to refer to a number of West Germanic varieties, most of which are spoken in what formed the historical core area of the Frankish Empire during the Early Middle Ages. Linguistically, there are no typological features which are typical for all the various dialects conventionally grouped as Franconian. As such, it forms a residual category within the larger historical West Germanic Dialect continuum rather than a homogeneous group of closely related dialects. For most of the varieties grouped under "Franconian" the diachronical connection to Old Frankish, the language spoken by the Franks, is unclear.
Franconian is further divided along the lines of the Second Germanic consonant shift, with the Low Franconian group (including Dutch and Afrikaans) not participating whereas the Central Franconian (which includes Luxembourgish) and High Franconian subgroups did, to varying degrees.
Both the term Franconian and its further delineations are restricted in their use to linguists and are not used as an endonym by any speakers of the Franconian group; with the exception of East Franconian German, which is called Fränkisch by its speakers, though this is caused by the dialect being spoken in the region of Franconia.
The term Franconian, as modern linguistic category, was coined by the German linguist Wilhelm Braune (1850-1926) who used it as a term to designate historical West Germanic texts which he could not readily classify as belonging to either Saxon, Alemanic or Bavarian. The practice of alluding to tribal names from the Migration Period when naming dialect groups during the early stages of Germanic Philology was not restricted to Germany: 19th century Dutch linguists also conventionally divided the Germanic varieties spoken in the Netherlands and Belgium into Frisian, Saxon and Frankish varieties. In both cases linguistic borders of historical ancestor dialects were, at the time, thought to closely mirror the supposed tribal duchies of the Frankish Empire at the start of the Early Middle Ages. As the national fields of Germanic linguistics became more intertwined as well as science-orientated during the latter part of the 19th century, these existing concepts were amalgamated, with the Dutch concept of "Frankish" being integrated into Brauns Franconian residual category as Low Franconian.
Earlier use of "Franconian/Frankish" as an linguistic category can occasionally be found. For example, the Dutch linguist, Jan van Vliet (1622-1666) used Francica or Francks to refer to the language of the Franks. According to van Vliet, Francks descended from oud Teuts, which would today equivilate to Proto-Germanic. Similarly, the scholar Franciscus Junius was said to have collected fragments of vetere Francica ad illustrandam linguam patriam (Old Frankish, for the elucidation of the mother tongue) in 1694.
The term "Franconian" refers to a collection of dialects, and not to a language. As a residual category, Franconian is defined by what it is not, rather than what it is in and of itself. While a descriptive definition of Franconian as a whole does not exist, its internal subdivisions can be defined and contrasted, both with one another and other large dialect groupings.
Low Franconian or Low Frankish, consists of Dutch, Afrikaans and their dialects.  A transitional zone between Low Franconian and Central Franconian is formed by the so-called Meuse-Rhenish dialects located in southern Dutch Limburg and in the German Lower Rhine.
The West Central German dialects of Central and Rhine Franconian are spoken in the German states of South-Western North Rhine-Westphalia, most of Rhineland-Palatinate, Saarland, northern Baden-Württemberg, southern Hesse, northern Bavaria, in the bordering French Moselle department, and in Luxembourg, as well as by the Transylvanian Saxons in Romania, and by the Pennsylvania Germans in North America.
The East Franconian dialect branch is one of the most spoken dialect branches in Germany. These dialects are mainly spoken in the region of Franconia. Franconia consists of the Bavarian districts of Upper-, Middle-, and Lower Franconia, the region of South Thuringia (Thuringia), and the eastern parts of the region of Heilbronn-Franken (Tauber Franconia and Hohenlohe) in Baden-Württemberg. The easternmost Franconian-speaking areas are the Saxon parts of Vogtland, in whose central parts East Franconian (Core Vogtlandian), and in whose eastern parts transitional dialects (North Vogtlandian and Southeast Vogtlandian) are spoken. The East Franconian dialects are the only Franconian dialects that are referred to as "Franconian" by their speakers. Only the speakers in Saxon Vogtland refer to their dialects as "Vogtlandian" rather than "Franconian". The largest cities in the East Franconian dialect area are Nuremberg and Würzburg.
South Franconian is mainly spoken in northern Baden-Württemberg in Germany, but also in the northeasternmost part of the region of Alsace in France. While these dialects are considered as dialects of German in Baden-Württemberg, they are considered as dialects of Alsatian in Alsace (the other Alsatian dialects are either Alemannic or Rhine Franconian). The South Franconian dialects are colloquially referred to by their speakers as "Badian" in the Badian parts, and as "Unterländisch" (the Unterland being the region around Heilbronn) or "Swabian" (because of strong influences from the capital Stuttgart, where Swabian dialects are spoken) in the Württembergian parts of Baden-Württemberg. The largest cities in the South Franconian dialect area are Karlsruhe and Heilbronn.
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The name "Franconian", an English adjective made into a noun, comes from the official Latin name of an area (and later stem duchy) in the Middle Ages known as Franconia (German: Franken). If being in the territory of the original Franci is a criterion of being Frankish, it was not originally Frankish, but Alemannic, as the large Roman base at Mainz, near the confluence of the Main and the Rhine, kept the Franci and the Suebi, core tribe of the Alemanni, apart. When the Romans withdrew, the fort became a major base of the Ripuarian Franks, who promptly moved up the Main, founded Frankfurt ("the ford of the Franks"), established a government over the Suebi between the Rhine and the Danube, and proceeded to assimilate them to all things Frankish, including the dialects. The Ripuarian Franks at that time were not acting as such, but were simply part of the Frankish empire under the Carolingian dynasty.
Franconian is the only English single word describing the region called Franken by the Germans. The population considered as native is also called Franken, who speak a language called Fränkisch, which are dialects included in German. In the Middle Ages, before German prevailed officially over Latin, the Latinizations, Franconia and Francones, were used in official documents. Since Latin was the scholarly lingua franca, the Latin forms spread to Britain as well as to other nations. English speakers had no reason to convert to Franken; moreover, "Frankish" was already being used for French and Dutch. Franconian was kept.
The English did not have much to say about Franconian until the 18th century, except that it was "High Dutch," and "German." In 1767 Thomas Salmon published:
The language of the Germans is High Dutch, of which there are many dialects, so different, that the people of one province scarce understand those of another.
"Province", as it was applied to Germany, meant one of the ten Reichskreise of the Holy Roman Empire. Slingsby Bethel had published a description of them in a political treatise of 1681, referring to each of them as a "province," and describing, among them, "The Franconian Circle." Slingsby's language development goes no further than "High Germany," where "High Dutch" was spoken and "the lower parts of Germany," speaking, presumably, Low Dutch. Salmon's implicit identification of dialects with Reichskreise speech is the very misconception found objectionable by Green and Siegmund:
Here we are also touching upon the problem of languages, for many scholars ... proceed from the assumption that they were ethnic languages/dialects (Stammessprachen) ... the very opposite goes for the Franks ....
In the mid-19th century, a time when the Germans were attempting to define a standard German, the term alt-Fränkisch made its appearance, which was an adjective meaning "old-fashioned." It came into English immediately as "Old Franconian." English writings mentioned Old Franconian towns, songs and people, among other things. To the linguists, the term was a windfall, as it enabled them to distinguish a Stammsprach. For example, in 1863 Gustave Solling's Diutiska identified the Pledge of Charles the Bald, which is in Old High German, as Old Franconian. He further explains that the latter is an Upper German dialect.
By the end of the century the linguists understood that between "Low Dutch" and "High Dutch" was a partially altered continuum, which they called Middle, or Central, German. It had been grouped with Upper, or High, German. This "Middle" was between low and high, as opposed to the Chronological Middle High German, between old and new. In 1890 Ernest Adams defined Old Franconian as an Old High German dialect spoken on the middle and upper Rhine; i.e., it went beyond the limits of Franconia to comprise also the dialect continuum of the Rhineland. His earlier editions, such as the 1858, did not feature any Old Franconian.
After the English concept of Franconian had expanded to encompass the Rhineland in the 1850s and 1860s, a paradox seemed to prevent it from spreading to the lower Rhine. Language there could not be defined as High German in any way. In 1862 Max Müller pointed out that Jacob Grimm had applied the concept of "German" grammar to ten languages, which "all appear to have once been one and the same." One of these was the "Netherland Language, which appears to have been produced by the combined action of the older Franconian and Saxon, and stands therefore in close relation to the Low German and the Friesian. Its descendants now are the Flemish in Belgium and Dutch in Holland [sic]." Müller, after describing Grimm's innovation of the old, middle and new phases of High German, contradicts himself by reiterating that Franconian was a dialect of the upper Rhine.
After somewhat over a generation a formal solution had been universally accepted: Franconian had a low phase. An 1886 work by Strong and Meyer defined Low Franconian as the language "spoken on the lower Rhine." Their presentation included an Upper, Middle and Lower Franconian, essentially the modern scheme. Low Franconian, however, introduced another conflict of concepts, as Low Franconian must mean, at least in part, Dutch. Here Strong and Meyer are anachronistic on behalf of consistency, an error that would not have been made by native Dutch or German speakers. According to them, "Franconian ceases to be applied to this language; it is then called Netherlandish (Dutch)...." Only the English ever applied Franconian anywhere; moreover, Netherlandish had been in use since the 17th century, after which Dutch was an entirely English word. The error had been corrected by the time of Wright's An Old High-German Primer two years later, in 1888. Wright identifies Old Low Franconian with Old Dutch, both terms used only in English.
Before it acquired the present name "Germanic", "Germanic" was known as "Teutonic". The Germanics were literary witnesses in history to the alteration of their early Germanic speech into multiple languages. The early speech then became Old Teutonic. However, this Old Teutonic remained out of view, prior to the earliest writings, except for the language of the runic inscriptions, which, being one or two words and numbering less than a thousand, are an insufficient sample to verify any but a few phonetic details of the reconstructed proto-language.
Van Vliet and his 17th century contemporaries inherited the name and the concept "Teutonic". Teutones and Teutoni are names from classical Latin referring to the entire population of Germanics in the Proto-Germanic era, although there were tribes specifically called Teutons. Between "Old Dutch" (meaning the earliest Dutch language) and "Old Teutonic", Van Vliet inserted "Frankish", the language of the Old Franks. He was unintentionally ambiguous about who these "Old Franks" were linguistically. At one point in his writing they were referred to as "Old High German" speakers, at another, "Old Dutch" speakers, and at another "Old French" speakers. Moreover, he hypothesized at one point that Frankish was a reflection of Gothic. The language of the literary fragments available to him was not clearly identified. Van Vliet was searching for a group he thought of as the "Old Franks", which to him included everyone from Mainz to the mouth of the Rhine.
By the end of the 17th century the concept of Old Frankish, the ancestor language of Dutch, German, and the Frankish words in Old French had been firmly established. After the death of Junius, a contemporary of Van Vliet, Johann Georg Graevius said of him in 1694 that he collected fragments of vetere Francica, "Old Frankish," ad illustrandam linguam patriam, "for the elucidation of the mother tongue." The concept of the Dutch vetere Francica, a language spoken by the Franks mentioned in Gregory of Tours and of the Carolingian Dynasty, which at one end of its spectrum became Old Dutch, and at the other, Old High German, threw a shadow into neighboring England, even though the word "Franconian", covering the same material, was already firmly in use there.
The term "Old Frankish" in English is vague and analogous, referring either to language or to other aspects of culture. In the most general sense, "old" means "not the present", and "Frankish" means anything claimed to be related to the Franks from any time period. The term "Old Frankish" has been used of manners, architecture, style, custom, government, writing and other aspects of culture, with little consistency. In a recent history of the Germanic people, Ozment used it to mean the Carolingian and all preceding governments and states calling themselves Franks through the death of the last admittedly Frankish king, Conrad I of Germany, in 919, and his replacement by a Saxon. This "Old Frankish" period, then, beginning in the Proto-Germanic period and lasting until the 10th century, is meant to include Old High German, Old Dutch and the language that split to form Low German and High German.
Germanic is so diverse as to defy attempts to arrive at a uniform Germanic ancestor. Max Müller finally wrote in the lectures on the Science of Language, under the heading, "No Proto-Teutonic Language:"
"We must not suppose that before that time [7th century] there was one common Teutonic language spoken by all Germanic tribes and that it afterwards diverged into two streams -- the High and the Low. There never was a common, uniform Teutonic language; .... This is a mere creation of grammarians who cannot understand a multiplicity of dialects without a common type."
Historical linguistics did not validate his rejection of the Tree model, but it did apply the Wave model to explain the diversity. Features can cross language borders in a wave to impart characteristics not explicable by descent from the language's ancestor. The linguists of the early 19th century, including Müller, had already foreshadowed the Wave Model with a concept of the "blend" of languages, of which they made such frequent use in the case of Germanic that it was difficult to discern any unblended language. These hypothetical "pure" languages were about as inaccessible as the Proto-Germanic Old Frankish; that is, pure guesswork. Dialects or languages in the sense of dialects became the major feature of the Germanic linguistic landscape.
A second term in use by Van Vliet was oud Duijts, "Old Dutch", where Duijts meant "the entire Continental Germanic continuum". The terms Nederlandsch and Nederduijts were coming into use for contemporary Dutch. Van Vliet used the oud Duijts ambiguously to mean sometimes Francks, sometimes Old Dutch, and sometimes Middle Dutch, perhaps because the terms were not yet firm in his mind.Duijts had been in general use until about 1580 to refer to the Dutch language, but subsequently was replaced by Nederduytsch.
English linguists lost no time in bringing Van Vliet's oud Duijts into English as "Old Dutch". The linguistic noun "Old Dutch", however, competed with the adjective "Old Dutch", meaning an earlier writing in the same Dutch, such as an old Dutch rhyme, or an old Dutch proverb. For example, Brandt's "old Dutch proverb", in the English of his translator, John Childe, mentioned in 1721:Eendracht maekt macht, en twist verquist, "Unity gives strength, and Discord wastes," means contemporary Dutch and not Old Dutch. On the frontispiece, Childe refers to the language in which the book was written as "the original Low Dutch". Linguistic "Old Dutch" had already become "Low Dutch", the contemporary language, and "High Dutch", or High German. On the other hand, "Old Dutch" was a popular English adjective used in the 18th century with reference to people, places and things.
There has never been such a thing as one Frankish language. The Franks spoke different languages.