|Old Low Franconian|
|Native to||Holland, Austrasia, Zeeland and Flanders|
|Region||The Low Countries|
|Era||5th to middle 12th century AD, gradually developed into Middle Dutch|
|Runes, later Latin|
The areas where the Old Dutch language was spoken
In linguistics, Old Dutch or Old Low Franconian is the set of Franconian dialects (i.e. dialects that evolved from Frankish) spoken in the Low Countries during the Early Middle Ages, from around the 5th to the 12th century. Old Dutch is mostly recorded on fragmentary relics, and words have been reconstructed from Middle Dutch and Old Dutch loanwords in French.
Old Dutch is regarded as the primary stage in the development of a separate Dutch language. It was spoken by the descendants of the Salian Franks who occupied what is now the southern Netherlands, northern Belgium, part of northern France, and parts of the Lower Rhine regions of Germany. It evolved into Middle Dutch around the 12th century. The inhabitants of northern Dutch provinces, including Groningen, Friesland and the coast of North Holland, spoke Old Frisian, and some in the east (Achterhoek, Overijssel and Drenthe) spoke Old Saxon.
Before the advent of Old Dutch or any of the Germanic languages, Germanic dialects were mutually intelligible. The North Sea Germanic dialects were spoken in the whole of the coastal parts of the Netherlands and Belgium. Old Frisian was one of these dialects, and elements of it survived through the Frisian language, spoken in the province of Friesland in the North of the Netherlands. In the rest of the coastal region, these dialects were mostly displaced following the withdrawal to England of the migrating Angles, Saxons and Jutes, who gave rise to Old English.
It was largely replaced by Weser-Rhine Germanic dialects, spoken by the Salian Franks. It spread from northern Belgium and the southern Netherlands to the coast and evolved into Old Low Franconian or Old Dutch. It has, however, a North sea Germanic substrate, which is why some philologists put the language in that branch. Linguists typically date this transition to around the 5th century.
Old Dutch is divided into Old West Low Franconian and Old East Low Franconian (Limburgian); however, these varieties are very closely related, the divergence being that the latter shares more traits with neighboring historical forms of Central Franconian dialects such as Ripuarian and Moselle Franconian. While both forms of Low Franconian were instrumental to the framing of Middle Dutch, Old East Low Franconian did not contribute much to Standard Dutch, which is based on the consolidated dialects of Holland and Brabant.
During the Merovingian period, the Central Franconian dialects were influenced by Old Low Franconian (Old Dutch), resulting in certain linguistic loans which yielded a slight overlap of vocabulary, most of which relates to warfare. In addition is the subsumption of the High German consonant shift, a set of phonological changes beginning around the 5th or 6th century that partially influenced Old Dutch, and extensively influenced Central Franconian and other Old High German dialects.
Old English, Old Frisian and (to a lesser degree) Old Saxon share the application of the Ingvaeonic nasal spirant law. Old Dutch was considerably less affected than the other three languages, but a dialect continuum formed or existed between both Old Dutch and Old Saxon, as well as Old Dutch and Old Frisian. Despite sharing some particular features, a number of disparities separate Old Saxon, Old English, and Old Dutch. One such difference is that Old Dutch uses -a as its plural a-stem noun ending, while Old Saxon and Old English employs -as or -os. Much of the grammatical variation between Old Dutch and Old Saxon is similar to that between Old Dutch and Old High German.
Old Dutch naturally evolved into Middle Dutch with some distinctions that approximate those found in most medieval West Germanic languages. The year 1150 is often cited as the time of the discontinuity, but it actually marks a time of profuse Dutch writing whose language is patently different from Old Dutch.
The most notable difference between Old and Middle Dutch is in a feature of speech known as vowel reduction. Round vowels in word-final syllables are rather frequent in Old Dutch, but in Middle Dutch, they are reduced to a schwa:
|Old Dutch||Middle Dutch||English|
|daga / dago||daghe||days (nominative/genitive)|
|gescrivona||ghescreven||written (past participle)|
The following is a translation of Psalm 55:18, taken from the Wachtendonck Psalms; it shows the evolution of Dutch, from the original Old Dutch, written c. 900, to modern Dutch, but so accurately copies the Latin word order of the original that there is little information that can be garnered on Old Dutch syntax. In Modern Dutch, recasting is necessary to form a coherent sentence.
|Old Dutch||Irl?sin sal an frithe s?la m?na fan th?n thia gin?cont mi, wanda under managon he was mit mi.|
|Middle Dutch||Erlosen sal hi in vrede siele mine van dien die genaken mi, want onder menegen hi was met mi.|
|Modern Dutch (with old word order)||Verlossen zal hij in vrede ziel mijn van zij die genaken mij, want onder menigen hij was met mij.|
|Modern Dutch (with new word order)||Hij zal mijn ziel verlossen in vrede van hen die mij genaken, want onder menigen was hij met mij.|
|English||He will deliver my soul in peace from those who attack me, for, amongst many, he was with me.|
Old Dutch texts are extremely rare and much more limited than for related languages like Old English and Old High German. Most of the earliest texts written in the Netherlands were written in Latin, rather than Old Dutch. Some of the Latin texts, however, contained Old Dutch words interspersed with the Latin text. Also, it is hard to determine whether a text actually was written in Old Dutch, as the Germanic languages spoken at that time were not standardised and were much more similar to one another.
Several words that are known to have developed in the Netherlands before Old Dutch was spoken have been found, and they are sometimes called Oudnederlands (English: "Old Netherlandic") in a geographic sense. The oldest known example, wad (English: "mudflat"), had already been mentioned in AD 108 by Tacitus. The word exclusively referred to the region and ground type that is now known as the Wadden Sea. However, since the word existed long before Old Dutch did (and even before its parent language, Frankish), it cannot be considered part of the vocabulary of Old Dutch but rather of Proto-Germanic.
haþuþuwas ann kusjam loguns
This sentence has been interpreted as "[property] of Haþuþewaz. I bestow upon the choosers of the swords". It was discovered on a sword sheath, excavated in 1996 in the Dutch village of Bergakker and is perhaps better described as Frankish than Old Dutch (Frankish was the direct parent language of Old Dutch). The text however, shows the beginning of Old Dutch morphology. The word ann, found in the partially-translated inscription is coined as the oldest Dutch by linguists Nicoline van der Sijs and Tanneke Schoonheim from Genootschap Onze Taal. They attribute that word to the ancestor of the modern Dutch verb root gun, through the addition of the prefix ge-. (An English cognate probably survives in to own (up) in the sense of 'to acknowledge, concede'.) Its modern meaning is roughly "to think someone deserves something, to derive satisfaction from someone else's success", and it is commonly translated as "grant" or "bestow".
Maltho thi afrio lito
Glosses to the Salic law code (the Malbergse glossen) contain several Old Dutch words and this full sentence, which is likely the earliest in the language. It translates as "I declare, I free you, half-free" and was written in the early 6th century. The phrase was used to free a serf. A lito (English: half-free) was a form of serf in the feudal system, a half-free farmer, who was connected to the land of the lord for whom he worked but not owned by that lord. In contrast, a slave was fully owned by the lord. The Old Dutch word and the Modern Dutch counterpart laat are both etymologically and in meaning undoubtedly related to the verb root laat (English: 'let go', 'release'), which may indicate the fairly free status of such person in relation to that a slave. Note that the Old Dutch word lito is particularly recognisable in the verb's past tense lieten.
End ec forsacho allum dioboles uuercum and uuordum, Thunær ende Uuôden ende Saxnôte ende allum thêm unholdum thê hira genôtas sint.
The Utrecht Baptismal Vow, or Old Saxon Baptismal Vow, is a 9th-century baptismal vow that was found in a monastery library in the German city of Mainz but was written in the Dutch city of Utrecht. The sentence translates as "And I renounce all the deeds and words of the devil, Thunear, W?den and Saxn?t, and all those fiends that are their companions". It mentions three Germanic pagan gods of the early Saxons which the reader is to forsake: Uuôden ("Woden"), Thunaer and Saxn?t. Scholar Rudolf Simek comments that the vow is of particular interest because it is the sole instance of the god Saxn?t mentioned in a religious context. One of many baptismal vows, it is now archived in the Vatican Codex pal. 577. Sometimes interpreteted as Old Saxon, a number of Dutch and German scholars have concluded the Baptismal Vow was actually written in the 8th century in Old Dutch. The difficulty in establishing whether the text was written in Old Saxon or Old Franconian is that those languages were very much alike.
Irlôsin sol an frithe sêla mîna fan thên thia ginâcont mi, wanda under managon he was mit mi
The Wachtendonck Psalms are a collection of Latin psalms, with a translation in an eastern variety of Old Dutch (Old East Low Franconian) which contains a number of Old High German elements. The example sentence above translates as "He will deliver my soul in peace from those who attack me, for, amongst many, he was with me." Probably based on a Central Franconian original, very little remains of the psalms. They were named after a manuscript that has not survived but was the source from which scholars believe the surviving fragments must have been copied. The manuscript was once owned by Canon Arnold Wachtendonck. The surviving fragments are handwritten copies made by the Renaissance scholar Justus Lipsius in the sixteenth century. Lipsius made a number of separate copies of what appeared to be the same material, but the versions do not always agree. In addition, scholars conclude that the numerous errors and inconsistencies in the fragments point not only to some carelessness or inattentiveness by the Renaissance scholars but also to errors in the now-lost manuscript out of which the material was copied. The language of the Psalms suggests that they were originally written in the 10th century.
Thes naghtes an minemo beddo vortheroda ich minen wino. Ich vortheroda hine ande ne vand sin niet.
This example sentence taken from the Leiden Willeram translates as "All night long on my bed I looked for the one my heart loves; I looked for him but did not find him". The manuscript, now in the library of the Leiden University in the Netherlands, contains an Old Dutch translation of an Old High German (East Frankish) commentary on Song of Solomon, written by the German abbot Williram of Ebersberg. The translation was done by a monk of the Abbey of Egmond, and so the manuscript's other name is Egmond Willeram. The text represents an imperfect attempt to translate the original into the local Old Dutch vernacular. The text contains many Old Dutch words as well as mistranslated words since the scribe must have been unfamiliar with some Old High German words in the original. It could nevertheless be regarded as the first book written in Old Dutch. However, since the book never left the abbey, it cannot be regarded as the start of a Dutch literature and did not influence later works.
Hebban olla vogala nestas hagunnan hinase hic enda thu, uuat unbidan uue nu.
Arguably the most famous text containing Old Dutch, the fragment is translated as "All birds have started making nests, except me and you, what are we waiting for?" The text is dated from around 1100 and written by a West Flemish monk in a convent in Rochester, England. For a long time, the sentence was commonly but erroneously considered to be the earliest in Dutch. However, it could be considered the oldest Dutch non-religious poetry. The text is usually considered a West Flemish dialect, but certain Ingvaeonic forms might be expected in any of the coastal dialects of Old English, Old Frisian, Old Saxon or Old Dutch. However, the -n of the third-person plural hebban, which is absent in both Old English and Frisian, identifies the language as Old Dutch (Old High German habent uses a different stem). Hagunnan and hi(c) have a prothetic h, which points also to West Flemish in which the h was frequently dropped or, in the written language, added before vowels (compare abent in the Latin version). However, it has been postulated that the text could equally well be Old English, more specifically Old Kentish.
nu saget mir einen kuning other greven, the an uren got wille gelouven, that se sagent, that ist gelogen, thes ist thaz arme volc bedrogen.
Translated as "Mention one king or earl who wants to believe in their god, what they say is a lie, that's how the people are being deceived", this fragment comes from an important source for Old Dutch: the Rhinelandic Rhyming Bible (Dutch: Rijnlandse Rijmbijbel; German: Rheinische Reimbibel). The verse translation of biblical histories is attested only in a series of fragments from different writers. It contains Low German (Low Saxon), Old Dutch (Low Franconian) and High German (Rhine-Franconian) elements. It was likely composed in the northwest of Germany in the early 12th century, possibly in Werden Abbey, near Essen.
The table below lists the consonantal phonemes of Old Dutch. For descriptions of the sounds and definitions of the terms, follow the links on the headings.
Final-obstruent devoicing of Proto-Germanic [?] to [f] occurred across the West Germanic languages, and thus also in Old Dutch. Old Dutch spelling also reveals final devoicing of other consonants, namely:
Final devoicing was countered by the syllable-initial voicing of voiceless fricatives, which made [v] and [f] allophones of each other.
Final devoicing appears much earlier in Old Dutch than it does Old Saxon and Old High German. In fact, by judging from the find at Bergakker, it would seem that the language already had inherited this characteristic from Old Frankish whereas Old Saxon and Old High German are known to have maintained word-final voiced obstruents much later (at least 900).
In unstressed syllables, only three vowels seem to have been reliably distinguished: open, front and back. In the Wachtendonck Psalms, the e and i merged in unstressed syllables, as did o and u. That led to variants like dagi and dage ("day", dative singular) and tungon and tungun ("tongue", genitive, dative, accusative singular and nominative, dative, accusative plural). The forms with e and o are generally found later on, showing the gradual reduction of the articulatory distinction, eventually merging into a schwa (/?/). A short phrase from the gospel book of Munsterbilzen Abbey, written around 1130, still shows several unstressed vowels distinguished:
That was a late monument, however, as the merging of all unstressed short vowels was already well underway by that time. Most likely, the difference was maintained only in spelling traditions, but it had been mostly lost in speech. With the introduction of new scribal traditions in the 12th and 13th century, the practices were abandoned, and unstressed vowels were consistently written as e from that time onward.
Old Dutch was spelt using the Latin alphabet. However, since early missionaries in the Low Countries were mostly Old English and Old High German speakers, Old English and Old High German elements appear even if they were never present in the spoken language.
The length of a vowel was generally not represented in writing probably because the monks, who were the ones capable of writing and teaching how to write, tended to base the written language on Latin, which also does not make a distinction in writing: dag "day" (short vowel), thahton "they thought" (long vowel). Later on, the long vowels were sometimes marked with a macron to indicate a long vowel: ?. In some texts long vowels were indicated by simply doubling the vowel in question, as in the placename Heembeke and personal name Oodhelmus (both from charters written in 941 and 797 respectively).
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The -s ending in the masculine plural was preserved in the coastal dialects, as can be seen in the Hebban Olla Vogala text where nestas is used instead of nesta. Later on, the -s ending entered Hollandic dialects and became part of the modern standard language.
|Masculine: dag (day)||Neuter: buok (book)|
|Genitive||dages / dagis||-es / -is||dago||-o||buokes / buokis||-es / -is||buoko||-o|
|Dative||dage / dagi||-e / -i||dagon||-on||buoke / buoki||-e / -i||buokon||-on|
During the Old Dutch period, the distinction between the feminine ?-stems and ?n-stems began to disappear, when endings of one were transferred to the other declension and vice versa, as part of a larger process in which the distinction between the strong and weak inflection was being lost not only in feminine nouns but also in adjectives. The process is shown in a more advanced stage in Middle Dutch.
|Feminine: ertha (earth)|
|Nominative||ertha||-a||ertha / erthon||-a / -on|
|Accusative||ertha||-a||ertha / erthon||-a / -on|
|Masculine: bruk (breach)||Feminine: gift (gift)|
|Nominative||bruk||-||bruke / bruki||-e / -i||gift||-||gifte / gifti||-e / -i|
|Accusative||bruk||-||bruke / bruki||-e / -i||gift||-||gifte / gifti||-e / -i|
|Genitive||brukes / brukis||-es / -is||bruko||-o||gifte / gifti||-e / -i||gifto||-o|
|Dative||bruke / brukis||-e / -i||brukin||-in||gifte / gifti||-e / -i||giftin||-in|
|Masculine: balko (beam)||Neuter: herta (heart)|
Old Dutch reflects an intermediate stage between Old Saxon and Old High German. Like Old High German, it preserved the three different verb endings in the plural (-on, -et and -unt) while the more northern languages have the same verb ending in all three persons. However, like Old Saxon, it had only two classes of weak verb, with only a few relic verbs of the third weak class, but the third class had still largely been preserved in Old High German.