Low Franconian

Low Franconian, Low Frankish, Netherlandic[1][2] is a linguistic category used to classify a number of historical and contemporary West Germanic varieties closely related to, and including, the Dutch language. Most dialects and languages included within the category are spoken in the Netherlands, northern Belgium (Flanders), in the Nord department of France, in western Germany (Lower Rhine), as well as in Suriname, South Africa and Namibia.

Low Franconian
Low Frankish; Netherlandic, Netherlandish
Dutch: Nederfrankisch; High German: Niederfränkisch
Netherlands, northern Belgium, northern France, western Germany, Suriname, Netherlands Antilles, Aruba, Namibia and South Africa
Linguistic classificationIndo-European
Early form
Glottologwese1235  (Low Franconian (Weser–Rhine))
Distribution of Lower Franconian, including the Lower Franconian-Ripuarian transition area in Limburg. The Ripuarian-based dialect of Kerkrade and the surrounding area is not shown.


The term Frankish or Franconian as a modern linguistic category was coined by the German linguist Wilhelm Braune (1850–1926). He divided Franconian which contained both Germanic dialects which had and had not experienced the Second Germanic consonant shift into Low, Middle and High Franconian, with the use of Low signifying that this category did not participate in the sound shift.[3][4]

Low Frankish is a purely linguistic category and isn't used as a term of self-designation among any of the speakers of the Germanic dialects traditionally grouped within it.

Within the field of historical philology the terminology for the historical phases of Low Franconian is not analogous to the traditional Old High German / Middle High German and Old Low German / Middle Low German dichotomies, with the terms Old Dutch and Middle Dutch commonly being preferred to Old Low Franconian and Middle Low Franconian in most contexts. Due to the category's strong interconnection with the Dutch language and its historical forms, Low Franconian is occasionally used interchangeably with Dutch, though the latter term can have a broader as well as narrower meaning depending on the specific context. English publications alternatively use Netherlandic as a synonym of Low Franconian, thereby signifying the category's close relation to Dutch, without using it as a synonym.[1][2]

Historically, Low Franconian was sometimes grouped together with Low Saxon, referred to as Low German. However, since this grouping is not based on common linguistic innovations, but rather on the absence of the High German consonant shift, modern linguistic reference books do not group them together.[5][6]


Frankish settlement areas by the 5th century:

Despite the name, the diachronical connection to Old Frankish, the unattested language spoken by the Franks, is unclear for most of the varieties grouped under the broad "Franconian" category, mainly due to the heavy influence of Elbe Germanic / High German-features on the Middle and High Franconian varieties following the Migration Period.[7][4] The dialects of the Low Franconian grouping form an exception to this, with the dialects generally being accepted to be the most direct descendants of Old Frankish. As such, Old Dutch and Middle Dutch, together with loanwords in Old French, are the principal languages used to reconstruct Old Frankish using the comparative method.[8][9] Within historical linguistics Old Low Franconian is synonymous with Old Dutch.[10] [11] Depending on the author, the temporal boundary between Old Dutch and Old Frankish is either defined by the onset of the Second Germanic consonant shift in Eastern Frankish, the assimilation of an unattested coastal dialect showing North Sea Germanic-features by West Frankish during the closing of the 9th century, or a combination of both.[12] Some linguists use the terms Old Low Franconian or West Frankish to specifically refer to the, very sparsely attested, varieties of Old Dutch spoken prior its assimilation of the coastal dialect.[13]

Old Dutch is divided into Old West Dutch and Old East Dutch, with the descendants of Old West Dutch forming the dominant basis of the Middle Dutch literary language and Old East Dutch forming a noticeable substrate within the dialects of Limburgish.[14]

Modern classification

There are sources to include and Southeast Limburgish / Low Dietsch which would be classified as an East-Low Franconian variety equal to Limburgish or a further subdivision thereof.

The Dutch standard language, being based primarily on Flemish, Brabantian and Hollandic dialects, has had a considerable influence on West Frisian dialects and Low Saxon dialects spoken in the Netherlands, as well as the East Frisian dialects of Germany; to the effect of creating significant substrate interference in these varieties.[15]

Area loss

Until the Early Modern Period all speakers of varieties of Low Franconian used Middle Dutch or Early Modern Dutch as their literary language and Dachsprache. A marked change occurred in the 19th century, when the traditionally Dutch-speaking region of French Flanders experienced a period of Francization under the auspices of the French government.[16] A similar process took place in the Lower Rhine region, then part of Prussia, where extensive Germanisation also took place and public and official use of the Dutch language was forbidden leading to a decline in the use of Dutch and Limburgish.[17][18][19] In addition, the historically Dutch-speaking Brussels Capital Region is officially bilingual, but now largely francophone.

See also


  1. Sarah Grey Thomason, Terrence Kaufman: Language Contact, Creolization, and Genetic Linguistics, University of California Press, 1991, p. 321. (Calling it "Low Frankish (or Netherlandish)".)
  2. Scott Shay: The History of English: A Linguistic Introduction, Wardja Press, 2008, p. 73. (Having "Old Low Franconian" and mentioning "Old Low Frankish" and "Old Netherlandic".)
  3. Strong, Herbert Augustus; Meyer, Kuno (1886). Outlines of a History of the German language. London: Swan Sonnenschein, Le Bas & Lowrey. p. 68.
  4. Alfred Klepsch: Fränkische Dialekte, published on 19 October 2009; in: Historisches Lexikon Bayerns (accessed 21 November 2020)
  5. Glück, H. (ed.): Metzler Lexikon Sprache, pages 472, 473. Stuttgart, Weimar: Metzler, 2000 (entries Niederdeutsch and Niederfränkisch)
  6. 'Gabriele Graefen & Martina Liedke-Göbel: Germanistische Sprachwissenschaft: Deutsch als Erst-, Zweit- oder Fremdsprache 3. ed., 2020, p. 31.
  7. Harbert, Wayne Eugene (2007). The Germanic Languages. Cambridge Language Surveys. Cambridge / New York: Cambridge University Press. pp. 15–17.
  8. M. De Vaan: The Dawn of Dutch: Language contact in the Western Low Countries before 1200, John Benjamins Publishing Company, 2017
  9. R. Noske: Romance Languages and Linguistic Theory: Selected papers from Going Romance, Amsterdam 2007, John Benjamins Publishing, 2017
  10. Alderik H. Blom: Glossing the Psalms: The Emergence of the Written Vernaculars in Western Europe from the Seventh to the Twelfth Centuries, Walter de Gruyter GmbH, 2017, p. 134-135.
  11. Hans Frede Nielsen: The Germanic Languages: Origins and Early Dialectal Interrelations, University of Alabama Press, 1989, p.2
  12. M. De Vaan: The Dawn of Dutch: Language contact in the Western Low Countries before 1200, John Benjamins Publishing Company, 2017, p. 32.
  13. Guy Janssens: Het Nederlands vroeger en nu, ACCO, 2005, p. 47-50.
  14. Welschen, Ad 2000–2005: Course Dutch Society and Culture, International School for Humanities and Social Studies ISHSS, University of Amsterdam
  15. W. Foerste: Der Einfluss des Niederländischen auf den Wortschatz der jüngeren niederdeutschen Mundarten Ostfrieslands, Schuster Verlag, 1975.
  16. "Histoire du français: Le français contemporain". www.axl.cefan.ulaval.ca. Retrieved 6 May 2016.
  17. Werner Besch: Sprachgeschichte: ein Handbuch zur Geschichte der deutschen Sprache, 3. Teilband. De Gruyter, 2003, S. 2636.
  18. Georg Cornelissen: Das Niederländische im preußischen Gelderland und seine Ablösung durch das Deutsche, Rohrscheid, 1986, S. 93.
  19. "Historische Sprachverhältnisse - Institut für Landeskunde und Regionalgeschichte". 21 June 2019. Archived from the original on 21 June 2019. Retrieved 29 September 2022.

Further reading

  • Euler, Wolfram (2013). Das Westgermanische – von der Herausbildung im 3. bis zur Aufgliederung im 7. Jahrhundert – Analyse und Rekonstruktion (West Germanic: from its Emergence in the 3rd up until its Dissolution in the 7th century CE: Analyses and Reconstruction). 244 p., in German with English summary, Verlag Inspiration Un Limited, London/Berlin 2013, ISBN 978-3-9812110-7-8.
  • Maurer, Friedrich (1942), Nordgermanen und Alemannen: Studien zur germanischen und frühdeutschen Sprachgeschichte, Stammes- und Volkskunde, Strasbourg: Hünenburg.
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