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Dutch Low Saxon

Dutch Low Saxon
Nederlaands Leegsaksies
Ethnicity: Saxons
Linguistic classification: Indo-European
Glottolog: None
Low Saxon dialects spoken in the Netherlands

Dutch Low Saxon (Dutch: Nederlands Nedersaksisch; Dutch Low Saxon: Nederlaands Leegsaksies) are the Low Saxon dialects spoken in the northeastern Netherlands. (The remainder of the Netherlands speaks Frisian, Limburgish and Low Franconian languages.) They do not form a coherent language family.


Language classification</th>
Indo-European languages
Germanic languages
West Germanic languages
Low German
West Low German
Dutch Low Saxon

The class “Dutch Low Saxon” is not unanimous. From a diachronic point of view, the Dutch Low Saxon dialects are merely the West Low German dialects which are native to areas in the Netherlands, as opposed to areas beyond the national border with Germany. Some Dutch Low Saxon dialects like Tweants show features of Westphalian, a West Low German dialect spoken in adjacent Northern Germany.

From a strictly synchronic point of view, however, some linguists classify Dutch Low Saxon as a variety of Dutch.[1] Also, as a practical matter, Dutch Low Saxon since the 17th century is influenced by Standard Dutch, whereas the Low Saxon dialects in Germany are influenced by Standard German. Recent studies have, however, shown that this does not necessarily impair mutual intelligibility and that the basis remains the same.


File:2008-05-09 Dinxperlo An de Göte.JPG
Shop with Dutch Low Saxon name An de Göte ("At the Gutter") on the Heelweg in Dinxperlo

Shortly after the Second World War, linguists claimed that speaking a dialect besides the standard language would impair children's (language) learning abilities. In combination with a generally condescending attitude by the upper classes of Dutch society and the media towards speakers of Low Saxon varieties (or in fact anything different from Standard Dutch), this goaded many parents to stop passing the language on to their children. It also brought about a general opinion among speakers of Low Saxon that having the slightest accent in Dutch would reduce job opportunities and social status. Up to today, children using a Low Saxon expression or having an accent may be 'corrected' by their parents, who may be overheard urging them to "speak decently", implying Low Saxon is indecent.

Throughout the 1960s, the language decline inspired many to form dialect preservation circles and groups, such as the Tweants Kreenk vuur de Twentse Sproake (Circle for the Twents language) or the Drèents Huus van de Taol (House of the Language). Many of these were mainly, though not exclusively, interested in preserving, rather than promoting the language. The prevailing tone was one of melancholy, nostalgia, and a yearning for the days of old. Their focus was often on preserving cultural traits considered typical to speakers of the language, such as rural life, traditional practices and crafts, and traditional costumes. This merely confirmed many of the existing stereotypes about speakers of the language. Another, later tone was rather literary in nature. Though well-intended, this caused even more estrangement with younger generations.

At the same time, knowledge of, and appreciation for related varieties was poor. This stifled cooperation between most of these dialect preservation groups. Instead of forming a meta organisation to stand together and helping each other to improve the status for all the different varieties, fiery discussions arose about whether the sound of /ɒ/ should be written as either 'oa' or 'ao'. This resulted in little cooperation, and no nationwide coordination whatsoever. Other attempts to unite the different dialect circles were met with cynicism. The conception prevailed that the dialects were too different to unite.

In 1975, the rock 'n' roll band Normaal boldly shook all perceptions of Low Saxon and its speakers. Up till then, Low Saxon was mostly restricted to traditional folklore music. Normaal openly denounced all Dutch disdain, praised farmers and local farm life, and boldly used Achterhooks Low Saxon, voicing the opinion and feelings of many Dutchmen of non-Dutch speaking origin. Their hit song "Oerend Hard", a song about two bikers who lose their lives in an accident, took the charts by storm, and is nowadays regarded a true evergreen of Dutch music. It quickly garnered them a large fan base, even in non-Low Saxon areas such as Fryslân and Limburg. They inspired many other young rock 'n' roll artists to sing in Low Saxon, who now form a subgenre of their own in the Dutch music industry, which is gradually becoming aware of the genres commercial potential.

In 1996, Dutch Low Saxon was added to the European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages. This means Dutch provinces receive minor funds for preserving and promoting the use of Low Saxon. Due to a general rise in regional pride and appreciation for the Low Saxon identity, the earlier openly disdainful attitude towards Low Saxon seems to have subsided somewhat. Low Saxon is increasingly being used in popular culture, marketing, and local politics. The Tweants municipality of Rijssen-Holten, for example, has officially adopted a bilingual status for their town hall desks. Customers may opt for Dutch or Low Saxon help.

In 2012, a radio presenter for national broadcasting station 3FM, Michiel Veenstra from Almelo, promised to present in Tweants for an hour if a Tweants song received more than €10,000 in the annual fundraising campaign Het Glazen Huis (The Glass House). As the song received more than €17,000, Veenstra kept his promise.[2]

An increasing number of local political parties have used Low Saxon in their 2014 electoral campaigns. In 2014, a Facebook page called "Tukkers be like" gained more than 18,000 followers within a week. The page uses Twents cultural concepts, and expressions in the Twents language. The idea of the page was based on the US internet meme "Bitches be like", which gained enormous popularity in 2013, and inspired many to create their own versions. The meme presents an image of a certain situation, to which a certain group would respond in a typical way.


Dutch Low Saxon has long been stigmatised and banned from schools. People of older generations may relate numerous accounts of their childhood, in which contemporaries were afraid to go to school for fear of being reprimanded -or purposely ignored- for not speaking Dutch. Due to the similarities between the languages, Low Saxon was regarded a dialect of Dutch, and shifting from Low Saxon to Dutch would be relatively easy. Instead of adapting the school curriculum and guiding the children into learning Dutch as a second language and embracing the potential of the Low Saxon language, non-Dutch speaking parents were advised to speak Dutch with their children instead. That would increase their chances of success on the job market. The result was indeed a string of Dutch dialects with Low Saxon features, which were in turn again looked down upon.

In 2014, Low Saxon is still not a part of the Dutch school curriculum. It is neither a subject, nor a mode of communication. This causes a general lack of knowledge about, and appreciation for the language. Its possible role as a language of trade between the Netherlands and Germany is often dismissed, though recent study indicates it may be a useful addition in international trade communications.[3]

As of 2015, language enthusiasts attempt to start up courses for the language and culture, especially in the Tweante region. These are mostly studies aimed at the elderly. They prove to be very popular nonetheless. There still is no professional attempt to promote the language into the school curriculum.


File:Nedersaksische dialecten.JPG
Dutch Low Saxon dialects

Dutch Low Saxon comprises the following dialects (from north to south):

Most varieties belong to the West Low Saxon group. Grunnegs is so different from the rest of the Dutch Low Saxon varieties that it may be treated separately. Tweants and Achterhooks belong to the Westphalian group of dialects. The remainder, Drèents, Stellingwarfs, Sallaans, Urkers and Veluws, could be classified in their own subdivision, since they form the westernmost group of Low Saxon dialects, considerably affected by Dutch. Urkers and West-Veluws are so heavily Hollandified that some people classify these dialects as Low Franconian rather than Low Saxon.

Dutch influence

File:Map of the Low German Dialects.svg
Spread of the contemporary Low Franconian and Low German dialects

A lot of these dialects have been affected by the Hollandic expansion of the seventeenth century. All of them are lexically dependent on Dutch rather than German for neologisms. When written down, they use a Dutch-based orthography.

a unified plural in -en rather than -(e)t
This is found in West-Veluws and Urkers and clearly ensued from Dutch influence, since a unified plural in -(e)t for verbs is common in Low Saxon. These dialects have wiej warken instead of wiej warkt for "we work". This feature is, surprisingly, also found in Stellingwarfs and Grunnegs. Here this trait is believed to have Frisian rather than Hollandic origins however. The Stellingwerven have been Frisian for centuries and Groningen was a Frisian speaking area in the Middle Ages. Modern Frisian has -e here. -en may be a kind of intermediate form between -t and -e. The unified plural takes the form -et rather than -t in the Achterhooks dialect of Winterswijk, and in more conservative southern Tweants varieties (bordering on the Achterhook).
several long vowel shifts
Veluws, Sallaans, Stellingwarfs and Drèents have experienced mutation as the Hollandic dialect rose in prestige during the seventeenth century. The ee [eː] mutated into ie [iː], the oo [oː] into oe [uː] and the oe [uː] into uu [yː]. Tweants and Eastern Achterhooks, by contrast retained their old vowels. Compare these Tweants and Sallaans couples: deer - dier ("animal"); good - goed ("good"); hoes - huus ("house"). Surprisingly, in many dialects the oe sound was preserved in some words while it mutated towards uu in others. As a result, in Sallaans "huis" (house) translates as huus but "muis" (mouse) as moes (as in Tweants).
loss of the word du "thou"
Dutch has lost the word doe "thou" and replaced it with jij, equivalent to English "ye", originally the second person plural. In many Low Saxon dialects in the Netherlands, the very same happened. The doe - ie/ieje/ij isogloss runs surprisingly close to the Dutch border, except in Groningen, where it enters the Dutch territory with a vengeance (in the entire province this word is known). In Twente, it is present in the easternmost villages of Denekamp and Oldenzaal, although its disappearance from the rest of the region is only a relatively recent development. In the Achterhoek (Gelderland), dou may be found in Winterswijk and Groenlo.


  1. ^ Hermann Niebaum/Jürgen Macha: Einführung in die Dialektologie des Deutschen, 2., neubearbeitete Auflage, Tübingen: Max Niemeyer, 2006, p. 221, footnote 7.
  2. ^ Michiel Veenstra presenteert een uur lang in het twents.
  3. ^ Denge, G.J.M. ter. Linguae Intergermanica: The Use of Low Saxon, English, Dutch, German, and Receptive Multilingualism in Northern Dutch – Northern German Communication. 2012.
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