|Old Dutch / Old Low Franconian|
|Region||the Low Countries|
|Era||5th to middle 12th century, when it developed into Middle Dutch|
In linguistics, Old Dutch or Old Low Franconian is the set of Franconian (or Frankish) dialects 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 loan words from Old Low Franconian. It is regarded as the primary stage in the development of a separate Dutch language. By the end of the 9th century, the Franconian (or Frankish) dialects spoken by the descendants of the Salian Franks had developed into what is recognisable today as an early form of Dutch, but that might also have been the case earlier. Old Dutch in turn evolved into Middle Dutch around the 12th century.
Old Dutch was spoken by the populace that occupied what is now southern Netherlands, northern Belgium, part of northern France, and parts of the Lower Rhine and Westphalia regions of Germany. 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, a language that had much in common with Old Dutch.
Before the advent of Old Dutch, North Sea Germanic was spoken in most of the Netherlands and Belgium. Elements of this language in the Netherlands survived longer through the Old Frisian language, but in the rest of the country it was mostly replaced as it retreated to England along with the migrating Angles and Saxons. Instead the more widespread Common Germanic tongue spoken in the area became more popular and evolved into the Low Franconian languages that included Old Dutch. Linguists typically date this transition to around the 5th century.
Several words that are known to have developed in the Netherlands before Old Dutch was spoken have been found, and are sometimes called Oudnederlands in a geographic sense (where Nederlands means "Netherlandic", not "Dutch"). The oldest known example, wad, was already mentioned in 108 AD by Tacitus. The word exclusively referred to the region and ground type that is now known as the Wadden Sea. However, since this word existed long before Old Dutch did, it can not be considered part of its vocabulary. Linguists Nicoline van der Sijs and Tanneke Schoonheim from Genootschap Onze Taal instead attribute the role of oldest Dutch word to the ancestor of the modern verb gunnen, a word that has no clear English cognate. Its modern meaning is roughly "to think someone deserves something, to derive satisfaction from someone else's success". They base their claim on a word found in the partially translated Bergakker inscription dating from around 400 ("haþuþuwas ann kusjam loguns"), where ann is commonly translated as "grant" and would have developed into gunnen through the addition of the prefix ge-.
Relation with other West Germanic languages
Old Dutch (or Old Low Franconian) probably evolved primarily from Istvaeonic dialects in the West Germanic branch of Proto-Germanic in the 5th century. However, because Dutch has Ingvaeonic characteristics, some philologists put the language in that branch.
Old West Low Franconian and Old East Low Franconian (compare Limburgian) are very closely related, the divergence being that the latter shares more traits with neighboring historical forms of Middle Franconian such as Ripuarian and Mosel 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 South Holland and Brabant.
In the Middle Ages, a dialect continuum subsisted between Old Low Franconian and Old Saxon; that was only recently interrupted by the simultaneous dissemination of standard languages within each nation and the dissolution of folk dialects. Despite sharing some particular features, a number of disparities separate Old Saxon, Old English, and Old Dutch; one such difference is the Old Dutch utilization of -a as its plural a-stem noun ending, while Old Saxon and Old English employ -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.
During the Merovingian period, the Middle Franconian dialects were influenced by Old Low Franconian, 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 CE.
The other languages did not develop a uniform block discrete from Low Franconian, as they do now. Today, nearly every continental European West Germanic language has German as a standard, the only exception being the Dutch-speaking zone and Frisia.
Relation to Middle Dutch
Old Dutch naturally evolved into Middle Dutch with some distinctions that approximate those found in most medieval West Germanic languages. The year 1150 CE 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, in Middle Dutch, such are leveled to a schwa.
|Old Dutch||Middle Dutch||English|
|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 ca. 900 CE, to modern Dutch, but so accurately reproduces 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||Irlōsin sal an frithe sēla mīna fan thēn thia ginācont 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.|
Early sound developments
Phonologically, Old Dutch stands in between Old Saxon and Old High German, sharing some innovations with the latter, and others with the former. Generally, it is less conservative than either, rarely preserving older phonological stages not shared by one of the others. That may also be a result of its late attestation, however.
Characteristics shared with Old Saxon:
- The Old Germanic diphthongs ai and au become the long vowels ē and ō. Examples: hēm, slōt. There are, however, several examples that show that a diphthong ei remained in some cases, showing that the change was not quite complete as it was in Old Saxon.
Characteristics shared with Old High German:
- The West Germanic ō (/oː/) and ē (/eː/, from Proto-Germanic ē2) become diphthongs uo and ie. Old Dutch fluot versus Old Saxon flōd, Old Dutch hier versus Old Saxon hēr.
- The h-sound in consonant clusters at the beginning of a word disappears around the 9th century while it is retained in the northern languages. Examples include Old Dutch ringis ("ring", genitive), Old High German ring versus Old Saxon and Old English hring, or ros ("steed") versus Old English hros ("horse").
- j is lost when following two consonants, with -jan becoming -en. It is most prominent in ja- and jō-stem nouns and adjectives, and in verbs of the first weak class.
Uniquely Old Dutch characteristics:
- h disappears between vowels. Old Dutch thion, Old English þēon versus Old High German dîhan, or Old Dutch (ge)sian, Old English sēon versus Old High German sehan. (The h in modern German sehen /ˈzeː.ən/ became mute only in later stages of German.)
- The sound combination hs (chs) becomes a geminated ss. Example: Old Dutch vusso < West Germanic fuhs (/fuxs/). (A development shared by the Middle Franconian dialects of High German: compare Luxemburgish Fuuss).
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.
- /m, p, b/ were most likely bilabial whereas /f, v/ were most likely labiodental.
- /n, t, d, s, l/ could have been either dental [n̪, t̪, d̪, s̪, l̪] or alveolar [n͇, t͇, d͇, s͇, l͇].
- /θ/ was likely dental [θ̪], but it could have also been alveolar [θ͇], as it is the case in Modern Icelandic.
- /r/ was most likely alveolar, either a trill [r͇] or a tap [ɾ͇].
- Most consonants could be geminated. Notably, geminated /v/ gave [bb], and geminated /ɣ/ probably gave [ɡɡ]. Geminated /h/ resulted in [xx].
- In the course of the Old Dutch period the voiceless spirants /f, θ, s/ gained voiced allophones [v, ð, z] when positioned at the beginning of a syllable. The change is faithfully reflected for [v], the other two allophones continuing to be written as before. In the Wachtendonck Psalms, it is very rare, but much later, it can be seen in the spelling of Dutch toponyms. Thus, the sound change was taking place during the 10th and 11th century.
- /v/ also occurred word-medially as an independent phoneme, developed from Proto-Germanic [β], the fricative allophone of /b/.
- After /n/, /ɣ/ was realized as a plosive [ɡ].
- Postvocalic /h/ was realized as velar [x].
Old Dutch experienced final-obstruent devoicing much earlier than 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).
- wort ("word", nominative) versus wordes (genitive)
- gif ("give!", imperative) versus geuon ("to give", infinitive)
- weh [wex] ("way", accusative) versus wege ("way", dative)
Final devoicing has become systematic in modern Dutch. It is reflected in spelling for f/v (leef-leven), s/z (kaas-kazen) but not for t/d: woord, "word", is spelled with a /d/ but pronounced with a [t].
- Phonetic realisation of /uː/ differed by area. In most areas, it was probably realised phonetically as central [ʉː] or front [yː] or a diphthong [ʉ̞w ~ ʏw] before a vowel, but it was probably retained as back [uː] or [ʊw] in others (at least in Limburg). While there is no direct evidence for this in Old Dutch, it can be inferred by later developments in Middle Dutch.
- Long vowels were rare in unstressed syllables and occurred mostly because of suffixation or compounding.
- /y/ and /ø/ were originally umlaut allophones of /u/ and /o/ before /i/ or /j/ in the following syllable. They were, however, partly phonemicised when the conditioning sounds were gradually lost over time. Sometimes, the fronting was reverted later. Regardless of phonemic distinction, they were still written as u and o.
- As in northwestern High German, /u/ was lowered to [o] by the end of the Old Dutch period and is no longer distinguished from /o/ (likely [ɔ]) in writing. In western dialects, the two phonemes eventually merge.
- /i/ and /e/ were also similar in articulation, but they did not merge except in some small and frequently used monosyllables (such as bin > ben, 'I am'). They, however, merged consistently when they were later lengthened in open syllables.
- The backness of /a/ and /aː/ is unknown. They may have been front [a, aː], central [ä, äː], back [ɑ, ɑː] or mixed (for example, /a/ was back [ɑ] whereas /aː/ was front [aː], as in modern Dutch).
- /a/ probably had a rounded allophone [ɒ] before velarised [ɫ]. It eventually merged with /o/ in this position, as in Low Saxon, but in Dutch, the velar [ɫ] vocalised, creating a diphthong.
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 (/ə/). A short phrase from the gospel book of Munsterbilzen Abbey, written around 1130, still shows several unstressed vowels distinguished:
- Tesi samanunga was edele unde scona
- This community was noble and pure
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.
|Opening||ie (ia io)||uo|
- The closing diphthongs /ei/ and /ou/ occurred systematically only in the southeastern dialects, having merged with /eː/ and /oː/ elsewhere. The other dialects retained only /ei/, in words where earlier /ai/ had been affected by umlaut (which prevented it from becoming /eː/ in many Old Dutch dialects, but not in Old Saxon).
- The situation for the front opening diphthongs is somewhat unclear, but it seems similar to the situation for unstressed short vowels. Words written with io in Old High German are often found written with ia or even ie in Old Dutch. They had likely merged with each other already during the Old Dutch period.
- Similarly /iu/ eventually merged with the other opening diphthongs in some dialects. In the others, it merged with /uː/ in most cases (after having passed through an intermediate stage such as [yu]).
- There also existed 'long' diphthongs /aːu/ and /eːu/ but were treated as two-syllable sequences of a long vowel followed by a short one, not as proper diphthongs.
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: ā. 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).
- c is used for [ɫ] when it is followed by u, o or a: cuning [kuniŋk] 'king' (modern koning). In front of i or e, the earlier texts (especially names in Latin deeds and charters) used ch. By the later tenth century, the newer letter k (which was rarely used in Latin) was starting to replace this spelling: kēron [keːron] 'to turn around' (mod. keren).
- It is not exactly clear how c was pronounced before i or e in Old Dutch. In the Latin orthography of the time, c before front vowels stood for an affricate [t͡s]; it is quite likely that early Dutch spelling followed that pronunciation.
- g represented [ɣ] or its allophone [ɡ]: brengan [breŋɡan] 'to bring', segghan [seɡɡan] 'to say', wege [weɣe] 'way' (dative).
- h represents [h] and its allophone [x]: holto [hoɫto] 'wood' (mod. hout), naht 'night' (mod. nacht).
- i is used for both the vowels [i] and [iː] and the consonant [j]: ik [ik] 'I' (mod. ik), iār [jaːr] 'year' (mod. jaar).
- qu always represents [kw]: quāmon [kwaːmon] 'they came' (mod. kwamen).
- s represented the consonant [s] and later also [z].
- th is used to indicate [θ]: thāhton [θaːxton] 'they thought' (mod. dachten). Occasionally, dh is used for [ð].
- u represented the vowels [u] and [uː] or the consonant [v]: uusso [vusso] 'foxes' (genitive plural).
- uu was normally used to represent [w], as the letter w did not yet exist.
- z rarely appears, and when it does, it is pronounced [ts]: quezzodos [kwetsodos] 'you hurt' (past tense, now kwetste).
The (a) declension
The -s ending in the masculine plural was preserved in the coastal dialects, as can be seen in the Hebban Olla Vogalla 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)|
|Nominative||dag||–||daga / dagas||–a / -as||buok||–||buok||–|
|Accusative||dag||–||daga / dagas||–a / -as||buok||–||buok||–|
The (o) declension & weak feminine declension
During the Old Dutch period, the distinction between the feminine ō-stems and ōn-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|
The (i) declension
|Masculine - bruk (breach)||Feminine - gift (gift)|
|Accusative||bruk||–||bruki||–i||gift||–||gifti / gifte||–i|
The weak masculine and neuter declensions
|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.
Old Dutch texts are extremely rare and much more limited when compared to 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 these Latin texts, however, contained Old Dutch words interspersed with the Latin text. Also, it is extremely hard to determine whether a text actually was written in Old Dutch, as the Germanic dialects spoken at that time were not standardised and were much more similar.
The most famous sentence
Hebban olla vogala nestas hagunnan hinase hic
enda thu uuat unbidan uue nu.
Arguably, the most famous text containing Old Dutch is translated to "All birds have started making nests, except me and you, what are we waiting for?", dating around the year 1100, written by a West Flemish monk in a convent in Rochester, England. For a long time, the sentence was commonly considered to be the earliest in Dutch. However, many older texts have since been discovered.
Some larger texts
The Wachtendonck Psalms
The Wachtendonck Psalms are a collection of Latin psalms, with a translation in an eastern variety of Old Low Franconian which contains a number of Old High German elements; it was probably based on a Middle Franconian original. Very little remains of them. The psalms were named after a manuscript, which disappeared, but out of it, scholars believe that the surviving fragments must have been copied. This 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 apparently the same material and these 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. A number of editions exist, among others by the 19th-century Dutch philologist Willem Lodewijk van Helten, as well as – more recently – the diplomatic edition by the American historical linguist Robert L. Kyes (1969) and the critical edition by the Dutch philologist Arend Quak (1981). As might be expected from an interlinear translation, the word order of the Old Franconian text follows that of the Latin original very closely.
The Leiden Willeram
The Leiden Willeram is the name given to a manuscript containing a Low Franconian version of the Old High German commentary on Song of Solomon by the German abbot Williram of Ebersberg (ultimately by Isidore of Seville). Until recently, based on its orthography and phonology the text of this manuscript was believed by most scholars to be Middle Franconian, that is Old High German, with some Limburgic or otherwise Franconian admixtures. But in 1974, the German philologist Willy Sanders proved in his study Der Leidener Willeram that the text actually represents an imperfect attempt by a scribe from the northwestern coastal area of the Low Countries to translate the East Franconian original into his local vernacular. The text contains many Old Dutch words not known in Old High German, as well as mistranslated words caused by the scribe's unfamiliarity with some Old High German words in the original he translated, and a confused orthography heavily influenced by the Old High German original. For instance, the letter ⟨z⟩ is used after the High German tradition where it represents Germanic t shifted to /ts/. Sanders also proved that the manuscript, now in the University Library of Leiden University, was written at the end of the 11th century in the Abbey of Egmond in modern North Holland, whence the manuscript's other name Egmond Willeram.
The Rhinelandic Rhyming Bible
Another important source for Old Dutch is the so-called Rhinelandic Rhyming Bible (Dutch: Rijnlandse Rijmbijbel and German: Rheinische Reimbibel). This is a verse translation of biblical histories, attested only in a series of fragments, which was composed in a mixed dialect containing Low German, Old Dutch and High German (Rhine-Franconian) elements. It was likely composed in north-west Germany in the early 12th century, possibly in Werden Abbey, near Essen.
- Place names
- Personal names
Older sentences considered to be in either Old Dutch or Frankish
An earlier sentence of what could be considered Old Dutch comes from the "Lex salica", written in the early 6th century:
- "Maltho thi afrio lito"
- ('I say, I free you, half-free')
This phrase was used to free a serf. Apart from this, the Lex Salica also contains a number of single words used when no Latin equivalent existed.
In 1996, an even older (425–450) sentence was discovered on the sword sheath of Bergakker that is perhaps better described as Frankish than Old Dutch (with the Frankish language being the direct parent language of Old Dutch).
- Hammarström, Harald; Forkel, Robert; Haspelmath, Martin; Bank, Sebastian, eds. (2016). "Old Dutch". Glottolog 2.7. Jena: Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History.
- Cf. M.C. van den Toorn, W.J.J. Pijnenburg et al., Geschiedenis van de Nederlandse taal (1997), 37; G. Janssens & A. Marynissen, Het Nederlands vroeger en nu (2nd ed., 2005), 38; 54.
- Webster's New World Dictionary: Old Dutch
- de Vries, Jan W., Roland Willemyns and Peter Burger, Het verhaal van een taal, Amsterdam: Prometheus, 2003, pp. 12, 21-27. Page 27: "...Aan het einde van de negende eeuw kan er zeker van Nederlands gesproken worden; hoe long daarvoor dat ook het geval was, kan niet met zekerheid worden uitgemaakt." [It can be said with certainty that Dutch was being spoken at the end of the 9th century; how long that might have been the case before that cannot be determined with certainty.]
- Geschiedenis van het Nederlands (Dutch)
- Meer dan hebban olla uogala (Dutch)
- 'Olla Vogala' nog even in woordenboek (Dutch)
- Geschiedenis van het Nederlands (Dutch)
- M.C. van den Toorn, et al., Geschiedenis van de Nederlandse taal (1997), 41, with reference to Gysseling 1980; Quak 1981; De Grauwe 1979, 1982.
- David A. Wells, The "Central Franconian Rhyming Bible" ("Mittelfränkische Reimbibel"): An early-twelfth-century German verse homiliary. Amsterdam: Rodopi, 2004.
- Mees, Bernard (2002). "The Bergakker Inscription and the Beginnings of Dutch". In Vennemann, Theo. Amsterdamer Beitrage zur Alteren Germaninstik. 56. Rodopi. pp. 23–26. ISBN 90-420-1579-9.
- A. Quak en J.M. van der Horst, Inleiding Oudnederlands. Leuven: Universitaire Pers Leuven, 2002).
- Maurits Gysseling m.m.v Willy Pijnenburg, Corpus van Middelnederlandse teksten (tot en met het jaar 1300) reeks II (literaire handschriften), deel 1: Fragmenten. 's-Gravenhage: Martinus Nijhoff, 1980.
- M. Gysseling, "Prae-Nederlands, Oudnederlands, Vroegmiddelnederlands", in: Vierde Colloquium van hoogleraren en lectoren in de neerlandistiek aan buitenlandse universiteiten. Gent, 1970, pp. 78–89.
- M.C. van den Toorn, W.J.J. Pijnenburg, J.A. van Leuvensteijn, e.a., Geschiedenis van de Nederlandse taal. Amsterdam: Amsterdam University Press, 1997.
- Willy Sanders, Der Leidener Willeram. Untersuchungen zu Handschrift, Text und Sprachform. München: Wilhelm Fink Verlag, 1974.