Plautdietsch language

Native to Argentina, Belize, Bolivia, Brazil, Canada, Germany, Kazakhstan, Mexico, Paraguay, United States, Uruguay
Native speakers
450,000 (2007)[1]
Language codes
ISO 639-3 pdt
Glottolog plau1238[2]

Plautdietsch ( listen ), or Mennonite Low German, was originally a Low Prussian dialect of East Low German, with Dutch influence, that developed in the 16th and 17th centuries in the Vistula delta area of Royal Prussia. The word is the form, in that language, of Plattdeutsch ( listen ) (Low German). Plaut is the same word as German platt or Dutch plat, meaning 'flat' or 'low' (referring to the plains of northern Germany), and the name Dietsch corresponds etymologically to Dutch Duits and German Deutsch (both meaning "of the Tribe"[3] i. e. "German"), which originally meant 'vernacular language' in all the continental West Germanic languages.

Plautdietsch, an East Low German dialect, was a German dialect like others until it was taken by Mennonite settlers to the south west of the Russian Empire starting in 1789. From there it evolved and subsequent waves of migration brought it to North America, starting in 1873, and mostly from there to Latin America starting in 1922.

Plautdietsch is spoken by about 400,000 Russian Mennonites, most notably in the Latin American countries of Mexico, Bolivia, Paraguay, Belize, Brazil,[4] Argentina and Uruguay, as well as in the United States and Canada (particularly Manitoba, Saskatchewan and Ontario).

Today Plautdietsch is spoken in two major dialects that trace their division to Ukraine. These two dialects are split between Chortitza Colony and Molotschna. Many younger Russian Mennonites in Canada and the United States today speak only English. For example, Homer Groening, the father of Matt Groening (creator of The Simpsons), spoke Plautdietsch as a child in a Mennonite community in Saskatchewan in the 1920s, but his son Matt never learned the language.

In 2007, Mexican filmmaker Carlos Reygadas directed the film Stellet Lijcht (Silent Light), set in a Mennonite community in Chihuahua, Mexico. Most of the film's dialogue is in Plautdietsch, which some of the actors had to learn phonetically. Other parts were played by people of the local community.

Migration history

Plautdietsch speakers today are mostly the descendants of Mennonites who fled from what is today the Netherlands and Belgium in the 16th century to escape persecution and resettled in the Vistula delta. They took with them their Dutch, Frisian and Dutch Low Saxon dialects, which over time they mixed with East Low German dialects, the so-called Weichselplatt, of the region. As Mennonites they kept their own (primarily Dutch and Low-German) identity, using Standard Dutch well into the 18th century. At the time of their migration to the Russian Empire, their spoken language resembled the dialects of the region with only some few Dutch elements.[5] Their East Low German dialect is still classified as Low Prussian, or simply Prussian. Russian Mennonites trace their genealogical roots mostly to the Low Countries and north Germany, and to a lesser degree to southern Germany and Switzerland.

Beginning in the late 18th century, the expanding Russian Empire invited Germans and many from the Kingdom of Prussia, including many Mennonites, to create new colonies north of the Black Sea in an area that Russia had recently acquired in one of the Russo-Turkish Wars. This is now part of Ukraine as well as other countries. Beginning in 1873, many Plautdietsch-speaking Mennonites migrated from the Russian Empire to the United States and Canada.

In 1922 Plautdietsch-speaking Mennonites from Canada started to settle in Mexico, and in 1927 in Paraguay. In the 1930s Mennonites emigrated mainly from Soviet Ukraine directly to Brazil. The first Mennonite settlement in Bolivia was founded in 1957 by Plautdietsch-speaking Mennonites from Paraguay. Soon very conservative Plautdietsch-speaking Mennonites from Canada, Mexico, and Belize also relocated to Bolivia, settling together. In 1986/7 a settlement was founded in Argentina by Plautdietsch-speaking Mennonites from other Latin American countries.

Speaker population and language maintenance

Approximate distribution of native speakers of German or a German variety outside Europe
(according to Ethnologue 2016[6] unless referenced otherwise)
Numbers of speakers should not be summed up per country, as they most likely overlap considerably.
Table includes varieties with disputed statuses as separate language.
Standard German Hunsrik/Hunsrückisch Low German&Plautdietsch Pennsylvania Dutch Hutterite
Argentina 400,000 N/A 4,000 N/A N/A
Australia 79,000 N/A N/A N/A N/A
Belize N/A N/A 9,360 N/A N/A
Bolivia 160,000 N/A 60,000 N/A N/A
Brazil 1,500,000 3,000,000 8,000 N/A N/A
Canada 430,000 N/A 80,000 15,000 23,200
Chile 35,000 N/A N/A N/A N/A
Costa Rica N/A N/A 2,000 N/A N/A
Israel 200,000 N/A N/A N/A N/A
Kazakhstan 30,400 N/A 100,000 N/A N/A
Mexico N/A N/A 40,000 N/A N/A
Namibia 22,500 N/A N/A N/A N/A
New Zealand 36,000 N/A N/A N/A N/A
Paraguay 166,000 N/A 40,000 N/A N/A
Russia 394,138[7] N/A N/A N/A N/A
South Africa 12,000 N/A N/A N/A N/A
Uruguay 28,000 N/A 2,000 N/A N/A
United States 1,104,354[8] N/A 12,000 118,000 10,800
Sum 4,597,392 3,000,000 357,360 133,000 34,000

Plautdietsch-speaking communities in Latin America have mostly maintained their language, while also learning local languages. In North America, many Mennonites have adopted English as their common language. In Germany, many Mennonites have shifted to Standard German, with only the most conservative fraction maintaining use of the Plautdietsch dialect.


There is disagreement whether Plautdietsch is a language or a dialect. Some classify it as a dialect of Low German (Plattdüütsch) on the basis of mutual intelligibility. Others classify it as a language on the basis of sociolinguistic reasons. According to the Ausbausprache, Abstandsprache and Dachsprache framework, it is a dialect.

Plautdietsch is primarily a spoken, not written language, without a Standard form. It shares grammatical and lexical similarities with other varieties of Low German, and in general it is intelligible to other Low German speakers after some acquaintance. On the other hand, it has several developments and sound shifts not found in any other Low German dialect.


As one might expect from a spoken language which traditionally lacked a consistent writing system, and which has been carried by speakers to several different territories where other languages prevail, several regional differences have developed. However, the major differences seem to have originated in the beginning of the 19th century in the two Mennonite settlements in New Russia (today Ukraine), known as Chortitza (Old Colony) and Molotschna (New Colony), as noted above. Some of the major differences between these two varieties are:

Old Colony dialect Molotschna dialect Contemporary other Low German Standard (High) German meaning of word
verbs and other -en endings räden räde reden reden to speak, to talk
oa diphthong Froag [freaɣ] Froag [froaɣ] Fraag Frage question
u/y sound Hus/Hüs [hys] Hus [hus] Huus Haus house
s/ts sound Zol (Ssol) [sol] Zol (Tsol) [tsol] Tahl Zahl number

A few other differences sometimes related to this issue are the exact pronunciation of the IPA c sound and words as jenau/jeneiw. According to some studies, those might be due to the level of education of the speaker, as well as the influence of Russian and standard German.

Some Plautdietsch speakers might speak a mixture of both dialects. Those, for instance, who trace their origin to the Bergthal Colony in New Russia (Ukraine), a daughter colony of the Old Colony, show all the phonetic distinction of the Old Colony version, but they drop the final -n as the Molotschna speakers do.

Comparison with related languages

Plautdietsch has a Low German (Low Saxon) base, and as such, it does not show the effects of the High German consonant shift. This distinguished the High German dialects from the Low German dialects and all other Germanic languages.[9] The basic distinctions between High German and Low German are:

Effects of the High German consonant shift

German Low German Plautdietsch Dutch English
High German pf, f = Low German p Pfeife Piep Piep pijp pipe
Apfel Appel Aupel appel apple
High German z, s, ss, ß = Low German t Zunge Tung Tung tong tongue
was wat waut wat what
essen eten äte(n) eten to eat
Fuß Foot Foot voet foot
High German ch = Low German k machen maken moake(n) maken to make
High German t = Low German d tun doon doone(n) doen to do
Teil Deel Deel deel part (compare "dole", "deal")
High German b = Low German v, f Leben Leven Läwe(n) leven life
Korb Korf Korf korf basket
English th = other Germanic languages d danken danken danke(n) danken to thank

Like Dutch, Frisian and Low German, Plautdietsch only shows the mutation of th into d.

Vowel shifts in various Germanic languages

Original vowel sound German Low German Plautdietsch Dutch English
Wein [vaɪn] Wien [viːn] Wien [viːn] wijn [ʋɛin] wine [wain]
Feuer [fɔʏɐ] Füür [fyːɐ] Fia [fiːɐ] vuur [vyːr] fire [faɪɚ]
Haus [haʊ̯s] Huus [huːs] Hus [huːs] (Mol), [hyːs] (OCol) huis [ɦœʏ̯s] house [haʊs]

As shown, while Dutch, English and German have experienced similar vowel shifts, Plautdietsch has only merged the old Germanic /yː/ sound with /iː/, while long /uː/ is retained in the Molotschna dialect. The Old Colony variety has fronted it to the now vacant /yː/.

Unique developments

Not only has Plautdietsch undergone vowel shift, various dialects of Plautdietsch have also had their ownshifts.[10]

Vowel lowering

High German Low German Plautdietsch Dutch English
/ɪ/ to /ɛ/ Fisch, dünn Fisch, dünn Fesch, denn vis, dun fish, thin
/ɛ/ to /a/ helfen, rennen hölpen, rennen halpe(n), rane(n) helpen, rennen to help, to run
/ʊ/ to /ɔ/1 Luft, Brust Luft, Borst Loft, Brost lucht, borst air (Latinate root)/archaic loft,breast
/aː/ to /au/ Mann, Hand Mann, Hand Maun, Haunt man, hand man, hand
  1. This shift is still active, as some speakers { including a few from Hague} still retain the older pronunciation.

Vowel unrounding

High German Low German Plautdietsch Dutch English
grün, schön gröön, schöön jreen, scheen groen, mooi/schoon green, beautiful {compare archaic sheen}
to ei [ɛ] Heu, rein Hau, rein Hei, rein hooi, schoon/rein hay, clean
/œ/ to e, a Götter Gödder Jetta goden gods

Diphthongization before g, k, ch [IPA x] and r, with possible loss of r

High German Low German Plautdietsch Dutch English
Herz Hart Hoat hart heart
machen maken moake(n) maken make
fragen fragen froage(n) vragen ask (compare Old English fraegn)
hoch hooch huach hoog high
Horn, Hörner Hoorn, Höörn Huarn, Hieena hoorn, hoorns horn, horns

The deletion of r has been completed in most final positions, after front vowels and before alveolar consonants, but is still retained in the infinitive of verbs, after short vowels, and sometimes after back vowels as seen in the example Huarn, Hieena.

Various other vowel equivalences

Proto-Germanic High German Low German Plautdietsch Dutch English
/a/ = /o/ *watraz, *fadar, *namōn Wasser, Vater, Name Water, Vader, Naam Wota, Voda, Nomen water, vader, naam water, father, name
/ai/ = ee [ɔɪ] *saiwalō, *ainaz, *twai Seele, eins, zwei Seel, een, twee Seel, eent, twee ziel, één, twee soul, one, two
/æ/, /ō/ = oo [ɔʊ]1 *raudas, *hōdaz rot, Hut root, Hoot root, Hoot rood, hoed red, hood
  1. /æ/ shifted to /au/ before voiced consonants.


All words with a /g/ or /k/ preceding or following a front vowel (/e/ or /i/, not counting schwa) have been shifted to /j/ and /c/ (the latter has been written as kj or tj), even if there is another consonant between the vowel and the consonant. An intervocalic /g/ is palatalized as the voiced palatal stop /ɟ/, written gj or dj. (A similar event occurred with English, but not as generalized). Where an /e/ or /i/ has been sunken to /a/, the palatalized sound is retained. Also where German has a palatalization (of the shifted /ç/ consonant), Plautdietsch retains the palatalization (of /k/) even after lowering a front vowel.

German Low German Plautdietsch Dutch English
gestern güstern jistren gisteren yesterday
geben geven jäwen geven give
Kirche Kark Kjoakj kerk church
Brücke Brüch Brigj brug bridge
Milch Melk Malkj melk milk
recht recht rajcht recht right

Influences and borrowings


Most Anabaptists that settled in the Vistula Delta were of Dutch or northern German origins, and were joined by refugees from different parts of Germany and Switzerland, who influenced their developing language. After almost two centuries in West Prussia, German replaced Dutch as church, school and written language and has become a source from where words are borrowed extensively, especially for religious terms. Many of these words show the effects of the High German consonant shift (something you would not expect in a Low German dialect), even though they are otherwise adapted into Plautdietsch phonetics. Compare:

Plautdietsch High German Low German Dutch English
hinja hinter (achter, hinner) (achter), old Dutch adverb hinder behind (after)
Zol Zahl Tall tal number (compare "(to) tell" as in "I can't tell how many there are".)
jreessen grüßen gröten groeten greet
kjamfen kämpfen fechten; kempen vechten fight

This is the case particularly on nouns made out of verbs. The verb normally shows the unshifted consonant, whereas the noun has a shifted Germanized consonant: schluten, Schluss; bräakjen, Bruch (to close, closure; to break, a break)


The first half of the 16th century was the onset of the rule of terror by the Duke of Alba in the Spanish Low Countries during the Dutch Revolt (AKA Eighty Years' War), that was centered on religious freedom for the Protestants. As a result, many Mennonites and Reformed left the country. This continued in the 17th century, when the Dutch Reformed Church became the official religion, being less than indulgent to other types of Protestantism, let alone the types perceived as radical (non-violent, no bearing of arms, no recognition of worldly authorities). In Low German area, they left their language traces in particular at the lower Vistula, around Gdańsk and Elbląg, and up the river towards Toruń.

The Mennonites for a long time maintained their old language. In Danzig, Dutch as the language of the church disappeared about 1800. As a spoken language, the Mennonites took up the Vistula Low German, the vocabulary of which they themselves had already influenced. As a written language, they took up High German. It was this Vistula Low German or Weichselplatt that the Mennonites took with them and kept while migrating to Russia, Canada and elsewhere.[11]

Old Prussian and Baltic languages

Plautdietsch Origin English
Mejal Margell girl
Kujel Kuigel male pig

Russian or Ukrainian

Wherever Mennonites settled, they found new foods and other items they were not familiar with, and when that happened, they took the name that local people used for those items. The following words are of Russian or Ukrainian origin:

Plautdietsch High German English Russian Ukrainian
Bockelzhonn Aubergine aubergine баклажан (baklazhan, “eggplant”) баклажан (baklazhan, “eggplant”)
Arbus/Erbus/Rebus Wassermelone watermelon арбуз (arbuz) Кавун (Kavun, “squash, melon”)
Schisnikj Knoblauch garlic чеснок (chesnok) часник (chasnyk)


As Mennonites came into contact with new technology, they often adapted the names for the technologies they encountered. For those who had settled in North America in the 1870s, all new words were borrowed from English, and even though many left for South America only 50 years after their arrival, they kept and sometimes adapted these words into the Mennonite Low German Phonetics:

English word Adapted PD word IPA alternate word
bicycle Beissikjel bɛsɪcl Foaraut
highway Heiwä hɛve Huachwajch
truck Trock trɔk -

Particularly words for auto parts are taken from English: hood, fender, brakes (along with the more Low German form Brams), spark plugs (pluralized Ploggen), but also words like peanuts, belt, tax.

A special case is the word jleichen. It is an adaption of the English verb "to like", but taken from the German adverb gleich (equivalent of the English adverb "like", as in "This is like joking").


Plautdietsch speakers living in Spanish speaking countries use many words of Spanish in their daily speech, especially in business and communication (telephone, for instance) vocabulary. Two examples of words which are completely adapted into Mennonite Low German are Burra (Mexican Spanish burro, donkey) and Wratsch (Mexican Spanish huarache, sandal). Both have a Low German plural: Burrasch, Wratschen. The pure Low German words Äsel and Schlorr are seldom used in Mexico.


The spelling of Plautdietsch has also been controversial. The main criteria for spelling systems have been:

  1. Spelling should be as phonetic as possible.
  2. German spelling rules should be applied whenever possible.

One problem has been what letters to use for sounds that do not exist in German, such as the palatal /c/ and /ʝ/ sounds, which are both pronounced and spelled differently in various dialects of Plautdietsch. Old Colony speakers pronounce these sounds by striking the middle of the tongue against the palate. Others, especially speakers of the Molotschna dialect, instead strike the tongue against the alveolar ridge and spell them tj and dj. Most Plautdietsch speakers' ears are not accustomed to realize these subtle, if not trivial, differences, and will often confuse one with the other.

Other problematic areas: use or non-use of v for some words with /f/ sound, use or non-use of Dehnungs-h, when to double consonants and when not to.

When comparing different writers, one must take into account the dialect of that writer. The most famous Plautdietsch writer, Arnold Dyck, wrote in the Molotschna dialect, though his origins were from the Old Colony. During his life he made many changes in his spelling system. His developments are the basis for the various spellings used today. In the following table, only his final system is taken into account, as used in his famous Koop enn Bua series, along with Herman Rempel (Kjennn Jie noch Plautdietsch?), Reuben Epp (Plautdietsche Schreftsteckja), J. Thiessen (Mennonite Low German Dictionary), J. J. Neufeld (Daut niehe Tastament) and Ed Zacharias (De Bibel). The latter two claim to write in the Old Colony dialect, as seen in their verb endings, while the other three use the Plautdietsch as spoken by the descendants of the Bergthal Colony, i. e. the Old Colony dialect with a loss of -n endings.

A. Dyck H. Rempel R. Epp J. Thiessen J. J. Neufeld Ed Zacharias word meaning
Molotschna Bergthal Old Colony
verb endings saje saje saje saje sajen sajen say
c sound Tjoatj Kjoakj Kjoakj Tjoatj Kjoakj Kjoakj church
Dehnungs-h ahm am ahm ahm am am him
oa diphthong Froag Froag Froag Froag Fruog Froag question
ia/iə diphthong Lea, learen, jeleat Lea, learen, jeleat Lea, learen, jeleat Lea, learen, jeleat Lea, learen, jeleat Lia, lieren, jelieet teaching, learn, learned
u/ü du du du du du you
consonant doubling rollen, jerollt, Golt rollen, jerollt, Golt rollen, jerollt, Golt rollen, jerollt, Golt rollen, jerollt, Gollt rollen, jerolt, Golt roll, rolled, gold
ua/ya diphthong Wuat, Buak Wuat, Büak Wuat, Büak Wuat, Büak Wuut, Buuk Wuat, Buak word, book
[s/ts] sound Zocka Ssocka Zocka Zocka Tsocka Zocka sugar
[f] sound von fonn von von fonn von from


Mennonite Low German has many sounds, including a few not found in other varieties of Low German.


IPA chart of Mennonite Low German consonants
Bilabial Labiodental Alveolar Postalveolar Palatal Velar Glottal
Nasal m n ɲ 1 ŋ 2
Stop p b t d c ɟ3 k ɡ ʔ 4
Fricative f v 5 s z 6 ʃ ʒ 7 ç j 8 x c 9 h
Flap ɾ 10
Approximant ɹ 10
Lateral l k 11

Where symbols for consonants occur in pairs, the left represents the voiceless consonant and the right represents the voiced consonant. Observations: According to the spelling system of De Bibel these sounds are spelled as follows:

  1. /ɲ/ – nj as in Kjinja ('children')
  2. /ŋ/ – ng as in Hunga ('hunger')
  3. /c ɟ/ – kj and gj as in Kjoakj ('church') and Brigj ('bridge')
  4. /ʔ/ – no letter, but has to be used if a word that begins with a vowel or a prefix is added to a word which by itself starts with a vowel: ve'achten (to despise)
  5. /f v/ – /f/ can be written as f or v: Fada ('male cousin'), Voda ('father'). The only criterion is the spelling of these words in German. /v/ is spelled w as in German: Wota ('water')
  6. /s z/ – at the beginning of a word and between vowels /z/ is written s: sajen ('to say'), läsen ('to read'). The /s/ sound is written z at the beginning of a word (where some speakers pronounce it [ts]), ss between vowels and final after a short vowel: Zocka ('sugar'), waussen ('to grow'), Oss ('ox'). At the end of a word after a long vowel or consonant both are written s, the reader has to know the word to pronounce the correct sound: Hos /hoz/ ('rabbit'), Os /os/ ('carrion'). The combination of a short /ɔ/ and a voiced s adds still more confusion to this, as in the word Kos /kɔz/ ('goat').
  7. /ʃ ʒ/ – sch and zh as in School ('school') and ruzhen ('rush'). sp and st represent /ʃp/ and /ʃt/ at the beginning of a word and if a prefix is attached to a word starting with sp or st: spälen ('to play') bestalen ('to order').
  8. /ç j/ – j as in Joa ('year'). The /ç/ sound is written ch after consonants, e, i and äa: Erfolch ('success'), Jesecht ('face'), Jewicht ('weight'), läach ('low'). After a, it is written jch to differentiate it from /x/: rajcht ('right')
  9. /x ɣ/ – /x/ is written ch, only occurs after back vowels: Dach ('day'), Loch ('hole'). [ɣ] (an allophone of /a/) is rendered g between vowels and final: froagen ('to ask'), vondoag ('today'). At the beginning of a word and before consonants, g has the [ɡ] sound.
  10. /ɾ ɹ/ – r is a flap (like the Spanish r), or depending on the person, even a trill (like Spanish rr), before vowels: root ('red'), groot ('big'), Liera ('teacher'); /r/ pronounced as an approximant (English r) before a consonant, at the end and in the -ren endings of Old Colony speakers: kort ('short'), ar ('her'), hieren ('to hear'). The uvular German r [ʀ] is not heard in Plautdietsch.
  11. /l ɫ/ – [ɫ] is an allophone of [l] that occurs after vowels in words like Baul and well.


The vowel inventory of Plautdietsch is large, with 13 simple vowels, 10 diphthongs and one triphthong.

Front Central Back
Close i ɹ1 u
Near-close j ʊ
Close-mid ə
Open-mid ɛ ɔ
Open æ2 ɑ
  1. /y/ is rounded and is heard only in the Old Colony and Bergthal groups.
  2. /æ/ is an allophone of /a/ preceding an /l/ or a palatal consonant.
Plautdietsch vowels with example words
Symbol Example
IPA IPA orthography English translation
j bɪt bitt '(he) bites'
i bit Biet 'piece'
ɹ byt but '(he) builds'
ɛ ʃɛp Schepp 'ship'
beːt bät 'bit'
æ pæl Pell 'pill'
ə de 'the'
ɑ bɑl Baul 'ball'
baːd Bad 'bed'
ɔ bɔl Boll 'bull'
roːt Rot 'advice'
u rua Rua 'tube, pipe'
ʊ bʊk Buck 'stomach'
ɔɪ bɔɪt Beet 'beet'
ɔʊ bɔʊt Boot 'boat'
ia via wia '(he) was'
viət wieet 'worth'
ea vea wäa 'who'
oa boa Boa 'bear'
ua vua wua 'where'
vuət Wuat 'word'
ya bya Bua 'farmer'
byək Buak 'book'
ɔɪa bɔɪa Bea 'beer'

The /u/ sound has been shifted to /y/ in the Old Colony dialect, leaving the sound only as part of the ua diphthong. However, in certain areas and age groups, there is a heavy tendency to shift /o/ sound up to [u].

Pronunciation of certain vowels and diphthongs varies from some speakers to others; the diphthong represented by ee for instances is pronounced [oi] or even [ei] by some. Likewise the long vowels represented by au and ei might have a diphthong glide into [ʊ] and [ɪ], respectively.


Low German grammar resembles High German, as the syntax and morphology is nearly the same as High German's. Over the years, Low German has lost some inflection. It is, however, still moderately inflectional, having two numbers, three genders, two cases, two tenses, three persons, two moods, two voices, and two degrees of comparison.


Even though Low German has three genders, in the nominative case it has only two definite articles (like Dutch and Low Saxon); masculine and feminine articles are homophonous. However, masculine and feminine indefinite articles are still different (like German) and thus, the three genders can still be perfectly established. In the oblique case, the masculine has a special definite article, making it once more different from the feminine, which, like the neuter, does not change. In the plural number, all gender identification is lost (as in German, Dutch and Low Saxon); all plural determiners and adjective endings are homophonous with the feminine singular.

Definite Indefinite
Number Singular Plural Singular
Gender masc fem neuter all masc fem neuter
Nominative de de daut de een eene een
Oblique dän eenen*

Some Plautdietsch writers try to use a three case system with the definite articles, without much consistency. The system looks somewhat like this, some might use the dative neuter articles, others might not:

Number Singular Plural
Gender masc fem neut all
Nominative de de daut de
Accusative dän
Dative däm däm


Masc. Nom. Mas. Obj. Feminine Neuter Plural all
this dis disen dise dit dise
that, proximal dee dän dee daut dee
that, distal jan janen jane jan jane
which woon woonen woone woon woone
such a soon soonen soone soon soone
my mien mienen miene mien miene

All possessives (see under pronouns) are declined like in this way. With the form äa (her/their) an r has to be reinserted before adding endings (äaren, äare).


Like High German, Mennonite Low German nouns inflect into two numbers: singular and plural, three genders: masculine, feminine, and neuter, but only two cases, nominative and oblique. The historical dative and accusative have merged, even though some writers try to maintain a three cases distinction, which has been lost for most speakers, perhaps centuries ago. The oblique case is distinct from the nominative only in 1) personal pronouns: ekj froag am, hee auntwuat mie (I ask him, he answers me) 2) articles and demonstrative and possessive adjectives in the singular masculine gender: de Voda halpt dän Sän (the father helps the son) (observe: nouns are not inflected themselves) and 3) proper names, i. e. traditional Mennonite names: Peeta frajcht Marie-en, Marie auntwuat Peetren (Peter asks Mary, Mary answers Peter)

Singular Plural
Masculine Feminine Neuter Masculine Feminine Neuter
Nominative de Mensch de Sonn daut Hüsde Menschen de Sonnen de Hiesa
Obliquedän Mensch de Sonn daut Hüsde Menschen de Sonnen de Hiesa


The forming of plurals is complicated. Three major procedures can be established: 1) through an ending, -a, -en, -s, -sch or none at all; 2) voicing the final devoiced consonant and 3) fronting (and maybe lowering) a back vowel, which might require palatalization of a velar consonant. A given word could have one or two, all or none of these characteristics.


No ending, no voicing, no vowel fronting: de Fesch de Fesch, daut Schop, de Schop, daut Been, de Been (fish, fishes; sheep, sheep; leg, legs)

Voicing, no ending, no vowel fronting: Frint, Frind; Boajch, Boaj (friend/s, mountain/s)

No ending, no voicing, vowel fronting: Foot, Feet (foot, feet)

Voicing and vowel fronting, no ending: Hoot, Heed (hat/s)

-a ending:

only: Licht, Lichta (light/s)

with voicing: Bilt, Bilda (picture/s)

with vowel fronting: Maun, Mana (man, men)

with voicing, vowel fronting and palatalization: Kaulf, Kjalwa (calf, calves)

-en ending (the -en, -s and -sch endings have no vowel fronting)

only: Näs Näsen, (nose/s)

with voicing: de Tiet, de Tieden, de Erfoarunk, de Erfoarungen (time/s, experience/s)

Words where a historical r is dropped require it to be reinserted: Däa, Däaren (door/s) Polysyllabic words with a vocalized r drop the final a: Sesta, Sestren (sister/s)

An unstressed schwa also is dropped: Gaufel, Gauflen (fork/s)

-s ending

This class consists mainly of 1) short masculine and neuter nouns: Baul -s, Oarm -s (ball/s, arm/s)

2) words related with family members: Sän -s, Fru -es, (son/s, woman, women)

and 3) masculine and neuter nouns ending in -el and -en (the latter may drop the n): Läpel, Läpels; Goaden, Goades (spoon/s; garden/s)

-sch ending

This class consists of masculine and neuter polysyllabic nouns ending with -a: de Voda, de Vodasch; daut Massa, de Massasch (father/s, knife, knives)

For someone knowing (High) German, pluralizing is a fairly predictable process, with some exceptions: the -en ending covers pretty much the same words in both languages; the -a ending is the equivalent for the German -er plural, where German has Umlaut, Plautdietsch will have vowel fronting in most cases. The -s and -sch groups are made almost entirely of polysyllabic nouns which in German have no plural ending.

The most problematic words are those with an -e plural ending in German. Although the entire class with no ending is made out of them, many other words are treated differently. For example, the plurals for Stool and Stock (chair and stick) are Steela and Stakja (compare German Stuhl, Stühle; Stock, Stöcke). Since they have their vowels fronted there seems to be no reason for the -a ending. Many others have been moved into the -en class: Jeboot, Jebooten (commandment/s, German: Gebot, Gebote). With some not so common words, there is no certainty about the correct plural, different speakers create them in different ways: the plural of Jesaz (law) could be Jesaza or Jesazen (German: Gesetz, Gesetze).


The classical genitive is no longer used except in a few relic expressions. Instead, possession is expressed as in many German dialects with the his genitive, i. e. naming the possessor in the oblique case with the possessive adjective and the possessed object: Dän Maun sien Hus (the man's house). With proper nouns, and when the possessor is determined by a possessive adjective, the possessor is in the nominative case instead: Peeta sien Hus (Peter's house); mien Voda sien Hus (my father's house). Very long possessive clauses can be created: Mien Voda seine Mutta äare Mutta es miene Uagrootmutta (my father's mother's mother is my great grandmother).

For inanimate or generalized constructions, the preposition von or a composition are used instead: De Lichta von de Staut/ de Stautslichta (the lights of the city).


The diminutive is formed adding by -kje to the noun: de Jung, daut Jungkje; de Mejal, daut Mejalkje (the boy, the little boy; the girl, the little girl). All diminutive nouns take the neuter gender, with two exceptions: de Oomkje, de Mumkje, two forms used very commonly for mister/man/husband and mistress/woman/wife. These seem to have been created originally as diminutive forms of, respectively, Oom and Mumm (uncle and mother). Today they are no longer seen as diminutives, and therefore retain their respective masculine and feminine genders.

With nouns ending in t or k, only -je is added; a few nouns ending in kj, an additional s is inserted: de Staut, daut Stautje, daut Buak, daut Buakje; daut Stekj, daut Stekjsje (the (little) city, the (little) book, the (little) piece).

Plural diminished nouns take -s ending: Jungkjes, Mejalkjes; however, if the original plural requires fronting of a back vowel or has an -a ending, these features are retained before adding the diminutive suffix: de Stool, de Steela --> daut Stoolkje, de Steelakjes (chair/s, little chair/s)


Personal pronouns

Singular Plural
Person 1st 2d 3d masc 3d fem 3d nt 1st 2d 3d
Nominative ekj du hee see daut (et) wie jie dee, see
Oblique mie die am ar (äa) ons junt (ju) an (äant)
Reflexive sikj sikj
Possessive Adjectives mien dien sien äa sien ons jun äa

Some pronouns have two forms, different persons may use one or other form, or even alternate between them. Daut is used at the beginning of a sentence, but may be replaced by et in other positions.

Possessive adjectives of the masculine (nominative case) or neuter gender. Otherwise they are declined like the indefinite article and determiners (see under article section).

Demonstrative pronouns

masc fem nt plural
Nominative dee dee daut dee
Oblique dän dee/däa daut dee/dän

Demonstrative pronouns are frequently used instead of the personal pronouns. When used so, some people use special oblique forms for feminine and plural. When used strictly demonstrative, only the singular masculine has a special oblique form.


Mennonite Low German verbs have six tenses. The present and first past tenses are inflected, while the second and third past and both future tenses are different words marked by auxiliary verbs. Verbs can have two moods: Declarative and Imperative, two voices: active and passive, and three persons:1st pers. sing., 2nd pers. sing., 3rd pers. sing., and plural.

Weak verbs

The basic conjugation pattern is as follows:

- 1st sing 2nd sing 3rd sing plural
present stem stem + st stem + t infinitive*
past stem + d stem + sd stem + d stem + den
imperative - stem - stem + t

To determine the stem, take the infinitive and drop the -en ending. There are a few modifications to this basic pattern: 1) If the stem ends with a plosive or fricative voiced consonant (d, g, j, soft s, w, zh), that consonant is devoiced in the 2nd and 3d persons of the present, since voiceless t and st automatically force the preceding consonant (compare the sound of the letter d in English lived and liked). 2) If the stem ends with a voiceless consonant (ch, f, jch, k, kj, p, hard s, sch, t) that consonant devoices the d, sd, d, den endings of the past tense (into t, st, t, ten) for the same reason. 3) If the stem ends with two consonants, the second one being a nasal or lateral, a schwa e is inserted to ease pronunciation. 4) Verbs with a diphthong and r have a special treatment; the r is dropped before endings are attached, and the st/sd of the second person is replaced by scht/zhd.

Examples of a regular verbs: spälen (to play), lachen (to laugh), läwen (to live), odmen (to breathe) and roaren (to cry). The first one follows strictly the basic pattern, the others show the various adjustments needed as described above.

If the inverted word order is used, the -en ending of the plural wie, jie (but not see) form is dropped, and a root-only form, identical to the 1st person singular, is used.

ekj du hee, see, daut wie, jie, see ____ wie, jie
spälen, to play
present späl spälst spält spälen späl
past späld spälsd späld spälden späld
imperative - späl (du) - spält (jie)
lachen, to laugh
present lach lachst lacht lachen lach
past lacht lachst lacht lachten lacht
imperative - lach (du) - lacht (jie)
läwen, to live
present läw läfst läft läwen läw
past läwd läwsd läwd läwden läwd
imperative - läw (du) - läft (jie)
odmen, to breathe
present odem odemst odemt odmen odem
past odemd odemsd odemd odemden odemd
imperative - odem (du) - odemt (jie)
roaren, to cry
present roa roascht roat roaren roa
past road roazhd road roaden road
imperative - roa (du) - roat (jie)

Strong verbs

As in English and Dutch, some verbs have a vowel change in past tense and past participle. As in German, some verbs might have a vowel change in second and third person of the singular in present tense as well. A few verbs that are strong in German are weak in Plautdietsch, but many German weak verbs are strong in Plautdietsch, however, when compared with Dutch and English, those are strong, too.

ekj du hee, see, daut wie, jie, see ____ wie, jie
finjen, to find
present finj finjst finjt finjen finj
past funk fungst funk fungen fung
Imperative finj (du) finjt (jie)
sieekjen, to seek
present sieekj sieekjst sieekjt sieekjen sieekj
past socht sochst socht sochten socht
Imperative sieekj (du) sieekjt (jie)
sajen, to say
present saj sajchst sajcht sajen saj
past säd sätst säd säden säd
Imperative saj (du) sajcht (jie)
jäwen, to give
present jäw jefst jeft jäwen jäw
past jeef jeefst jeef jeewen jeew
Imperative jeff (du) jäft (jie)
schriewen, to write
present schriew schrifst schrift schriewen schriew
past schreef schreefst schreef schreewen schreew
Imperative schriew (du) schrieft (jie)
moaken, to make
present moak moakst moakt moaken
past müak müakst müak müaken
Imperative moak{dü} moakt{jie}

GENERALITIES: Vowel changes in present tense are somewhat predictable: long ie and u change into short i; long ä/o change into e or a; diphthongs äa and oa are simplified to a.

The first and third person of the past tense are identical (as in weak verbs).

With only a few exceptions (like the verb sajen), all voiced consonants are devoiced in the three persons of the singular past, the nasal ng and nj are retained in second person, but devoiced in first and third person.

The past tense has the same vowel through all persons.

If there is a vowel change from ä to e or a in the present tense, that feature is retained in the singular imperative.

The plural form for wie/jie in the inverted word order keep the final consonant voiced.

Auxiliary, modal and anomalous verbs

A small groups of verbs are more irregular: the auxiliaries sennen and haben, the modal verbs, and a few verbs that originally were monosyllabic and with time have evolved a -nen ending:

ekj du hee, see, daut wie, jie, see ____ wie, jie
sennen, to be
present sie (senn) best es sent sent
past wia wieescht wia wieren wia
Imperative sie (du) siet (jie)
haben, to have
present hab hast haft haben hab
past haud hautst haud hauden haud
Imperative hab (du) habt (jie)
kjennen, can, to be able
present kaun kau(n)st kaun kjennen kjenn
past kunn ku(n)st kunn kunnen kunn
Imperative - -
stonen, to stand
present sto steist steit stonen sto
past stunt stuntst stunt stunden stund
Imperative sto (du) stot (jie)


The present participle, formed of the infinitive plus a -t ending, is not often used. It appears in idiomatic expressions like aunhoolent bliewen (to persist), and in a few adjective forms, which have to be inflected for number, gender and case, the -t is voiced into -d: koaken, koakendet Wota (to boil, boiling water).

The past participle of weak verbs is formed with je- plus the stem of the verb plus -t. A voiced consonant is devoiced to go along with t, the inserted e between double consonant is retained, the r after a long vowel is dropped. For the weak verbs given above the past participles are: jespält, jelacht, jejäft, jeodemt, jeroat.

The past participle for strong and anomalous verbs is hard to predict, they could be formed in five or six different ways:

  1. some are like the weak verbs: jejäft, jesajcht (given, said);
  2. others are formed of je- plus infinitive: jestonen (stood);
  3. some, including modal verbs, of je- plus first person past tense: jehaut; jesocht, jekunt (had, sought, been able);
  4. others of je- plus plural past: jefungen (found);
  5. Those with an ee or oo in past tense are simplified to ä/o: jeschräwen, jedonen (written, done)
  6. the past participle of sennen is jewast (been)

Adjectives are frequently made from the past participle by attaching an adjective inflection ending and voicing the final t; if the preceding consonant is voiced, with -en participles the e is dropped:

molen, jemolt, een jemoldet Bilt (to draw, drawn, a drawn picture)

koaken, jekoakt, eene jekoakte Ieedschock (to boil, boiled, a boiled potato)

stälen, jestolen, een jestolna Hunt (to steal, stolen, a stolen dog)

Compound tenses

Except for the present and simple past, all other tenses are constructed with the aid of the auxiliary verbs sennen, haben, woaren:

ekj du hee, see, daut wie, jie, see ____ wie, jie
Perfect hab jespält hast jespält haft jespält haben jespält hab wie jespält
Plusquamperfect haud jespält haudst jespält haud jespält hauden jespält haud wie jespält
Future woa spälen woascht spälen woat spälen woaren spälen woa wie spälen
Conditional wudd spälen wurscht spälen wudd spälen wudden spälen wudd wie spälen
Future II woa jespält haben woascht jespält haben woat jespält haben woaren jespält haben woa wie jespält haben

Some intransitive verbs take sennen instead of haben as auxiliary verbs if they: 1) indicate a motion from one place to another, or 2) indicate a change of condition, or 3) the verbs sennen (to be) and bliewen (to keep being, to remain). Example: ekj sie jekomen, ekj sie oolt jeworden, ekj sie jewast (I have come, I have become old, I was).

Expressions relating to future plans

In some communitites of Plautdietsch speakers, the religious prohibition of James 4:13-14[12] is interpreted to proscribe the simple use of the first person in talking about future plans or efforts. In such communities it is considered proper to use a softening introductory phrase such as "Ekj proove," (I try, or will try, or alternately I will want to) to avoid giving offense.


Mennonite Low German also shows a rich inflectional system in its adjectives. Although once even richer, simplification has done its work here too, leaving Mennonite Low German with only three genders: feminine, masculine and neuter, and two comparison degrees: Comparative and Superlative.

PredicateMasculine Fem/Pl/Weak Neuter Strong Neuter** Oblique***
Positive woam woama woamewoamet woamen
Comparativewoama woamra woamrewoamret woamren
Superlativewoamst- woamsta woamstewoamstet woamsten

The plural of all genders is identical to the feminine singular.

Strong and weak neuter declension: after the definite article daut or the demonstratives daut and dit (neuter form of that, this) the t is dropped and a form identical to the feminine and plural is used. In other situations, as with indefinite articles, possessive adjectives or without article, the strong form is used.

The oblique is used only in the masculine singular. However, if a preposition-article compound is used with a neuter noun, then the oblique would be used. Example: em grooten Hus, but: en daut groote Hus, en een grootet Hus.

There is no predicate form for the superlative, a preposition-article compound with the oblique or weak neuter is used: aum woamsten, or: oppet woamste, or newly just the neuter form without preposition: daut woamste: Zemorjes es et woam, opp Meddach woat et woama, no Meddach es et aum woamsten/ oppet woamste/ daut woamste (in the morning it is warm, at noon it is getting warmer, after noon it is the warmest)

The predicate form is used in predicate sentences for all genders: De Maun es oolt, de Fru es oolt, daut Hus es oolt (the man is old, the woman is old, the house is old)


Plautdietsch preposition inventory is rich. Some of the most common:


0-9 0 null 1 eent 2 twee 3 dree 4 vea 5 fiew 6 sas 7 säwen 8 acht 9 näajen
10-19 10 tieen 11 alf 12 twalf 13 drettieen 14 vieetieen 15 feftieen 16 sastieen 17 säwentieen 18 achttieen 19 näajentieen
20-90 0 null 10 tieen 20 twintich 30 dartich 40 vieetich 50 feftich 60 zastich 70 zäwentich 80 tachentich 90 näajentich
0-99 0 null 11 alw 22 twee un twintich 33 dree un dartich 44 vea un vieetich 55 fiew un feftich 66 sas un zastich 77 säwen un zäwentich 88 acht un tachentich 99 näajen un näajentich
ordinal 1st ieeschta 2d tweeda 3d dredda 4th vieeda 5th fefta 6th sasta 7th säwenda 8th achta 9th näajenda
partitive 1/2 haulf, de Halft 1/3 een Dreddel 1/4 een Vieedel 1/5 een Feftel 1/6 een Sastel 1/7 een Säwendel 1/8 een Achtel 1/9 een Näajendel

Observation: the numeral eent (one) is declined like the indefinite article (masculine een [oblique eenen], feminine eene, neuter een) or a demonstrative or possessive pronoun (eena [oblique eenen], eene, eent for the respective genders); when counting, the neuter form eent is used.

Instead of fiew, alw, twalw, some speakers say fief, alf, twalf (5, 11, 12).

The ordinal for 11th and 12th are: alfta, twalfta; from 13-19 use the ordinal + da: drettieenda (13th) ; from 20-99 use the ordinal + sta: fiew un twintichsta (25th). All ordinal numbers are declined like an adjective, the forms given here are masculine nominative.

The partitive numbers for 1/10, 1/11, 1/12 are een Tieedel, een Alftel, een Twalftel, for 13–19 add -del to the ordinal number, for 20–99 add -stel.


Mennonite Low German shows similarity with High German in the word order. The basic word order is subject–verb–object as in English. Indirect objects precede direct objects as in English John gives Mary a present. But that is where similarities end. A dependent verb, i.e. an infinitive or past participle comes at the end of the sentence where in English it would be placed immediately after the main verb, as shown in the following:

Mennonite Low German word order: Jehaun haft dän Desch jemoakt (John has the table made). English word order: John has made the table.

Mennonite Low German, like High German has been referred to as verb-second (V2) word order. In embedded clauses, words relating to time or space, can be placed at the sentence's beginning, but then the subject has to move after the main verb to keep that verb in second position. This pattern is demonstrated here:

Mennonite Low German word order: Nu sie ekj schaftich. More Examples: Dan jeef de Kjennich seine Deena eenen Befäl. (Then the king gave his servants an order)

Also, effects tend to be placed last in the sentence. Example: En daut Kuffel wia soo väl Wota, daut et äwarand (In the cup, there was so much water, that it overflowed).

Mennonite Low German has syntactic patterns not found in High German, or at least not as often, such as the repetition of a subject, by a pronoun. Example: Mien Hoot dee haft dree Akjen. My hat it has three corners.

Questions, orders and exclamations have a verb first word order: Hast du daut oole Hus aun de fefte Gauss jeseenen? (Have you seen the old house on fifth street?). All questions are arranged like this. There is no auxiliary verb to form questions. If there is a question word, that word precedes the verb: Wua es dien Voda jebuaren (Where is your father born?). As in English, when using verbs in the imperative mood, it is not necessary to specify the person addressed, but it can be added for emphasis: Brinj (du) mie emol dän Homa (Please, (you,) bring the hammer to me). The word emol is frequently asked to soften the order as a word for please. Example of an exclamation: Es daut vondoag oba kolt! (Is it cold today!).

Dependent clauses

As in High German, in dependent clauses, the verb goes at the end:

Ekj well morjen miene Mutta besieekjen, wan ekj Tiet hab. (I want to visit my mother tomorrow if I have time). Observe the construction of: if I have time.

However, when a dependent clause has an infinitive or past participle, this rule is no longer strictly applied; there is a strong tendency to move the finite (main) verb before the infinitive or participle, the direct object (or even a long circumstantial complement):

Example: German word order requires a sentence structure like: Hee fruach mie, auf ekj miene Mutta jistren daut Jelt jejäft haud. (Translation: He asked me if I had given the money yesterday to my mother.) Even though this sounds right and perfectly understandable, most speakers would rearrange these same words as follows: Hee fruach mie, auf ekj miene Mutta jistren haud daut Jelt jejäft. Another example: Hee sajcht, daut sien Brooda jrod no de Staut jefoaren es/ Hee sajcht, daut sien Brooda jrod es no de Staut jefoaren (He says that his brother has just gone to the city). Observe: the verb precedes a prepositional phrase, but an adverb is still placed before it.

Text sample

The Lord's Prayer in Plautdietsch, another form of Low German and Dutch.

Plautdietsch Low German Dutch
Ons Voda em Himmel, Uns Vadder in'n Heven, Onze Vader, die in de hemel zijt,
lot dien Nome jeheilicht woare; laat hilligt warrn dien Naam. Uw naam worde geheiligd.
lot dien Rikjdom kome; Laat kamen dien Riek, Uw (konink)rijk kome.
lot dien Welle jedone woare, laat warrn dien Will, Uw wil geschiede,
uck hia oppe Ead, soo aus em Himmel; so as in'n Heven, so ok op de Eer. op aarde zoals in de hemel.
jeff ons Dach fe Dach daut Broot, daut ons fehlt; Uns dääglich Brood giff uns vundaag Geef ons heden ons dagelijks brood,
en vejeff ons onse Schult, un vergiff uns unse Schuld, en vergeef ons onze schuld,
soo aus wie den vejewe, dee sich jeajen ons veschuldicht ha; as wi de vergeven hebbt, de an uns schüllig worrn sünd. zoals ook wij vergeven onze schuldenaars /
zoals ook wij aan anderen hun schuld vergeven;
en brinj ons nich en Vesekjunk nenn, Un laat uns nich versöcht warrn, En leid ons niet in verzoeking / in bekoring,
oba rad ons von Beeset. man maak uns frie vun dat Böös. maar verlos ons van de boze / het kwade.
wiels die jehet daut Rikj, Denn dien is dat Riek Want van U is het koninkrijk,
en dee Krauft en dee Harlichtjeit en Eewichtjeit. un de Kraft un de Herrlichkeid in Ewigkeid. en de kracht en de heerlijkheid in eeuwigheid.

See also


  1. Plautdietsch Ethnologue. Retrieved August 2016.
  2. Hammarström, Harald; Forkel, Robert; Haspelmath, Martin; Bank, Sebastian, eds. (2016). "Plautdietsch". Glottolog 2.7. Jena: Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History.
  4. "Plautdietsch". Retrieved 2014-09-01.
  5. Welschen (2000-2005), 49-50; De Smet 1983.
  6. Ethnologue 19th Edition (2016)
  7. Ethnic groups in Russia
  8. U.S. Department of Commerce, Economics and Statistics Administration - Language Use in the United States: 2007
  9. Plautdietsch does have some loan words from High German which do have the High German sound shift and are acceptable words in the language, according to Herman Rempel's Dictionary Kjenn Jie Noch Plautdietsch, eg. Spruch 'a recitation'
  10. Burns, Roslyn. 2015. The Plautdietsch Vowel Shift Across Space and Time. Journal of Linguistic Geography 3.2: pp 72- 94.
  11. De Smet (1983), 730 - 761.
  12. James 4:13-14





External links

Plautdietsch language test of Wikipedia at Wikimedia Incubator
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