Low German is a direct descendant of Old Saxon, and as such part of the West Germanic dialect continuum. It was once a major language of trade and administration around the North Sea and Baltic coasts. Its gradual decline began around the fifteenth century, and it has been retreating ever since, giving way to High German. Low German dialects continued nonetheless to be the dominant vernaculars in rural communities of northern Germany until a generation ago. The decline in the importance of agriculture and local, family-based economies has since weakened the language yet further. Low German is now an endangered language, with few fluent speakers among the younger generations, and only very rare cases of children acquiring it as a first language.
The description is based on the dialect of the Krummhörn community, a cluster of rural settlements in Germany's northwestern district of
East Frisia on the north sea coast. East Frisian Low German has a number of unique features which distinguish it from the better documented varieties of Westphalia or Schleswig-Holstein. It is characterised by a series of isoglosses in lexicon, verb morphology, and especially phonology, which features extensive diphthongisation. The book takes an historical perspective, outlining the major developments in phonology and morphology.
The chapters on syntax and the tense system take a discourse-oriented approach, drawing on a corpus of recorded conversation and narratives. A sociolinguistic introduction surveys the present-day state and status of the language.