Language Evolution: The Windows Approach addresses the question: "How can we unravel the evolution of language, given that there is no direct evidence about it?"
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Author: Eldo Neufeld Title: A Dictionary of Plautdietsch Rhyming Words Series Title: LINCOM Studies in Germanic Linguistics 16 Publication Year: 2003 Publisher: Lincom GmbH
Author: Eldo Neufeld Title: Dictionary of Plautdietsch Synonyms and Antonyms Series Title: LINCOM Studies in Germanic Linguistics 16 Publication Year: 2003 Publisher: Lincom GmbH
Oliver Streiter, Department of Western Languages and Literature, National University of Kaohsiung, Taiwan
Plautdietsch, a language known also as Mennonite German, belongs to the language group of Low Saxon. A number of Middle Dutch languages gradually merged into Plautdietsch during the stay of the Mennonites in the Vistula Delta in Northern Poland under the influence of, among others, High German and Prussian (cf. de Graaf & Nieuweboer 1993). The language was later influenced by the languages spoken wherever the Mennonites moved: from Prussia to Russia in 1789, later to Canada, USA, Mexico and other Latin American countries.
Although speakers still number in the hundreds of thousands around the world, without a uniform writing standard and low prestige outside Mennonite communities, Plautdietsch is considered to be seriously threatened. Recently, however, as a consequence of Germany's repatriation policy of ethnic Germans of Russia, the world's largest number of speakers of Plautdietsch (about 200,000) has settled in Germany (cf. Holzhausen, 2006), where Internet portals, electronic dictionaries, the Journal ''Plautdietsch FRIND'' and the ''Institute for Low-German Language'' vigorously promote Plautdietsch in spoken and written form.
German-speaking Mennonites arrived in Canada from Pennsylvania during the American War of Independence and later from Russia in 1870, then during the Russian Revolution and from Eastern Europe during World War II. The new settlers frequently preferred individual homesteads over traditional Mennonite villages (cf. Suderman 1998). As a consequence, the language lost its protective environment, and there was substantial shift away from Plautdietsch. But a revival of Plautdietsch is now underway, partially facilitated through the Internet, as well as through the publication of dictionaries (Rempel 1995, Thiessen 1999) and spelling guidelines (Epp 1996). The New Testament was translated in (Neufeld 1987), and the complete Bible in 2003 (De Bibel 2003).
Eldo Neufeld, the author of the books under review, was born into one of the Plautdietsch speaking families of Canada and spoke Plautdietsch in his childhood and adolescence. Like many others, he shifted to English in his professional life. After retirement he started a project on Plautdietsch which resulted in the publication of dictionaries, a grammar and collections of poems and stories, all published by LINCOM GmbH, Muenchen:
* Plautdietsch Verb Conjugation 2000 * Plautdietsch Grammar 2000 * Collected Plautdietsch Poems (Jesaumelde Plautdietsche Jedichte) and selected Plautdietsch Stories (Uutjewlte Plautdietsche Jeschichte) 2003 * A Dictionary of Plautdietsch Rhyming Words 2003 * Dictionary of Plautdietsch Synonyms and Antonyms 2003 * Plautdietsch - English - Englisch - Plaudietsch. for the Learner of Plautdietsch or Anyone Interested in Netterlandic - Mennonite Plautdietsch
All these books are written in a uniform orthography, the so-called Epp Guidelines, which seems to now be an accepted standard. Having a uniform orthography is extremely valuable for a minority language. It avoids the problem of users and language learners being frustrated by the co-existence of different standards, which might make it more likely that they would shift to the majority language when writing.
The first book under review is the ''Plautdietsch Verb Conjugation'' which lists 501 Plautdietsch conjugated verbs in 2 Volumes. Developing such a verb dictionary is a unique achievement for a language with a threatened status--such dictionaries normally only exist for languages with large numbers of speakers and second language learners.
Showing one verb entry per page, the form of the dictionary is similar to that of 'Le Becherelle, L'art de conjuguer'' (Le Nouveau Bescherelle 1987) or similar inflection dictionaries: The entry starts with a header presenting the citation form of a verb, its English and German translations, the 3 (!) forms of imperative and the four principle parts of a verb--the infinitive, 3rd person singular past tense, 3rd person singular present tense and past participle.
The body of the entry shows verbal phrases (personal pronouns, auxiliaries and the main verb) in a Mood x Tense table. The forms of the subjunctive are included in the entry, although they are analytic and completely regular. In addition, the dictionary does not try to reduce verbs with one inflection pattern to one prototypical entry. The verb BETUTTRE (to soothe/lindern) and the verb FOODRE (to feed/fuettern), for example, are listed in detail in separated entries although they share the same inflection pattern. Even prefixed verbs are assigned a proper entry, although they inflect like the corresponding unprefixed verb, e.g. BRAEAKJE (to break, brechen), AUFBRAEAKJE (to break off, abbrechen) and DOLBRAEAKJE (to break down, abbrechen). The size of the volumes could thus be drastically reduced while increasing the coverage by simply referring in the index from the prefixed verb to the simple verb (e.g. to break down, AUFBRAEAKJE -> BRAEAKJE). The dictionary could thus try to reveal irregularities instead of repeating regularities.
The spelling of the High German verb translation is sometimes inaccurate, no matter which German spelling rules you apply. This might be easily corrected in a future edition. The page layout is unattractive and should at least highlight irregular forms in some way (e.g. boldface). Also, no page-numbering is provided. Page-numbering seems to be indispensable if the dictionary is to follow more advanced schemes of grouping and indexing. A short explanation on how the different tenses, moods and imperatives are used in Plautdietsch in comparison to English, High German and Dutch also seems necessary to me, especially if the book is to be useful to non-native speakers.
The second book under review is the ''Dictionary of Plautdietsch Synonyms and Antonyms'' published in 2003. This dictionary lists 286 pages of common Plautdietsch words and phrases. Each keyword is given a part of speech, an English translation, and is then followed by an alphabetically ordered list of synonyms and a list of antonyms. A word listed as synonym or antonym might be listed as a keyword elsewhere in the dictionary with a different list of antonyms and synonyms. Focusing mainly on words with a great number of meanings, this dictionary is not only interesting for language users and learners, but also for linguists who want to explore the meaning of Mennonite words in comparison to other Germanic languages.
The third book under review is ''A Dictionary of Plautdietsch Rhyming Words'' published in 2002. This dictionary lists 67 pages of rhyming words in three sections, one for words stressed on the last syllable, one for words stressed on the penultimate syllable and one for words stressed on the antepenultimate syllable. The head words of the entries are not words but word endings in a quasi-phonetic writing, e.g. 'Aute' for rhyming words like FRAUTE, GLAUTE etc. By providing information on the stress pattern and vowel length of hundreds of Plautdietsch words, this book will be a valuable resource to any linguist who is interested in these patterns in Germanic languages.
Eldo Neufeld succeeded in creating dictionaries for Plautdietsch to support language learners and native speakers in their writing activities, giving a solid base to the rising number of publications in Plautdietsch on the Web. By providing an English and German index in the Dictionary of verb conjugation, an attempt is made to create a unique tool for the language communities in Canada, the USA and Germany. Bringing these language communities together seems to be a wise measure towards making the language attractive to the next generation.
Although these three dictionaries cannot deny the private context in which they have been produced, they certainly comply with the linguistic standards set by equivalent commercial products for major languages. It remains to be hoped that these dictionaries will be followed by other milestones in the promotion of Plautdietsch.
De Bibel. 2003. Winnipeg/Kansas. Kindred Productions.
Epp, Reuben. 1996. The Spelling of Low German & Plautdietsch. Reader's Press.
Epp, Reuben. 1996. The Story of Low German & Plautdietsch. Reader's Press.
de Graaf, Tjeerd & Nieuweboer, Rogier. 1993. De taal der Mennonieten in Siberie en hun relatie met Nederland. Accessed online at: http://odur.let.rug.nl/ ~degraaf/publications/1993mennonieten_doopsgezind.txt.
Holzhausen, Andreas. 2006. Die Bibel auf Plautdietsch. Accessed online at: http://plattdeutsch.hcjb.org/?Was_ist_Plautdietsch%3F:Un_Gott_s%E4d.
Krahn, Cornelius and Al Reimer. 1989. ''Dialect Literature and Speech, Low German.'' Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. Accessed online (through Google Cache): http://www.gameo.org/encyclopedia/contents/D5350ME.html.
Neufeld J. J. (translator). 1987. Daut Niehe Testament. Winnipeg/Kansas: Kindred Productions.
Le Nouveau Bescherelle. 1987. 1. L'art de conjuger. Dictionnaire de 12000 verbes. Hatier.
Suderman, Derek. 1998. Who are the Mennonites? Accessed online at: http://www.mhsc.ca.
Rempel, Herman. 1995. Kjenn Jie Noch Plautdietsch? A Mennonite Low German Dictionary. Prairie View Press.
Thiessen, Jack. 2003. Mennonite Low German Dictionary / Mennonitisch-Plattdeutsches Woerterbuch. University of Wisconsin Press.
http://22.214.171.124/cgi-bin/nlrdf_publ/kwic.py?target_lg=59124 (a small online Plautdietsch Corpus)
ABOUT THE REVIEWER:
ABOUT THE REVIEWER
Oliver Streiter teaches computational linguistics and corpus linguistics at the National University of Kaohsiung, Taiwan. His current research focuses on the compilation and annotation of linguistic resources for low density languages.