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GERMANY: Dialects in Saxony. The Lusatians or Sorbs



Surprisingly, several conflicting messages were received about German regional accents in Saxony. A native denied there were any. The subject does not seem worth pursuing further. However, George Sassoon sends an interesting piece on language and politics, bringing in the Sorbs, who,are described in the exhaustive two-volume Compendium of the World's Languages by George L. Campbell under "Lusatian", which for some reason is the preferred term.There are two main dialects, one of which is spoken in the area around Cottbus. on the upper Spree between Berlin and Dresden. The Spreewald is just north of Cottbus. The Oder-Neisse line, the boundary of Poland, is just to the east of it. How the Sorbs feel about the Poles I do not know. The "Lusatians" numbered about 180,000 in the last century. Now the language is spoken by only about 75,000, and none of them is monoglot. The German constitution recognizes Lusatian as a minority language, and it is used in education, publishing and local broadcasting. Simply put, the language is disappearing--no great loss. Campbell publishes a specimen in what looks like German Gothic script. I have not seen Polish printed that way (see below).

George comments on the statement "Concerning Leiptsch, it is very interesting that in the eastern parts of Germany, some dialect modulations start to sound Slavic". He says: "We were in east Germany in 1991 and visited the Spreewald area of the former German Democratic Republic. This is a picturesque district of marshes where we took a large tourist punt around the canals, the man wielding the pole entertaining us in an incomprehensible dialect. This is the area where the Sorbian, or Wendish language is spoken, a Slav dialect. In Cottbus I found a bookstore where I bought an antique dictionary of it, which I presented to Ron Bracewell at the Stanford Faculty of Obscure and Unknown Languages. From the look of it, it is close to Polish. To give the communists their due, they do not appear to have tried to stamp out Sorbian/Wendish culture. Maybe Hitler attempted this, so the communists had to do the opposite, also in veneration of Mother Russia of course.

The Russians never forgave the Nazis for branding them as sub-human. On the same occasion we went to see the vast Soviet War Memorial in East Berlin, and I read the inscriptions in German and Russian. The Russians were really rubbing the Germans' noses in it - Sub-humans, were we? But we beat you! It was expressly designed to humiliate the poor old Krauts, while the western powers did their best to rehabilitate the country and let bygones be bygones.

Last summer in Croatia my wife photographed a war memorial dated as late as 1964 which was even more bitter about the Germans. Can send pix if of any interest. [Yes thanks, RH]. When I first went to Yugoslavia in 1958 it was still de rigueur to spit whenever Germans were mentioned, and I believe that it still is in Kragujevac, Serbia, where the entire male population was murdered". [Kragujevac is south of Belgrade.RH]

RH: The monument in East Berlin of which George speaks must have been erected after I was there. What has happened to it? I recall only a smallish one. What George says about historical resentment against the Germans fits into out history learning project. We would have to examine history textbooks to see what the official attitude is.

Ronald Hilton - 1/10/03


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