Old Dutch language

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As Old Dutch language , also known as altniederfränkische language is known, is the oldest known language level of the Netherlands . It was spoken from about 600 to 1150 and has only been handed down in fragments. Like its successor, the Middle Dutch language , it was not a standard language in the true sense of the word.

Old Dutch and Old Low Franconian

The two terms Old Dutch and Old Low Franconian are often equated, because the dialects Brabantian and Dutch emerged from Old Low Franconian , which later formed the basis for the modern standard Dutch language .

The North Sea Germanic (or North Sea Germanic influenced) dialects in the west of the language area ( West Flemish , Dutch), especially in the Old Dutch period, speak against equating the terms Old Dutch and Old Low Franconian.

Language area

The area in which Old Dutch was spoken is not identical to today's Dutch-speaking area: Frisian or at least North Sea Germanic ("Ingwaeon") dialects were spoken in the Groningen and Friesland areas as well as on the Dutch coast . In the east of today's Netherlands ( Achterhoek , Overijssel , Drenthe ), Old Saxon dialects were spoken. In the south and southeast, the Old Dutch-speaking area at that time was somewhat larger than the N-Dutch language today: French Flanders and part of the area between the province of Limburg and the Rhine were still part of the Dutch-speaking area at that time.


Differentiation from Middle Dutch

Although there are sometimes big differences, Old Dutch and Middle Dutch flow into each other fluently. The line between the two language levels can hardly be drawn. Generally one takes 1150 or 1200.

The most striking difference is the vowel reduction: In Old Dutch there are full vowels in unstressed syllables, in Middle Dutch they are reduced to a “ Schwa[ə] .


  • anl. vogala 'bird' → mnl. birds
  • anl. dago , daga 'day' → mnl. daghe
  • anl. brecan 'break' → mnl. breken
  • anl. gescrivona 'written' → mnl. gheschreven

The examples come from the chapter by A. Quak, in: Van den Toorn ea (1997) (see references).

Differences compared to the Old Frisian

A characteristic difference to the Frisian of the time was the Germanic au . In Old Dutch, the Germanic au had become ō (that is, a long o ), while in Old Frisian it had become ā (a long a ). Example: The new Dutch place name Akersloot is called Ekerslat in old Frisian documents .

Differences compared to Old High German

The clearest difference between Old Dutch and Old High German was that the second sound shift had taken place in Old High German , but not in Old Dutch.

Differences from Old Saxon

Despite all the similarities, there are some differences between Old Dutch and Old Saxon . Examples:

  • The Germanic sound hl ( chl ) at the beginning of the word has been preserved in Old Saxon, but simplified to l in Old Dutch .
  • In the verb, Old Saxon has a single form for 1st, 2nd and 3rd person plural, while Old Dutch has three different forms there ( -on , -et / it and -unt ).
    • Example: in the case of blīfrom 'we stay' - blīvet 'you stay' - blīvunt 'they remain' opposite asächs. bilīvad 'we / they stay, you stay'.
  • The Old Dutch diphthonged the Germanic ō (the long o ) , the Old Saxon did not. For example, suocan says 'search' opposite asächs . sōkian .
  • Old Saxon has plural endings in -as and -os in the noun , while Old Dutch often has -a .
  • Old Dutch had a hardening of the final voices early on, i.e. the sound change from voiced to unvoiced consonants at the end of the word.
    • Example: anl. Fluot 'flood' opposite asächs. flōd .


Only a few texts and fragments of the Old Dutch have survived. These texts and fragments are published in the Corpus van Middelnederlandse teksten (tot en met het jaar 1200) by Maurits Gysseling. The written tradition is much less than that of related languages, such as B. Old English or Old High German .

In the case of Old Dutch text fragments, it is not always possible to clearly determine whether it is Old Dutch, Old Saxon or Old Frisian . This is due to the poor tradition and the fact that the Germanic languages ​​(or dialects) were more similar at the time. There was a dialect continuum , that is, smooth transitions between related languages ​​or dialects.

The big texts

The Wachtendonck Psalms

The Wachtendonck Psalms are a collection of psalms in Old Dutch. They are named after the owner Arnold Wachtendonck, a scholar from Liège , who in 1598 loaned the humanistic scholar Justus Lipsius a manuscript containing these texts. Lipsius examined the manuscript and copied some psalms. The manuscript itself is lost. The original text is from the 9th or 10th century .

The language of the text is Old Dutch, but Psalms 1 to 3 have a distinct Middle Franconian influence. It is generally believed that the text that has been handed down is the Old Lower Franconian version of a Middle Franconian model.

The question of where the original text originated remains unanswered. Due to linguistic characteristics, Willy Sanders assumed an area on the Lower Rhine. HKJ Cowan, on the other hand, takes a place in the Dutch or Belgian province of Limburg .

The Willeram

The Leiden Willeram (also called Egmond Williram ) is the longest text that clearly has Old Dutch characteristics. The manuscript containing this text is in the Leiden University Library . The language of the text is a mixture of Old High German and Old Dutch. The text is a superficial translation of a commentary on the Song of Songs from the Bible . The template for this text comes from the monk Williram von Ebersberg . The Old Dutch text is from the 11th century .

The Rhenish Reimbibel

The Rheinische Reimbibel (also called: Mittelfränkische Reimbibel) is a Bible in rhyme form, which was probably created in the 12th century in the Werden area. It has been preserved in various fragments.

Some smaller texts and text fragments

The oldest sentence

The oldest old Franconian sentence comes from the Lex Salica , from the 6th century .

Maltho thi afrio lito
I tell you: I will set you free, semi-free

This formula was pronounced when declaring a semifree as free. The Lex Salica contains many individual words (the so-called Malberg glosses ) that are considered to be Old Dutch.

Hebban olla vogala ...

The most famous old Dutch phrase is:

Hebban olla vogala nestas hagunnan hinase hic
enda thu uuat unbidan uue nu
All the birds started nests except me
and you, what are we waiting for now

The usual explanation is that it is an attempt to write, i.e. trying out a pen (in Latin probatio pennae ). According to this declaration, the text comes from a Flemish monk in an English monastery.

This sentence is found among other text fragments on the back of an Old English sermon manuscript. These fragments also contain a Latin version of this old Dutch sentence:

Abent omnes volucres nidos inceptos nisi ego et tu
quid expectamus nunc

See main article: Hebban olla vogala .

Verse of praise from Munsterbilzen

The sentence from a women's monastery in Munsterbilzen in Belgian Limburg dates from around 1130.

Tesi samanunga vvas edele unde scona et omnium virtutum pleniter plena

The first part of this sentence is Old Dutch, the second part is Latin.

Other sources

  • Baptismal vows
  • Mantra
  • Glosses (e.g. glosses on Lex Salica )
  • Place names
  • Personal names

Exploration of Old Dutch

In 2007 the Instituut voor Nederlandse Lexicologie (INL) published the Oudnederlands Woordenboek ("Old Dutch Dictionary"). It has 4500 dictionary articles and is available on the Internet. It covers the period up to 1200. Later texts are included in the Vroegmiddelnederlands Woordenboek ("Early Middle Dutch Dictionary").

Many of the old Dutch texts and text fragments are published in the Corpus van Middelnederlandse teksten (tot en met het jaar 1300) , the so-called Corpus Gysseling .


Old Dutch was written using the Latin alphabet . Since the missionaries in the Netherlands at that time came from Old English and Old High German, one can also assume Old English and Old High German elements in Old Dutch texts.

th is used to represent the Germanic þ sound. Example: thāhton 'they thought'. See also voiceless dental fricative and Þ .

dh is used to reproduce the voiced ð sound. See also voiced dental fricative and Ð .

c is used for the k sound, at the beginning of a word before velar ("dark") vowels. Example: cuning 'König' (nl. Koning ). In front of palatal (“light”) vowels there is k . Example: kēron 'turn, turn'. In the Latin and Old High German tradition, c was pronounced before palatal vowels as [ts] . In positions other than at the beginning of a word, the spellings could change with c and k : ic and ik 'I'.

u stands for the vowel u and the consonant v . Example: uusso 'foxes' (Gen. Pl.). In this example the written u first stands for the consonant v , then for the vowel u . The w -According is mostly uu played. So no distinction was made between today's graphemes u and v , and there was no w -grapheme. See also V and W .

g was probably pronounced spiritually , like in today's Dutch. This is deduced from the change from uueh 'Weg' (acc.) And uuege (dat.). See also voiced velar fricative .

h stands for an h sound (roughly [h] ) and for a ch sound (roughly [χ] or [x] ). Examples: holto , wood ', (Gen. Pl.), Seamless , night'.

i is used for the vowel i and for the consonant j . Examples: uuitton 'know', iār 'year'. So no distinction has yet been made between today's graphemes i and j . See also J .

qu always stands for kw . Example: quāmon 'they came' (nl. Zij kwamen ).

z rarely occurs and then has the pronunciation [ts] . Example: quezzodos 'you hurt' (nl. Jij kwetste ).

The length of vowels is usually not reflected in script. Example: dag 'day' (with a short a ), thahton 'they thought' (with a long a ). For the sake of clarity, the long vowels are marked with a horizontal line: ā . In individual texts the long vowels are written twice. Examples: Heembeke (today's place name Hembeke ), the first name Oodhelmus (both from documents, from the years 941 and 797).


An important characteristic of Old Dutch is the occurrence of full vowels in unstressed syllables.

The following examples show the old Dutch word first, followed by the German and the new Dutch (nl.) Equivalent:

vogala 'Vogel' (nl. vogel ), hebban 'haben' (nl. hebben ), geuon 'give' (nl. geven - in old texts no distinction was made between u and v ), herro 'Herr' (nl. heer ) , gesterkon 'reinforce' (nl. amplify ), geuisso ' gewiss ' (nl. gewis ), fardiligon ' devour ' (nl. verdelgen ).

Another important characteristic is the frequent occurrence of grammatical cases ( case ). Even the Middle Dutch has grammatical cases, but the Old Dutch forms must be distinguished clearly. An example is the Old Dutch noun dag :


dag (nom.)
dages (Gen.)
dage (date)
dag (acc.)


daga (nom.)
dago (Gen.)
dagon (dat.)
daga (acc.)

Sound development


The old Germanic diphthongs ai and au became the long monophthongs ē and ō in Old Dutch . Examples: hēm 'home', slōt 'ditch' (nl. Sloot 'watercourse dug').

The same development also took place in Old Saxon . A similar development took place in the North Sea Germanic languages ​​Old Frisian and Old English. In Old Frisian, ai became ē (rarely ā ), but au became ā ; Examples: hēm (or hām ), slāt . In Old English, ai became ā and au became ēa -diphthong; Examples: hām , slēat .

h initially disappears

In Old Dutch, the h sound at the beginning of the word disappears in the course of the 9th century . So is anl. Ringis , Ring '(Gen.) against asächs . and the like. hring .

Vowel reduction

In the Wachtendonck Psalms, the vowels e and i coincide in the unstressed syllables , as do o and u . This leads to variants like dagi and dage 'day' (dative singular) and to variants like tungon and tungun 'tongue; Language '(genitive, dative, accusative singular and nominative, dative, accusative plural). From the 11th century onwards , the unstressed vowels are probably just a Schwa [ə] . This sound is not only written e , but also a (in Egmond's Williram).

Final hardening

The old Dutch already has the final hardening . This means that voiced consonants become voiceless at the end of a word.


  • uuort 'word' (nom.) opposite uuordes (gen.)
  • gif 'give!' (Imperative) versus geuon (infinitive)
  • uueh 'Weg' (acc.) opposite uuege (dat.)


  • The uu in the first example corresponds to today's w .
  • The u in the second example ( geuon ) corresponds to today's Dutch v (e.g. in geven ).
  • The eh in the last example is not a long e and h is no strain H . The word uueh was pronounced something like [wɛç] or [vɛχ] .

hs becomes s

The sound combination hs , i.e. ch + s , became an (voiceless) s in Old Dutch . Example: anl. Uusso 'foxes' (Gen. Pl.) Opposite urgerm. * fuχsō̃ⁿ .

The spelling fuχs- for the Germanic word does not denote a long u , but a short u followed by a ch [χ] as in Bach . This ch -According sometimes take hours and χ written.

In German and English the sound combination hs has become [ks] (dt. Fox , engl. Fox ).

h disappears between vowels

In Old Dutch, the sound h disappears when it is between vowels.


  • anl. thione , flourish 'against ahd. Dihan
  • anl. (ge) sian 'see' opposite ahd.sehan

In New High German, the h is written between vowels, but not pronounced. This h was actually spoken in Old High German .

Lenization of f and s

In the course of the old Dutch language period, the voiceless spirants [f] and [s] became voiced, that is, [v] and [z] when they were at the beginning of the word. This development is rarely seen in the Wachtendonck Psalms. In the case of the place names in the 10th and 11th centuries, however, there are changing spellings, which suggests that the pronunciation changed over time.

See also


  • A. Quak and JM van der Horst, Inleiding Oudnederlands . Leuven: Universitaire Pers Leuven, 2002. (For detailed references: see there)
  • Maurits Gysseling mmv Willy Pijnenburg, Corpus van Middelnederlandse teksten (tot en met het jaar 1300) reeks II (literaire manuscripts), deel 1: Fragments. '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.
  • MC van den Toorn, WJJ Pijnenburg, JA van Leuvensteijn, ea, Geschiedenis van de Nederlandse taal . Amsterdam: Amsterdam University Press, 1997. (Especially pp. 37–42 and pp. 69–74 for the delimitation of Anl. And Mnl.)

Web links

Sources and Notes

  1. a b c d e A. Quak, JM van der Horst, Inleiding Oudnederlands , Leuven 2002, ISBN 90-5867-207-7
  2. a b Herman Vekeman and Andreas Ecke, "History of the Dutch Language" (= Lang's German Textbook Collection, Volume 83), Peter Lang, Bern 1993, ISBN 3-906750-37-X
  3. ^ A b Arend Quak, "The old Middle and Old Lower Franconian Psalms and Glosses" (= Amsterdam publications on language and literature, Volume 47), Rodopi, Amsterdam 1981
  4. http://gtb.inl.nl/openlaszlo/my-apps/GTB/Productie/HuidigeVersie/src/inlgtb.html?owner=ONW