Old Saxon language

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Old Saxon (Sahsisk)
Period early 5th century to 11th century

Formerly spoken in

England , North West Germany, North East Netherlands, South Denmark
Official status
Official language in -
Language codes
ISO 639 -1


ISO 639 -2

gem (Germanic languages)

ISO 639-3


The Old Saxon language (abbreviated As. ) Or Old Low German language (abbreviated And. ) Is the oldest language level of Low German (" Low German"), which was spoken between the 9th and 12th centuries in the settlement area of ​​the Saxons and the Angles . It is the forerunner of Middle Low German and belongs to the group of West Germanic languages or, within this, to the group of North Sea Germanic languages .


The history of science older term Old Saxon refers to the medieval people of Saxony , compare about Altalemannisch, Altbairisch, Altniederfränkisch, Altoberfränkisch, Anglo-Saxon . In contrast, the term Old Low German , which is more recent in terms of the history of science, fits into the sequence old, middle, new plus name of the language, which is also common in other languages , cf. for example Old, Middle, New High German; Old, Middle, New Dutch; Old, Middle, New English .

The term Old Low German is also used as a collective term for Old Saxon and Old Dutch (Old Low Franconian), two languages ​​in the Low German state.


As early as the 5th century, the Anglo-Saxon language had split off and developed into Old English in England - quite in contact with the Saxon mainland . The language of the Angles and Saxons in England is therefore usually no longer included in Old Low German. The development of Low German on the soil of Eastern Franconia and later the Holy Roman Empire has been influenced by the High German dialects since the conquest and forced conversion of northern Germany by Charlemagne .


Old English and Old Frisian are particularly similar to Old Saxon . These three languages ​​are grouped under the term North Sea Germanic languages . Other related languages ​​are Old Dutch and Old High German .


The area of ​​Old Low German in the 9th century is poorly documented, but essentially includes today's Lower Saxony , Westphalia , Lippe , Engern and Ostfalen , including the areas on the left Elbe , which today belong to Saxony-Anhalt (for example from Halle to Magdeburg ).

In the south, the language border to Franconian and thus to Old High German (Central German) ran on a line from Merseburg , Göttingen , northwest Kassel , Korbach to the Sauerland and Ruhr area . Thus, the north-western part of Hesse also belongs to the Old Saxon language area.

Parts of the Lower Rhine region and part of the Netherlands about north of the Ruhr area to Groningen and in the west to the Zuiderzee also belonged to the Old Low German language area. The Old Lower Franconian or Old Dutch language area began south of it . In the north, the area from Groningen to Bremerhaven bordered on the Old Frisian language area, and in Schleswig-Holstein on the Old Danish language and in the north-east on the Plön line and near Lüneburg along the Elbe border to the West Slavonic language area.

Due to the German expansion to the east and north, as well as the flourishing trade, especially in the Hanseatic cities , the old Low German language developed into a written and lingua franca. The Middle Low German developed , which led to a split into the old original area and the colonized areas east of the Elbe, in which numerous foreign influences were absorbed. The process of differentiation from Middle Low German took about 150 years. The Sachsenspiegel represents the language level after this process.

Sources and documents

The Old Saxon or Old Low German language has only survived in a few documents, for example in the baptismal vow that the Saxons had to make under Charlemagne , in the Old Saxon Genesis , which has only survived in fragments, and above all in the greatest poem, the Heliand , which is an epic work after Pattern of Germanic hero sagas tells the story of Jesus Christ . The few other sources are mostly translations from Latin and therefore limited in the lexicon.

When examining the written sources, it must also be borne in mind that they were mostly not recorded by Saxons but by Franks or Bavarians, who presumably had only limited command of the Saxon language. The sources for the Anglo-Saxon region, for example the Beowulf epic, are considerably richer.


The Old Saxon shows numerous Gingwaean features, such as the nasal-spirans law . This describes that the combinations of vowel - nasal - spirans lost the nasal sound in later language stages. Unlike English and Frisian , however, Low German later added many nasals:

language Historical language level Modern language level Historical language level Modern language level
Urgermanic *us - *goose -
Old Frisian / West Frisian ūs ús gōs goes
(Old) English ūs us gōs goose
Old Saxon / Low German ūs us gas Goos (dialect also Gaus)
Old Franconian / Dutch us ons goose goose
(Old High German us us goose goose

Speech sample

Speech sample from Heliand ; the section corresponds in epic retelling form to the opening verses of chapter 2 from the Gospel according to Luke :

Thô ward fon Rûmuburg rîkes mannes
obar alla thesa irminthiod Octaviânas
ban endi bodskepi obar thea is brêdon giwald
cuman fon them kêsure cuningo gihuilicun,
hêmsitteandiun sô wîdo sô is heritogon
obar al that landskeldun. Liudio giwogon obar al that landskeldun.
Was it said that alla thea elilendiun man iro ôdil sôhtin,
helidos iro handmahal angegen iro hêrron bodon,
quâmi te them cnôsla gihue, thanan he cunneas was,
giboran fon them burgiun. That gibod ward gilêstid
obar thesa wîdon werold.

Then it happened from Rome, (that) the ruling man
over all this humanity, Octavian's
ban and message to those over whom he had wide power,
came from the emperor, to all kings
princes (and) so far his dukes
ruled over all this landscape.
(It said) that (all) people (living) abroad should go to their homeland,
the heroes should
come to their home , their masters soil, everyone would come to the clan from which they were descended,
to the castle, from the he was born. The commandment was obeyed
over this wide world.

further reading

  • Rudolf Schützeichel (Ed.): Old High German and Old Saxon Gloss Vocabulary. Edited with the participation of numerous scientists from home and abroad and on behalf of the Academy of Sciences in Göttingen. 12 volumes, Tübingen 2004.

Web links

Wikisource: Old Saxon texts  - sources and full texts
Wiktionary: Old Saxon  - explanations of meanings, word origins, synonyms, translations

Individual evidence

  1. a b Steffen Krogh: The position of Old Saxon in the context of the Germanic languages . Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, Göttingen 1996, ISBN 3-525-20344-6 , pp. 70, 83-84 .
  2. ^ Claus Jürgen Hutterer: The Germanic languages. Your story in outline. Akadémiai Kiadó Budapest 1975 and CH Beck'sche Verlagsbuchhandlung, Munich 1975, ISBN 3-406-05292-4 , p. 244.
  3. ^ Claus Jürgen Hutterer: The Germanic languages. Your story in outline . 2nd Edition. Drei-Lilien-Verlag, Wiesbaden 1987, ISBN 3-922383-52-1 , chap. IV.3.61, p. 243 .
  4. ^ Claus Jürgen Hutterer: The Germanic languages. Your story in outline . 2nd Edition. Drei-Lilien-Verlag, Wiesbaden 1987, ISBN 3-922383-52-1 , chap. IV.3.1, p. 195 .
  5. ^ Adolf Bach : History of the German language . 9th edition. VMA-Verlag, Wiesbaden 1970, DNB  730244261 , p. 78 ff ., § 44 .