Helau & Alaaf!
These are the battle cries of men, women and children as candy is thrown in the air during carnival. Tomorrow it is yet again time for the streets in the Rhineland to be filled by costume-clad partygoers.
The #blcteam will be there in full force. Keep an eye out on our @Twitter as we reveal our group costume, the taste of vegan meat, and who the office’s biggest party people are.
Our blog series “linguistics for takeaway” has dealt with general linguistics for the past year. Today’s topic of discussion is Düsseldorf Platt, spoken in the Rhineland’s capital. Without it, carnival would only be half as fun. But where does it come from and why do we speak it?
The Benrath Line- an invisible language border
The Benrath Line may sound like just a public transit line, but it is much more. It is an invisible border; an isogloss. Isoglosses indicate word usage on a language map and thus systemize dialects by means of language phenomena (e.g.: plural formation of regular words, pronunciation, etc.).
This Isogloss transverses from east to west Germany, crossing the Rhine near Düsseldorf-Benrath and dividing Germany into low German and high German language areas. It was “drawn” up by linguist Georg Wenker in 1877 and is also referred to as the “Maache-Maake line”.
The deal with with isoglosses
Below the Benrath line lies a Central German speaking area (shown here in blue), which includes Cologne, Koblenz, Bonn, and Frankfurt. This area then further divides into West Central German and East Central German language areas. The West Central German language area is of Central Franconian, Central Ripparian origin.
Düsseldorf is largely located above the Benrath line, making it part of the low German language area, however, it is also categorized as a South Lower Franconian language area.
Düsseldorf Platt cannot be explained by a single isogloss. North Rhine-Westphalia is home to several isoglosses and different dialectal language areas with different influences. This makes for more difficult categorization, but also for more diversity. It is important to also mention that there are, among others, the Karlsruhe, Germersheimer, Speyer, Westphalian and Uerdinger lineages, which further define the division into Low and Upper German.
A journey through time- back to the consonant shift
In order to clarify the origins of Low German and Platt, we must travel back in time about 1200-1400 years. We are in the 6th-8th century A.D. in late antiquity, or rather in the early middle Ages, and the second consonant shift is in progress. This shift is a prerequisite for the development of the (old) High German language from West Germanic.
The second consonant shift happened in three phases, which mostly affected West Germanic plosive sounds (also: occlusive sounds, occlusions) /p/t/k/ in the initial sound, vowel graduation, and germination.
This can be illustrated by comparing Old Saxon (an early stage of Low German) and Middle High German.
Old Saxon opan etan makon skip dat tid
Middle High German offen ezzen machen schif daz zit
Back to the Benrath Line
The second consonant shift happened everywhere underneath the Benrath line. Above, it did not. As such, Düsseldorf Platt resembles Low German in some instances. Because the Benrath line is also known as the “Maake-Maache-Line”, the following comparative example between Cologne Platt (nicknamed “Kölsch”) and Düsseldorf Platt presents itself:
Düsseldorf Platt: lot os mar en Päuske maake; lot os noch en Altbier drenke
Cologne Platt: loss ons noch en Päus-che maache, losse mer dr Dom in Kölle
Although this example may be clear, caution is advised: because the Benrath line runs through Düsseldorf, there are strong Ripuarian tendencies in lexis and pronunciation, especially in the southern part of the city. Furthermore, parts of the Cologne Platt have crept into the Düsseldorf Platt, creating a “Düsseldorf-Rhenish” dialect.
And so all that remains for us to say is:
Dat wie und waröm dat es ons piepejal. Mer senge zosamme, mer drenke zosamme, ob Jeck us Kölle odder Kleenparis, mer fiere Karneval alle zosamme. Lot jonn! *
We wish you a colorful and sunny carnival, with our without Platt, and look forward to discussing machine translation possibilities with the language pair Hochdeutsch-Düsseldorf Platt.
*: The how and why do not matter. We sing together, we drink together, whether you’re from Cologne or Düsseldorf, we all celebrate carnival together. Let’s go!