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Herman Rempel's current revision of his 1984 dictionary entitled Kjenn Jie Noch Plautdietsch? is a substantial enlargement on the former, listing some 600 additional words not previously included (Rhymes with plowedbeach) is a dialect of Nether-Saxon Low German spoken in the Americas mainly by Mennonites of netherlandic extraction.

Mennonites fled the the Netherlands in the 1500s to settle in the Vistula River delta between the present-day Polish cities of Gdansk, Malbork and Elbing, where dialects of Prussian Low German (Nether Prussian) were spoken. The netherlandic Nether- Saxon Low German spoken by Mennonites moving into the Vistula Delta subsequently gave way to existing manners of speech to that of local dialect(s), the Mennonites adopted words and pronunciations somewhat new to them but native to Prussia. However, they retained some of their netherlandic vocabulary. Despite having left the Netherlands in the 1500s, the Low German of Mennonites today, wherever it is heard, still contains netherlandic words not usually heard in other dialects. Following are a few examples:

klautre, klautere, klauterern (to climb, clamber)
krakjt, kraikt, krek (exactly, tidy)
ladijch, ladig, ledig (empty)
mausse, massa (in mass, many)
porre(n), porren (to urge, to prod)
tachentijch, tachentig, tachtig (eighty)
tüss, t'hüs, thuis (at home)
Among Nether Prussian words adopted into Mennonite Low German from their neighbors of the Vistula are the following:
Eatschocke, Eadschocke, Erdschocke (potatoes)
Kodda, Kodder (rag)
Kjlemp, Klemp (cow)
Klopps (meatballs, patties)
Schrug, Scharrugge (old horse)
Ssoagel, Tsoagel, Zoagel (tail)
In 1789 Mennonites from the Vistula began migrating to New Russia on invitatin of Catherine the Great. In two major migrations out of Prussia during a period of some 15 to 20 years they established settlements and villages in territories newly conquered by Russia later to become part of the Ukraine. The mix of peoples of Frisian, Flemish, Dutch and Lower Saxon in Mennonite settlements in Russia, plus more than two centuries of immersion in various dialects of Nether Prussian, resulted in variations in manner of speech among them, especially in differences between the older Chortitz colony and the newer Molotschna colony.

Inevitably, as Mennonites came into contact with their new Russian and Ukrainian neighbors, they picked up and adopted a number of their terms and expressions. Then, in the 1870s one third of the Mennonites in Russia left for the United States and Canada after somee 70 to 85 years of exposure to the Russian language. Others are still leaving there after 200 years. As might be expected, those whose forefathers remained longest in Russia now use more Russian and Ukrainian words and expressions in their daily speech. The following are examples of words adopted in Russia:

      Arbüs, Rebus, Herbus        russ. arbüs (watermelon)
      Bockelschan, Bockelzhonn    russ. bakalzan (tomato)
      Borscht, Borsch, Borschtsch russ. borsc (beet soup)
      Lauftje, Laufkje            russ. lavka (a store)
      Schemmedaun                 russ. cemodan (large suitecase)
      Schissnikj, Schissnik       russ/ukr. cesnok (garlic)
Despite such word adoptions,the overall stability of Plautdietsch is such that Mennonites who still speak it in the Americas, descendants of those who settled here in the 1870s, cam readily converse with arrivals from Russia inn the 1990s.

Fortunately for Rempel's readers, the author lives in an area where there are speakers of Plautdietsch representing various groups of early and late immigrants to Canada from the Chortitzer and Molotschna colonies and their later daughter colonies. Their speech variations consist not only of differences in pronunciation but also in vocabulary and sentence construction. Rempel's diligence in pursuing words and their meanings through interviews with these various speakers has enabled him to update and expand the contents of his newly- revised dictionary for the benefit of its readers.

Variations in spoken Plautdietsch inhibit consistency in representing all pronunciational nuances in written form. On the other hand, it is not so important to spell out the articulation of each word as it is to present it in a familiar configuration. Once recognized, the word is spoken by its reader in his/her accustomed manner, with scant regard to how it happens to be spelled.

Although Rempel's writing system differs from others, it embodies a number of improvements over those of most. Perhaps it is time for writers of Plautdietsch to strive towards greater harmony betweem written Plautdietsch and Low German as written among more than seven million speakers of other dialects. Understandably, there are differences between dialects as spoken and as written. On the other hand it seems logical and desirable to stress similarities between our mother tongue and the sister dialects rather than their differences. Active recognition of their resemblances would augment harmony in their written form. Rempel takes encouraging steps in that direction when he writes Kjinja, Kjnee, Kjoakj and Kjäakjsche rather than Tjinja, Tjnee, Tjoatj and Täatsche. Widely accepted forms of these words in other Low German dialects are: Kinner, Knee, Kark and Kööksch.

Rempel's Kjenn Jie Noch Plautdietsch of 1984 has proven to be a mine of information for lay people and scholars interested in Plautdietsch. The Plautdietsch-English/English-Plautdietsch dictionary is repeatedly quoted in Preussisches Wörterbuch currently being compiled at the University of Kiel, Germany, which includes Mennonite Plautdietsch (Mennonitisch Niederdeutsch). Rempel's new and expanded revision of 1995, the culmination of eleven additional years of diligent research and writing in his mother tongue, promises to extend the accumulated additional information to readers in an understandable and easy-to-read written form.

Reuben Epp
Kelowna, BC

MennoLink, 30 May 97