Old Saxon

Old Saxon
Old Low German
Sahsisk, Sahsisc[citation needed]
RegionNorthwest Germany, Northeast Netherlands, Southern Denmark (North Schleswig).
EraMostly developed into Middle Low German at the end of the 12th century
Language codes
ISO 639-3osx
Area in which Old Saxon was spoken in yellow.
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Old Saxon, also known as Old Low German, was a Germanic language and the earliest recorded form of Low German (spoken nowadays in Northern Germany, the northeastern Netherlands, southern Denmark, the Americas and parts of Eastern Europe). It is a West Germanic language, closely related to the Anglo-Frisian languages.[2] It is documented from the 8th century until the 12th century, when it gradually evolved into Middle Low German. It was spoken throughout modern northwestern Germany, primarily in the coastal regions and in the eastern Netherlands by Saxons, a Germanic tribe who inhabited the region of Saxony. It partially shares Anglo-Frisian's (Old Frisian, Old English) Ingvaeonic nasal spirant law which sets it apart from Low Franconian and Irminonic languages, such as Dutch, Luxembourgish and German.

The grammar of Old Saxon was fully inflected with five grammatical cases (nominative, accusative, genitive, dative, and instrumental), three grammatical numbers (singular, plural, and dual) and three grammatical genders (masculine, feminine, and neuter). The dual forms occurred in the first and second persons only and referred to groups of two.

Historically, Old Saxon and Old Dutch were considered to be distinct dialects of an otherwise unitary language rather than two languages, primarily because they were linked through a dialect continuum spanning the modern Netherlands and Germany. However, while these two languages both shared the same historical origins and some very similar writing styles, Old Saxon shows a slightly reduced morphology compared to Old Dutch, which retained some grammatical distinctions that Old Saxon abandoned. There are also various differences in their phonological evolution, Old Saxon being classified as an Ingvaeonic language, whereas Old Dutch is one of the Istvaeonic languages.


Relation with other West Germanic languages

In the Middle Ages, a dialect continuum existed between Old Dutch and Old Saxon, a continuum which has only recently been interrupted by the simultaneous dissemination of standard languages within each nation and the dissolution of folk dialects. Although they share some features, a number of differences separate Old Saxon, Old English, and Old Dutch. One such difference is the Old Dutch utilization of -a as its plural a-stem noun ending, while Old Saxon and Old English employ -as or -os. However, it seems that Middle Dutch took the Old Saxon a-stem ending from some Middle Low German dialects, as modern Dutch includes the plural ending -s added to certain words. Another difference is the so-called "unified plural": Old Saxon, like Old Frisian and Old English, has one verb form for all three persons in the plural, whereas Old Dutch retained three distinct forms (reduced to two in Middle Dutch).

Old Saxon (or Old Low German) probably evolved primarily from Ingvaeonic dialects in the West Germanic branch of Proto-Germanic in the 5th century. However, Old Saxon, even considered as an Ingvaeonic language, is not a pure Ingvaeonic dialect like Old Frisian and Old English, the latter two sharing some other Ingvaeonic characteristics, which Old Saxon lacked. This, in addition to the large number of West-Germanic features that Old Saxon displayed, had led some philologists to mistakenly think that Old Dutch and Old Saxon were variations of the same language, and that Old Saxon was an Istvaeonic language.[3]

Relation to Middle Low German

Old Saxon naturally evolved into Middle Low German over the course of the 11th and 12th century, with a great shift from Latin to Low German writing happening around 1150, so that the development of the language can be traced from that period.

The most striking difference between Middle Low German and Old Saxon is in a feature of speech known as vowel reduction, which took place in most other West Germanic languages and some Scandinavian dialects such as Danish, reducing all unstressed vowels to schwa. Thus, such Old Saxon words like gisprekan (spoken) or dagō (days' – gen. pl.) became gesprēken and dāge.

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