Linguistic Variation ‘from Below’: Northern German in Nineteenth-Century North Frisia

Timothy Jacob-Owens


This paper presents a linguistic analysis of a newly-compiled corpus of historical correspondence. The corpus comprises 18 private letters written in (High) German by North Frisians between 1839 and 1851. The investigation is thus conceived in the spirit of ‘language history from below’, a highly topical approach within the field of historical sociolinguistics. The paper seeks to identify commonalities between the variety of (High) German written by North Frisians in private correspondence and the varieties of (High) German spoken elsewhere in northern Germany. The letters are analysed for evidence of non-standard diatopically-marked linguistic variation in the realms of phonology and morpho-syntax. This analysis demonstrates that the letters exhibit a number of classic northern German phonological features, such as g-spirantisation and t-apocope. Several northern German morpho-syntactic structures are also attested. The results thus suggest that the informal writing of North Frisians shared a number of common linguistic traits with the regional German used elsewhere in northern Germany.


historical sociolinguistics; diatopic variation; nineteenth century; North Frisia

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Working Papers of the Linguistics Circle

EISSN: 1920-440X
ISSN: 1200-3344

University of Victoria