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About the story
What’s with this “Wren” thing?
   The oldest extant version of the fable we are presenting here appeared in 1913 in the first volume of a two-volume anthology of Low Saxon folktales (Plattdeutsche Volksmärchen “Low German Folktales”) collected by Wilhelm Wisser (1843–1935). Read more ...

Flag: GermanyFlag: France Flag: OccitaniaMike Wintzer
Location: Pailhès (Palhèrs), Pamiers (Pàmias), Ariège (Arieja), Occitania (Occitània), France

Portrait of Mike Wintzer a I grew up in the Low-Saxon ethnic region (rural Mecklenburg). Before entering school, my strong language was LS because that’s what I heard and spoke with my buddies and the other people around me. My parents spoke German and reprimanded me for speaking LS, the “gibberish of the lower classes.” Themselves they spoke LS fluently and beautifully with the people around us, but never at home.

This attitude was reinforced when I entered school. Speaking LS was prohibited and, in severe cases, punished. We were brain-washed into believing that our mother-tongue was a distorted, useless form of German to be stamped out by all means. One of my more enlightened class mates once asked the teacher why he had to speak German while he was very happy in his mother-tongue. “You see,” explained she, “when later you travel to, say, Frankfurt or Munich, you want to be able to communicate, don’t you? That’s why all Germans have to speak German.”

When moving to Schleswig-Holstein, also in the LS region, where I entered high-school, I heard LS spoken only rarely. We were stuffed with Latin and Greek, but our regional language was not even mentioned once. And I did travel, not to Munich. My first trip away from home was a cycling trip just 100 km north. The German that was forced upon me for the sake of communication abilities wasn’t worth anything there, because I was in Denmark ...

Had they taught me English instead of German and let me continue in my mother-tongue, I would have been much better off. But in those days I was unable to think such revolutionary thoughts. Despite recent history the brainwash had even managed to instill a certain pride into me for being of German nationality. I forgot my mother-tongue to the point where I can speak it only with great difficulties.

As a young engineer I ended up working in Toulouse in what I then thought was “Southern France.” Our new neighbor, a lady in her fifties, was obviously a foreigner, because with her brother and parents she spoke what I first identified as Spanish, then as Italian, and then I didn’t know ... So I asked her where she was from.

Through her I discovered a whole new culture and language. She told me that in her family she spoke “patois,” which she explained to me, was a local sort of gibberish, a distortion of French. I discovered that all non-French languages are referred to by the French as “patois,” be it Breton, Alsatian, Catalan or Basque or even overseas languages, quote from a French traveler to West Africa “... and the locals whispered in their patois.”

What I discovered in the following weeks and months about Occitània-because that’s where I had come to, a region that roughly covers the southern half of the French state-was so strikingly analogous to the situation I had lived in at my childhood: A land where the indigenous language has no official function or recognition, is ignored, despised, suppressed by the state that imposes its own language in all areas of public and private life.

This was an eye opener. I became interested in my own mother-tongue, its history, its present situation, and I became interested in the lot of other so-called minority languages-Welsh, Frisian, Basque, Corsican, Quechua ... The list became longer and longer, and I realized that all over the world, a small number of official languages are snuffing out a much bigger number of indigenous languages, and I became extremely concerned.

When I discovered the Lowlands site on internet I realized that I was not alone in my concerns. Although we are a minority of what is considered odd people, occupying themselves with such esoteric subjects as Limburgish and Sater Frisian, or even Cape Barren English, I am proud of being part of LL.

The photo was taken in January 2005 in a Singapore nature park showing me with my children (who, unfortunately, do no not speak LS, because I cannot transmit it, school having alienated me from my mother-tongue).

Mike Wintzer

© 2011, Lowlands-L · ISSN 189-5582 · LCSN 96-4226 · All international rights reserved.
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