Lowlands-L: Water under The Bridge: Things past but not forgotten — History of the Lowlands worldwide
Lowlands-L: Water under The Bridge: Things past but not forgotten — History of the Lowlands worldwide


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Vermeer: Little StreetIntroduction

The initial focus of Lowlands-L was language—similarities and differences among the North Sea Germanic languages and their offshoots. However, pretty much at the outset it was apparent that language is inseparable from culture—“culture” in the most general sense of the word. This is why we broadened the official focus accordingly.

During the following thirteen-odd years of Lowlands-L activities one of the most discussed topics aside from language and culture has been history. In fact, it has been a thread that is woven into most, if not all topics we discuss. This should come as no surprise considering that we come together to compare related languages and culture. This sort of comparative studies cannot be separated from history.

Anglo-Saxon (Old English) vignette about plowingRecorded historical facts help to explain differences and similarities, and differences and similarities help to shed new light on recorded history or even add new knowledge to it. Divergent semantic shifts help to explain cultural changes during times of lessened contacts between related speaker communities. New words are created to accommodate new ideas and technology, and the path such new words traveled from language to language is oftentimes apparent in their phonological and orthographic treatments. Related languages often borrow such neologisms from different external sources, from languages that are not or only distantly related to them.

Hanseatic cog (Kogge) shipThis brings up the topic of contacts with the “outside,” contacts that tend to alienate the old relatives from each other to varying degrees, or they add new material to the mix. In the case of Dutch language and culture, for instance, French influences used to be quite strong for long periods, and some of these came to be passed on to the Frisians under Dutch domination. Such early French influences created differences between Dutch and its closest relative Low Saxon. Many Low Saxon language and culture varieties acquired Slavic substrata with the absorption of Polabians and Pomeranians, and all those that came under German control came to be influenced by German language and culture. Largely Germanicized on Celtic substrata, Britain underwent extensive medieval French influences with the Norman Conquest, and it underwent considerable Scandinavian influences as well.

The Frisian Academy, Ljouwert/LeeuwardenIn turn, Lowlands languages and cultures influenced other communities. Middle Saxon was the lingua franca of the Hanseatic Trading League that dominated the Baltic Sea and it served as a link by which Nordic and Baltic languages and cultures came to be partly Saxonized. The Netherlands’ expansion of power overseas resulted in varying degrees of Neerlandization in several parts of the world, not only in Indonesia, the West Indies and Southern Africa but also in places like Northeastern America, Northern Brazil, Sri Lanka and Japan. Largely Dutch-rooted Afrikaans language and culture spread in Southern Africa. By way of absorption and adaptation they influenced life in that part of the world and developed uniquely African characteristics. Ship of the Netherlands East India CompanyColonial British power sent English on the road toward becoming the world’s predominant language, and North American cultural domination is an offspin of that. These overseas ventures resulted in Lowlands languages and cultures absorbing influences from faraway places.

Inherited commonalities predominate despite such alienating influences, although they are not always apparent at first glance. Discovering them by comparing notes has helped Lowlands-L members to realize that they have more in common with each other than their divergent national education systems and media outlets had led them to believe, especially where national affiliation caused them to be on opposite sides in times of war. Pieter Bruegel the Elder: Winter SceneNowhere else does this become more apparent than in local history, the histories of districts or towns whose events tend to be glossed over in history books that deal mostly with countries and their conflicts with each other. Rediscovering remnants of linguistic and cultural continua helps us to reconnect with each other and to approach conflict situations of the past with more understanding and compassion.

THE LOWLANDS: The primary focus of LOWLANDS-L is on the Germanic languages and their cultural environments that developed in the North European Lowlands: Dutch, Frisian, Low Saxon (“Low German”), and Limburgish, and in extension those that descended from them elsewhere: Afrikaans, emigrant varieties, Lowlands-based pidgins and creoles, and also English and Scots. Lowlands contacts with ither languages and cultures are relevant as well.Many Lowlands-L members are very much interested in history, some in local history, others in “big picture history” that includes prehistoric cultures and migrations. Some have general knowledge from reading about history while others have expert knowledge or something approaching this. Those of them that participate in discussions and those that have contributed written works to our web presentations have provided a great deal of valuable information over the years.

In this, the fourteenth year of Lowlands-L, we decided to make more of this type of information available to the worldwide public. What you see here is a start to that. Not only Lowlands-L members but anyone is invited to contribute relevant texts, pictures and other material to this presentation as long as this does not result in copyright infringement. Texts may be in any language and they may range in length from one paragraph to several typewritten pages. All authors remain the copyright owners while permitting Lowlands-L to display their works here.

You are welcome to send us comments and/or to contribute to this collection (with a focus on the Lowlands). If you do, please drop us a line under the subject line “History” at lowlands.list(a)gmail.com (replacing (a) with @). And please provide your name (or write “Anonymous”) and also your town and country.

Thanks, and have fun learning and sharing!

Reinhard “Ron” F. Hahn
Co-Founder & Chief Editor,
, June 17, 2008

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