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Origins of Yiddish Dialects$

Alexander Beider

Print publication date: 2015

Print ISBN-13: 9780198739319

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: January 2016

DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780198739319.001.0001

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(p.522) Appendix B Germans and German language in Poland

(p.522) Appendix B Germans and German language in Poland

Origins of Yiddish Dialects

Alexander Beider

Oxford University Press

In Kraków and Sandomierz, the main cities of medieval Lesser Poland, the first known German colonists arrived during the first half of the thirteenth century, mainly from Silesia. In Kraków, the capital city and the most populous locality of the country, their proportion grew particularly rapidly.1 For the whole of the fifteenth century, people having typical German given names and/or surnames represented a large majority in the city. During the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries the role of Germans was also important in many other towns of Lesser Poland. This was true for the largest places such as Nowy Sącz, Stary Sącz, Bochnia, Wieliczka, Tarnów, Biecz, Opatów, Olkusz, and Lublin. The German presence was also quite conspicuous in numerous smaller localities, some of which were even founded by them and received names based on the German language.2

Starting from the second half of the fourteenth century and for a period that lasted about two centuries, German colonists became predominant in many localities of Red Ruthenia, that is, the territory of several old Russian principalities that were incorporated into the Polish state during the 1340s. These families mainly originated from Silesia, Lesser Poland, Saxony, and Bohemia. During that period, often as a direct consequence of the influx of German immigrants, numerous local towns were granted the Magdeburg rights, the set of urban laws known in Poland as “German law” (in Polish: prawo niemieckie). In the largest cities of the area, Lwów and Przemyśl, in the fifteenth century Germans accounted for about seventy to eighty percent of the total population. Their number was also significant in Przeworsk, Mościska, Tyczyn, Krosno, Jarosław, and Busk. Certain local towns (including Łańcut < German Landshut) were founded by Germans.3

Another influx of German colonists affected medieval northern Polish territories. During the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries, a large number of German-speaking migrants came to Greater Poland with numerous places receiving at that time the Magdeburg rights. The presence of Germans is particularly conspicuous in the largest cities, including Poznań, Pyzdry, Kalisz, and Gniezno. In Kuyavia, they also became particularly numerous in the largest cities: Brześć-Kujawski, Włocławek, and Inowrocław. In 1346, in the immediate vicinity of Bydgoszcz, a new and important German settlement Brahenburg (future Bromberg) was founded that gradually merged with Bydgoszcz. The German presence was particularly large in Pomerelia and the neighboring Chełmno Land where Teutonic knights, German clergy, and numerous other colonists had been established. As a result, during the fourteenth century, Germans represented a large majority in the biggest cities of the area (Gdańsk, Chełmno, and Toruń) and were commonly resident in many other localities. In Mazovia, their role was significantly more limited. There were large numbers of Germans in Płock during the fourteenth century. During the same period they were very conspicuous in Warsaw.4

(p.523) Taking these facts into account, it is not surprising that until the beginning of the sixteenth century for the urban population in many places of Lesser Poland, Red Ruthenia, northern Polish territories, as well as in certain cities of Greater Poland, the German language was of paramount importance. In Kraków, German remained the administrative language for several centuries. The oldest municipal documents from Poznań (from the end of the fourteenth century and the first third of the fifteenth century) are written in German or (rarely) in Latin (W1). Both languages are also used in other sources from the same city dating from the fifteenth century and the start of the sixteenth century (W1, K1). The oldest municipal books of Lwów from the end of the fourteenth century (Cz1) are written in Latin. Those from the first quarter of the following century (Cz2, Cz3) already include certain German texts. The totality of materials from the 1440s dealing with the local jurisdiction in relationship to the Magdeburg rights (Cz4) appear in German. All these texts were published in their original spelling. The large majority of people (local citizens as well as merchants coming to Lwów from other places) are unambiguous Germans. Poles and Armenians are significantly less numerous. The number of references to Jews and Ruthenians (ancestors of modern western Ukrainians) is even smaller. This distribution is valid for all the aforementioned Lwów documents, that is, both Latin and German. On the other hand, sources of a similar kind from Przemyśl from the first half of the fifteenth century (ST1) are mainly written in Latin. Only a few documents are in German.

Numerous references to toponyms appear in the sources in question. Generally, the language of the document is determinant for the spelling used. In Latin documents, place names often appear in their Latin or Latinized forms. For example, in Cz3 we mainly find: Cracovia for Kraków, Leopolis for Lwów, Primislia for Przemyśl, Sandomiria for Sandomierz, Nova Civitas for Nowe Miasto (literally: ‘new town’), Poznania for Poznań, and Wratislavia for Wrocław (Silesia). It is clear that such forms are purely bookish: they were not used in everyday conversations. However, Latin names have existed only for the most important places. For smaller towns, toponyms found in Latin documents do not have any special Latin suffix. They correspond to either Polish or (rarely) German names.5 Yet, no ambiguity exists for toponyms found in German documents. They clearly reflect the way the same places were called by persons who used German as their vernacular language. Most likely, the names for small localities were known only to Germans who lived in the area. On the other hand, the names for cities were also known to Germans well outside of the region in question. For example, we find similar forms in Prussian official documents from the times of the Teutonic Order (T1, T2, T5, and KDL).6

The Silesian dialect of German was basic for the colonial tongue in Poland; see Anders 1938 (especially his conclusions on pp. 327–30) for medieval Poznań and Kawczyński 1883 (especially pp. 18–19) for an analysis of the German language in Kraków (1300–05). Cz4 complements these two sources dealing with westernmost Polish cities permitting an analysis of the German dialect used in Lwów, that is, in the southeasternmost part of Poland. That collection reveals the following features whose combination is purely Silesian (every reference is followed by the corresponding page number):

  • diminutive suffix ‐el (Jekil 7, Nickil 29, Stenczel 134, Hanczel 200);

  • /e:/ for MHG ei (clede ‘clothes’ 30, czwe ‘two’ 173);

  • /e/ for MHG i (regular smet ‘smith’ 15, occurrences of czweschen ‘between, among’ 32);

  • /o/ for MHG u (regular zon ‘son’ 22, occurrences of scholdig ‘guilty’ 34 and kopper ‘copper’ 34);

  • internal /pp/ for MHG pf (kopper ‘copper’ 34, topper ‘potter’ 160);

  • initial /f/ for MHG pf (phfaffe ‘cleric’ 33, phande ‘pledge’ 201);

  • eu’ for MHG ou (vorkeuffen ‘to sell,’ heupt ‘head’);

  • unrounding (bemesche ‘Bohemian’ 40, mechtig ‘mighty’ 187).

These data are well correlated with the general assertion that German immigrants from Silesia were of particular importance for all of western and southern Polish territories.7

(p.524) With the rise of the Polish urban middle class, gradual de-Germanizing took place. In a number of towns from Lesser Poland (including Miechów and Wiślica) this process was finished by 1500. During the second half of the fifteenth-century, many other formerly important centers of German colonization, such as Brześć Kujawski and Bydgoszcz in the North, and Lublin and Sandomierz in the South, were completely Polonized (Lück 1934:178). At the same period, the urban population in Mazovia was predominantly Polish.8 During the first third of the sixteenth century, the influence of German declined even in Poznań and Kraków: this language gradually ceases to be used in administrative documents and is replaced there by Latin, and later Polish.9 However, during the sixteenth to eighteenth centuries a new second wave brought to Poland an important number of German immigrants. Unlike the medieval influx, this one primarily affected only northern areas. Migrants from Germany and Silesia came to Greater Poland and from the Prussian provinces to the Toruń area and from there to Mazovia (see the map in Kaczmarczyk 1945:167). During the second half of the sixteenth century, Protestant immigrants played a significant role in the growth of the towns of Leszno (German Lissa) in Greater Poland, Lewartów in Lesser Poland (now Lubartów, Polonized by the mid-seventeenth century), and Zamość in Red Ruthenia (Lück 1934:183). However, the linguistic impact of these immigrations was limited and unlikely to have any influence on EY. The third wave of German-speaking migrants corresponds to the period of partitions (1772–1815). It was targeted at the northwestern region that received the name of West Prussia and at former Lesser Poland and Red Ruthenia, the area taken by Austrians that received the name of Galicia (see the map in Kaczmarczyk 1945:181). During the following period until World War I the provinces that were taken by Prussians, that is, West Prussia and Posen (Polish Poznań), underwent Germanizing.


(1) Among geographic nicknames appearing in the oldest Kraków books written in German (1300–05), sixty are derived from places in Silesia, nine from the Czech localities, and six from towns in Thuringia. Another group of nicknames of German colonists living in Kraków at that time is based on toponyms from Poland. The German origin of numerous other individuals mentioned in these books is revealed by their given names (Kawczyński 1883:17).

(2) See details in Lück 1934:36–45, 73–5. This book is often ignored by contemporary scholars. The main reason is likely to be the personality of the author. An activist for German minority cultural organizations in Poland during the 1930s, after the beginning of WWII he became an active member of the Nazi party. SS-officer Lück was killed in 1942 on the Russian front. These personal facts should not prevent us using his writings for scientific studies in the domain of history and linguistics. The book by Lück provides the most detailed available description of early German settlement in Eastern Europe. No particular apology for the role of Germans is apparent. The reader may often adhere to his conclusions simply because the author supplies numerous details obtained by him during his meticulous fieldwork in the Polish archives. Globally speaking, the factual information in the book in question appears to be reliable.

(3) See details in Lück 1934:76–87 (with numerous tables).

(4) See details in Lück 1934:27–36. For a general discussion of medieval German settlements in Poland see also Kaczmarczyk (1945, with map on p. 133).

(5) Among collections of sources used for this book, it is only in ST1 that German or Germanized forms are common in Latin documents; compare Warso for Warszawa (p. 2), Drobicz for Drohobycz (p. 2), Rubeschaw for Hrubieszów (p. 67), Tharnow for Tarnów (p. 72), Landishuth for Łańcut (p. 102), and Schedlisk for Siedliska (p. 298). See also in footnote 536 (section 2.9.3) examples of definite German forms for Lublin (namely Lubleyn and Löblyn).

(6) In the towns founded by the Teutonic Order, ECG was spoken (Mitzka 1968:160).

(7) Mitzka (1968:148–9) writes about the importance of migrants from Upper (southern) Silesia for the settlement in Lesser Poland and Red Ruthenia and those from Lower Silesia for Greater Poland.

(8) See details in Tymieniecki 1921:19. The author shows that in Mazovia and neighboring parts of Podlasie Germans were found in the fifteenth century only in Warsaw, Goniądz, Nur, and Zakroczym, while his study of sources from numerous other towns of the area reveals that their population was overwhelmingly Polish.

(9) See numerous details concerning the Polonizing of Greater Poland in Tymieniecki 1938.