Low German (in Low German, Nedderdüütsch) is any of a variety of West Germanic languages spoken in northern Germany and the Netherlands. It also includes Afrikaans, which is spoken in South Africa, and Plautdietsch, which is spoken by Mennonite communities in North America.
Low German is also sometimes used to refer to any German dialect which differs from the official German language, but this is not linguistic use. It tends to lead to confusion when discussing the German language: many High German dialects are called Low German, a term properly used only for the dialects and languages described here.
The term "Low German" is often restricted to Low Saxon, one of its two main branches, or extended to all of West Germanic except for High German. We cut a middle path in this article. The other branch of Low German (besides Low Saxon) is Low Franconian. The other branches of West Germanic (besides Low German and High German) are Frisian and English. The northern dialects of Low German (Low Saxon and Dutch) can also be classified together with English and Frisian as the North Sea Germanic or Ingvaeonic languages.
Low German is distinguished from High German principally in that the latter underwent a consonant shift in the 700s and 800s.
In High German, /k/, /p/, /t/ became /(k)x/ (only in some dialects), /pf/, /ts/ in initial positions and /x/, /f/, /s/ in medial and final positions.
In Low German (as well as English and Frisian), the old /k/, /p/, /t/ are still there, as in English "better", Dutch "beter", German "besser".
Note that divisions between subfamilies of Germanic are rarely precisely defined; most form continuous clines, with adjacent dialects being mutually intelligible and more separated ones not.
In particular, there is not thought to have been any single "Proto-Low German".
Note that divisions between subfamilies of Germanic are rarely precisely defined; most form continuous clines, with adjacent dialects being mutually intelligible and more separated ones not. In particular, there is not thought to have been any single "Proto-Low German".