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German dialects are classified as either “Low” or “High,” depending on the region in Central Europe from which they derive. Thus, dialects of the north, where the landscape is quite flat, are called “Low” (Platt- or Niederdeutsch). The further south one travels, flatlands give way to hills and eventually, in Switzerland, the Alps; the varieties spoken in these areas are termed “High” German dialects. Since this territory is so large, High German dialects are divided into two subgroups, “Central” and “Upper.” The term “High German” (Hochdeutsch) also refers to the standard written and spoken language used in schools and the media. That is because Hochdeutsch is based historically on High German spoken dialects, especially the East-Central dialects Martin Luther drew on for his translation of the Bible.

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Last Updated: October 27, 2010

German Dialects of Wisconsin, 1890
Areas of German Settlement in Wisconsin

European Roots of Wisconsin German
European Roots of Wisconsin German Dialects (click for Link )

As the two maps reflect, German-speaking immigrants to Wisconsin came from diverse parts of Central Europe. On arriving in Wisconsin, mainly during the nineteenth century, these immigrants typically identified themselves with their particular linguistic and cultural region, like Pomerania, Hesse, or Bavaria, rather than with “Germany,” which did not exist as a unified country until 1871. The historic diversity among German-speaking settlers in Wisconsin is reflected to this day in many heritage clubs across the state, including the Plattdeutscher Verein (Low German Club) of Watertown, WI. This club was founded in 1882 with the twofold mission of “fraternalism and the perpetuation of the German language, especially the Plattdeutscher tongue.”

Platt Hall Sign

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