Polabian language

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to: navigation, search
Native to Poland, Germany
Extinct 18th century
Language codes
ISO 639-3 pox
Linguist list
Linguasphere 53-AAA-bc
Former settlement area of the Polabian Slavs

The Polabian language is an extinct West Slavic language that was spoken by the Polabian Slavs (German: Wenden) in present-day North-Eastern Germany around the Elbe (Laba in Slavic) river, from which derives its name ("po Labe" - along the Elbe). It was spoken approximately until the mid-18th century, when it was superseded by Low German, in the areas of Mecklenburg-Vorpommern, central Brandenburg (Mittelmark) and eastern Saxony-Anhalt (Wittenberg), as well as in eastern parts of Lower Saxony (Wendland) and Schleswig-Holstein (Ostholstein and Lauenburg). In the south it bordered on the Sorbian languages area in Lusatia.

By the 18th century Lechitic Polabian was in some respects markedly different from other Slavic languages, most notably in having a strong German influence. It was close to Pomeranian and Kashubian, and attested only in a handful of manuscripts, dictionaries and various writings from the 17th and 18th centuries. As can be seen in the comparisons of the Lord's Prayer below, Polabian contained many German loanwords, such as Wader (Father) and Rîk (Kingdom).


About 2800 Polabian words are known (but of prosaic writings, only a few prayers, one wedding song and a few folktales). Immediately before the language went extinct several people started to collect phrases, compile wordlists and were engaged with folklore of the Polabian Slavs, but only one of them appears to have been a native speaker of Polabian (himself leaving only 13 pages of linguistically relevant material from a 310-page manuscript).[1] The last native speaker of Polabian, a woman, died in 1756, and the last person who spoke limited Polabian died in 1825.

The most important monument of the language is the so-called Vocabularium Venedicum (1679—1719) by Christian Hennig.

The language left many traces to this day in toponymy; for example, Wustrow "Place on the island", Lüchow (Polabian: Ljauchüw), Sagard, Gartow etc. It is also a likely the origin of the name Berlin, from the Polabian stem berl-/birl- (“swamp”).



For Polabian the following segments are reconstructable:[2]

Oral non-reduced monophthongs
*i    ü    u
 e   ö   o 
 a   å 
  ai     åi     åu  
  ą     ǫ  
Polabian consonant segments
Labial Dental Alveolar Palatal Post-
Plosives p t ť k
b d ď g
Affricates c ć
ʒ ʒ́
Fricatives f s š ś x
v z ź
Nasals m ḿ n ń
Laterals l ĺ
Trills r ŕ
Semi-vowel j





Example of Polabian[edit]

The Lord's Prayer in Polabian and related Lechitic languages, compared to German and English:[3] Germanic loanwords, which are comparatively rare in the other West Slavic languages, are highlighted in bold. (Even English, which has extensive Latin influence, has only three Latinate loanwords in its version: "trespass[es]", "temptation", and "deliver".)


  1. ^ Kapović (2008, p. 109)
  2. ^ Cited after Kazimierz (1993, p. 799)
  3. ^ Polabian version quoted after TITUS project
  4. ^ Praying Together


  • Polański, Kazimierz (1993), "Polabian", in Bernard Comrie and Greville G. Corbett, The Slavonic languages, London & New York: Routledge, ISBN 978-0-415-28078-5 
  • Słownik etymologiczny języka Drzewian połabskich, Part 1: ed. Tadeusz Lehr-Spławiński & Kazimierz Polański, Wrocław, 1962, from Part 2 on: ed. K. Polański, Wrocław, 1971-
  • Kazimierz Polański & Janusz Sehnert: Polabian-English Dictionary. The Hague: Mouton 1967

See also[edit]