Middle Low German

Middle Low German
Middle Saxon
Region Southern Baltic littoral, south-eastern North Sea littoral
Era 12th to 15th centuries; evolved into Modern Low German and was replaced by High German
Early forms
Old Saxon
  • Middle Low German
Latin (Fraktur)
Language codes
ISO 639-3 gml
Glottolog midd1318[1]
Linguasphere 52-ACB-ca[2]

Northern Europe in 1400, showing the extent of the Hanseatic League

Middle Low German or Middle Saxon (ISO 639-3 code gml) is a language that is the descendant of Old Saxon and the ancestor of modern Low German. It served as the international lingua franca of the Hanseatic League. It was spoken from about 1100 to 1600.

Middle Low German is a term used with varying degrees of inclusivity. It is distinguished from Middle High German, spoken to the south, which was later replaced by Early Modern High German. It is sometimes taken to mean the dialect continuum of all the other high medieval Continental West Germanic dialects, from Flanders in the West to the eastern Baltic, but it is sometimes seen as separate from western varieties such as Middle Dutch.[3]

Middle Low German provided a large number of loanwords to languages spoken around the Baltic Sea as a result of the activities of Hanseatic traders. It is considered the largest single source of loanwords in Estonian, Latvian, and the North Germanic languages.


Middle Low German was the lingua franca of the Hanseatic League, spoken all around the North Sea and the Baltic Sea. It used to be thought that the language of Lübeck was dominant enough to become a normative standard (the so-called Lübecker Norm) for an emergent spoken and written standard, but more recent work has established that there is no evidence for this and that Middle Low German was non-standardised.[4]

Traces of the importance of Middle Low German can be seen by the many loanwords found in the Scandinavian, Finnic, and Baltic languages, as well as standard German and English.

In the late Middle Ages, Middle Low German lost its prestige to Early Modern High German, which was first used by elites as a written and, later, a spoken language. Reasons for this loss of prestige include the decline of the Hanseatic League, followed by political heteronomy of Northern Germany and the cultural predominance of Middle and Southern Germany during the Protestant Reformation and Luther's German translation of the Bible.


  1. Hammarström, Harald; Forkel, Robert; Haspelmath, Martin; Bank, Sebastian, eds. (2016). "Middle Low German". Glottolog 2.7. Jena: Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History.
  2. "m" (PDF). The Linguasphere Register. p. 219. Retrieved 1 March 2013.
  3. D. Nicholas, 2009. The Northern Lands: Germanic Europe, c. 1270–c.1500. Chichester: Wiley-Blackwell. pp. 180-98.
  4. Mähl, S. (2012). Low German texts from late medieval Sweden. In L. Elmevik and E. H. Jahr (eds), Contact between Low German and Scandinavian in the Late Middle Ages: 25 Years of Research, Acta Academiae Regiae Gustavi Adolphi, 121. Uppsala: Kungl. Gustav Adolfs Akademien för svensk folkkultur. 113–22 (at p. 118).


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