Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Nah. Vee Gates?

That's (a version of) German for So? How's it goin'?
When I was born, my dad, mom and I lived in my grandma's basement. My Omi was not an English speaking lass, so apparently I heard just as much German as English during my first two years of life.

After we moved out, English became my only language, however  as a pre-teen, I was highly motivated to learn my dad and mom's secret language, "low german".
Whenever they wanted to talk about something private, they'd switch from English, to an incredibly gutteral language and smile. (Because their private conversations were always about fun, adult topics.)

I may not have caught on to every word, but I sure understood the general meaning of the conversation.

In high school, instead of taking French as my second language, I took German. I thought I was half-way to being bilingual, what with my two years of German Immersion in Omi's basement on Fraser Street.

Interestingly. they don't teach 'low german' in school. The language of my fore-fathers? The language that all those Mennonites for countless generations spoke? Was a common, cultural slang version of the real language. Low German, as I knew it, was an assortment of unique creative slurs and highly descriptive adjectives used by folks who came from Russian Mennonite Colonies, or South American Mennonite Colonies. Without being insulting to those who spoke/speak this language, it was mostly the uneducated (I think) who used it.

Like I said, they don't teach this in school. Even a Surrey School has it's standards. And as it turns out, German isn't a language that many students chose to study.
With little competition, and my nerdy desire to always get 'A's - I ended up being the top German student at North Surrey Sr. Sec for both Grade 11 and Grade 12. Yay me.
(Nothing like receiving that honor in front of the entire school on Awards Night.)

(While pondering this whole High German, Low German thing, I realized that the same thing happens in England. There's the southern English, spoken in London, which, other than the accents and odd word here or there, is similar to North American English.  And then there's Northern English, which, oh my goodness, requires translation assistance and subtitles when watching shows set in the North. Seriously. I see the lips moving and hear noises that sound English, but whoa. What a interesting take on English. What an interesting assortment of grammar rules.)

ANYwhooo, on Sunday night, I went to this:

My friend, Marg's husband (Rudy) and his 3 brothers (Herb, Harold and Fred) are a Quartet that sings in Low German. They were providing the music for a Fundraising Banquet, so I went and took my mom along too.

The church was packed.
A gazillion white and grey heads in the audience.
And almost all of them from Paraguay.

All of the songs, all of the talking between songs and all of the sharing of stories was done in Low German.

I understood two words: danke. And Amen. (This was the cleaned-up, Holy version of Low German that I was unfamiliar with...)

But music is music, yo?
And worship is worship.
So it totally didn't matter.

I love that.
Amazing Grace in Low German? Is still Amazing Grace. And it doesn't matter what words the rest of the congregation was singing, in my heart, I was saying "once we've been there 10,000 years, bright shining as the sun, we've no less days to sing His praise, than when we first begun."

I wonder about Low German.
Is it going to fade out in a few generations? My dad and mom will be taking it to the grave when they go; none of their children or grandchildren have learned it. I have cousins that are fluent. And friends from Bible School who spoke it in their homes growing up. But is it being passed down?

And I wonder about Yiddish. I always thought Yiddish and Low German had alot in common. Is that dying out as well?

And I wonder about Mrs. Ekkert. The Ekkert Bros mom. She's in heaven now, but wow. She must've been proud of how these 4 (of, I think a dozen) sons of hers turned out.

And then I wondered about my three. And how God would use them. I can't even begin to imagine what that would look like, but I do know for sure, it will not include music, singing or Low German.

Anyway, if you're reading this and have a Low German speaking relative on your Christmas list this year, maybe they'd be blessed listening to some old hymns sung in their native language? Let me know at ojane@shaw.ca and I can hook you up.

Three things I'm thankful for:

1. Book Club Tonight. We talked about this book, WHICH I LOVED:

2, The internet.

3. Friends.


1 comment:

Marco said...

Low German will be around for a while yet. In some parts of the Mennonite world it is less ubiquitous than it used to be. Like, some places where most people spoke ONLY Low German until they entered school are now places where it is rare to find Plautdietsch in the younger generation. But there are still plenty of Mennonites that won't just up and abandon their mother tongue, and it has even made its way into academic circles and cultural interest groups.