A more technical definition of Missingsch is that it is a type of contact variety, specifically a type of German variety with a Low German (or Low Saxon) substratum. This is the result of linguistic, cultural, educational and political Germanisation of the region that is now Northern Germany. This process of Germanisation began in earnest in the late seventeenth century, after the demise of the Hanseatic League and thus the erosion of its Middle-Saxon-speaking power. Pressures to adopt German and at the same time being held back by insufficient access to formal (by now solely German language) education in the lower social classes led to various stages of transition from Low German to High German. These generally low-prestige language varieties continued to be spoken (rarely written) until the late twentieth century, though some people still continue and promote them now, very often for their supposed entertainment value, typically in comical veins.
Perhaps the best-known remaining domain of Missingsch is that of "Klein Erna jokes"—usually told entirely in Missingsch—in which laconic humour glorifies low-class wit and comments on working class conditions; e.g.
- Mamma aus'n Fenster: „Klein Erna, muscha die Katze nich immer an Schwanz ziehn!“ Klein Erna: „Tu ich scha auch gaa nich. Die Katze zieht immer, ich halt ihr bloß fest!“ (Mum callin' down from the window: "Li'l Erna, stop pullin' the cat's tail, will ya?!" Li’l Erna: “But it ain't me doin' it! The cat keeps pullin'. I'm jus' holdin' 'er.")
- Mamma: „Klein Erna, komm ra-auf, Füße waschen, Mamma braucht die Kumme gleich zu Sala-at!“ (Mum: "Li'l Erna, come on upstai-airs! Time to wash yer fee-eet! Mum needs the bowl for saaalad!")
- Klein Erna geht mit ihr'n Heini in Dunkeln spazieren. Und wie sie inne Gegend von Bismarckdenkmal sind und 'n büschen rumknutschen, sagt Klein Erna mit'n mal: „Heini, wis ma sehn, wo ich an Blinddaam opariert bin?“ „O ja, Klein Erna, zeig mal her!“ „Kuck mal, da unten, wo die vielen Lichter brennen, da is das Hafenkrankenhaus. Da bin ich an Blinddaam opariert!“ (Li'l Erna's walkin' with 'er Ricky in the dark. An' as they're by the Bismarck Memorial an' are doin' a bit o' knoodlin', says Erna, “Say, Ricky, d'ya wanna see where I had my appendix out?" "Oh, yes, Li'l Erna. Come on! Show me!" "Look, down there, where all the lights are, that's where the Harbour Hospital is. That's where I had my appendix out.")
From a linguistic point of view, Missingsch varieties did not become extinct as such. They merely developed into more "cleaned-up”" northern varieties of German, varieties that use numerous Missingsch elements, especially in their casual registers. As such, Missingsch has been influencing the development of Standard German, mostly indirectly by way of northern German dialect contributions. Obvious examples are Low Saxon loanwords such as tschüß 'bye' (cf. Low Saxon: adschüüß, tschüüß). However, most influences are not as clearly noticeable as they involve lexical and idiomatic choices. A case of lexical choice is Sonnabend (cf. Low Saxon Sünnavend, Standard German Samstag) 'Saturday'.
There are numerous parallel cases to that of Missingsch. These are found in many situations in which languages came to be supplanted by other languages. Within a Northern European context there is the case of Stadsfries in the northern parts of the Netherlands and the case of sociolects of Scottish English that have particularly strong Scots characteristics.
While there have been many varieties of Missingsch throughout Northern Germany, those of larger cities are best known, such as those of Hamburg, Bielefeld, Bremen, Flensburg and Danzig.
The name “Missingsch” refers to the city of Meissen (Meißen), which lies outside the traditional Saxon-speaking region (although the state in which it is situated at one time acquired the misleading name Saxony, originally the name of what is now Northern Germany). Meissen's Central German dialect was considered exemplary and was highly influential between the fifteenth century and the establishment of Modern Standard German. The name Missingsch is the Low Saxon equivalent of what in German is Meißnerisch, rather than, as often stated, derived from the German name Meißnerisch.
Contrary to popular belief, Missingsch is not a dialect of Low German. Furthermore, it is also not simply High German with a Low German accent, as it is often described. Its Low German/Low Saxon influences are not restricted to its phonology but involve morphological and syntactic structures (sentence construction) and its lexicon (vocabulary) as well. It is a type of German variety with the minimally qualifying characteristic of a clearly noticeable Low German/Low Saxon substratum.
Traditional German varieties of Berlin qualify as Missingsch as well, though few people today think of Berlinerisch as a Missingsch variety. Berlin is still surrounded by traditionally Low-German-speaking areas of the southeastern or Brandenburg type. Before it became the center of the Prussian state, Berlin, too, was Low-German-speaking. As such it adopted German earlier than did other northern centers. Typical Berlinerisch is thus technically a Missingsch group with an additional Western Slavic (probably Old Lower Sorbian) substratum, since before Saxon and Low Franconian colonisation the area was Slavic-speaking.
In his novel Schloss Gripsholm (Gripsholm Castle), Kurt Tucholsky broaches the issue of Missingsch and provides samples.
Read more about this topic: Missingsch
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