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About the story
What’s with this “Wren” thing?
   The oldest extant version of the fable we are presenting here appeared in 1913 in the first volume of a two-volume anthology of Low Saxon folktales (Plattdeutsche Volksmärchen “Low German Folktales”) collected by Wilhelm Wisser (1843–1935). Read more ...



While on special occasions Sorbian culture is still celebrated in a number of Lusatian communities, Sorbian language loyalty is dwindling among younger Sorbs.

Language information: Sorbian—which is also known as “Sorabian,” “Lusatian” and “Wendish”—is the indigenous Slavic language of a small area in Eastern Germany near the Polish and Czech borders. The name of the area is Lusatia (Lower Sorbian Łužyca, Upper Sorbian and Slavic Silesian Łužica, Polish Łużyce, Czech Lužice, German Lausitz), known as Luzici at the turn of the first millennium, derived from an Old Slavic word for “low swamp land.”
     The earliest known extent of Lusatia covers an area from the southern part of today’s state of Brandenburg (Lower Sorbian Bramborska), including parts of southeastern Berlin (Lower Sorbian Barliń), to the eastern part of today’s state of Saxony (Upper Sorbian Sakska, German Sachsen) and in the east parts of the Polish voivodships of Lower Silesia (Upper Sorbian Delnja Šleska, formerly Šlezynska, Lower Sorbien Dolnošlazyńska, Slavic Silesian Dolny Ślůnsk, Polish Dolny Śląsk, Czech Dolní Slezsko, German Niederschlesien) and Lebusz (Czech Lubušsko, German Lebus). However, these days most people use the name Lusatia to refer to a small portion of this historical Lusatia, from the northern end of the Spree Forest (Sorbian Błota, German Spreewald) to just north of today’s German-Czech border in the south. Nowadays split by the German-Polish border, the city of Görlitz (Upper Sorbian Zhorjelc), including the eastern part Zgorzelec, used to be a major Lusatian center but has not been Sorbian-speaking for centuries now.Map of Lusatia in Germany The city of Dresden (Upper Sorbian Drježdźany, Old Sorbian Drežďany) lay at the western periphery of Old Lusatia.
     Soon after medieval Flemish, Saxon, Thuringian and Frankish colonization of the area, the Sorbian language came to be outlawed in many peripheral centers, such as Leipzig (Sorbian Lipsk) and Meissen (Upper Sorbian Mišno). Public use of Sorbian was prohibited during Germany’s fascist (“Nazi”) era, and Sorbian organizations, gatherings and publications were outlawed as well. Under the East German government, maintenance of Sorbian culture used to be publicly glorified for political ingratiation with the Soviet Union and other Slavic-speaking allied countries, but little respect was given to Sorbian matters in real life. Complaints in Sorbian circles did not cease with German reunification, however. Much of this has to do with the discovery of rich natural resources in this region whose erstwhile supposed poverty once kept away most ethnic Germans and thus helped to preserve Sorbian language and culture. Many young Sorbs now search for new opportunities on the German-speaking outside, Sorbian-speaking circles are aging, and Sorbian-language performance groups are hard pressed to recruit younger participants.
     Sorbian has long-standing contacts with Polish, Czech, Standard German and the Lower Silesian German dialects (German Niederschlesisch, Upper Sorbian delnjošleski), and it has absorbed influences from all of them. Furthermore, specific Lusatian dialects of Lower Silesian German developed, partly on Sorbian substrata. Like other Lower Silesian German dialects, they are fading away rapidly as, popularized by the mass media, Standard German is taking over. Similarly, German influences on Sorbian are increasing rapidly from generation to generation. Unlike the very oldest speakers, younger people speak Sorbian with what sounds like more or less strong German accents.
     There are currently an estimated 50,000 speakers of Sorbian in Germany, ca. 40,000 of which speak Upper Sorbian. There is also a small and dwindling number of Sorbian speakers in Texas where a specific, English-influenced dialect of Sorbian has developed among descendants of immigrants from Lusatia. Few, if any, Sorbian speakers remain among the Sorbs of Australia.

Sorbian Anthem, Sorbische Hymne Midi (R. F. Hahn):
The words to the Sorbian people’s anthem were written in Upper Sorbian by Handrij Zejler (Andreas Seiler, 1804–1872) and published in Leipzig (Lipsk) in 1827. In 1845, Korla Awgust Kocor (Karl August Katzer, 1822–1904) published the music. The continued collaboration of these two men resulted in numerous works held near and dear by Sorbs and those that support them. The anthem has no official standing but is regularly played and sung at Sorbian functions.
Handrij Zejler’s two additional verses have been excluded from the official version.
Sorbian Anthem

           These days, all Sorbian speakers of Germany are also quite proficient in German, including both Lusatian Lower Silesian and Standard German, though proficiency in Lusatian Lower Silesia is dwindling. But in recent decades dialect loyalty has been decreasing, as has been Sorbian language loyalty, despite opportunities for using Sorbian as a medium of school instruction. It remains to be seen if proper implementation of the European Languages Charter will be able to halt or slow this trend.

Especially since the fall of the Iron Curtain, tourist barge tours along the canals of the Spree Forest (Sorbian Błota, German Spreewald), like here near Lübbenau (Sorbian Lubnjow), have become very popular. These tours take you through the Sorbian-speaking heart of Lower Lusatia in the state of Brandenburg.
     Sorbian has a dialect continuum. Between the northernmost and southernmost dialects there is poor mutual comprehension. For this reason, two standard languages have been developed: Lower Sorbian (dolnoserbski, German Niedersorbisch) in the north and Upper Sorbian (hornjoserbsce, German Obersorbisch) in the south. As can be seen in the two Sorbian versions displayed in this presentation, there are numerous considerable differences between the two standard languages.
     The two written standard varieties use identical orthographic devices, though Lower Sorbian has a few more of them. These are a mixture of those used in Polish and Czech. Sorbian orthography is somewhat historic, or etymological. For instance, the letters ł and w are kept apart but are both pronounced [w] (e.g. woł [wow] ‘ox’). In Upper Sorbian, the letters ř and š are now both pronounced [∫] but are still kept apart. The same goes for č and ć, which are pronounced like English ch ([t∫]). The letter ź only occurs in the sequence which used to be pronounced palatally; it is now pronounced as though written , but the old spelling is maintained. (It is a development of palatalized /d/, as ć is a development of palatalized /t/.) In both languages, w preceding a consonant is not pronounced but is still written (e.g. in Upper Sorbian wróćo ‘(come) back’, wčera ‘yesterday’, wšudźe ‘everywhere’), and h (which is derived from /g/) does the same in Upper Sorbian (e.g. in hdźež ‘(there) where’, hłowa ‘head’, hněw ‘rage’).
     Sorbian is fairly strongly influenced by German. This includes phonologically adapted loans and loan translations (calques) from both the contact dialects and Standard German. The word štom for ‘tree’ (originally from a cognate of “stem”) is an example of an early dialect loan. However, many neologisms are inspired by neologisms in the nearby Polish and Czech languages as well. Sorbian word order is strongly German influenced, is therefore quite different from the predominant word order patterns in other Slavic languages. While it is innovative in several ways, Sorbian also retains some ancient features, such as dual forms besides singular and plural forms. As mentioned above, increasingly German-influenced, too, is Sorbian phonology. Original Sorbian pronunciation is fading away with the oldest speakers, and even very proficient Sorbian speakers now have what sounds like more or less strong German accents (which includes use of the uvular /r/). Until a few decades ago, Lower Silesian German still shared the apical pronunciation of /r/ with Sorbian. The uvular pronunciation in both is due to fairly recent Standard German influence.
Map of Lusatia in Germany     Sorbian is used on local television and radio, on the Internet, as well as in literature, theater and concerts. Sorbian arts and literature enjoy high levels of sophistication and allow for traditional, contemporary and avant-garde genres and styles.
     Being internationally poorly known, the Sorbs and their languages are often mistaken for Serbs and Serbian. While there appear to be historical name connections between the two, and it has been claimed that there are ancient ethnic connections as well, today’s Sorbs and Serbs are two rather different ethnic groups speaking very different Slavic languages, Sorbian being West Slavic, and Serbian being South Slavic.
     Even though some German titles still contain the names Wende and wendisch, they and derived English “Wend” and “Wendish” are perceived as derogatory by many and are therefore no longer to be used, with regard to Sorbs specifically or Slavs generally. “Lusatian” can be used for the language but is not as precise a term as is “Sorbian,” because there are Lusatian dialects of German as well. “Lusatian” for the inhabitants usually refers to both ethnic Sorbs and ethnic Germans living in Lusatia.

Genealogy: Indo-European > Slavic > West > Sorbian

    Click to open the translation: [Lower Sorbian] [Upper Sorbian]Click here for different versions. >

Author: Reinhard F. Hahn

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