The Differences Between Two Plautdietsch Dictionaries

When Andrew started The Daily Bonnet in 2016 there was not a single Mennonite Low German dictionary in print and available for purchase. I remember us going to the Mennonite Heritage Village to obtain one and they didn’t have any at that time – though, they did manage to get us a used copy of Herman Rempel’s dictionary.

Thankfully, there are now two Plautdietsch-English dictionaries in print. One is Mennonite Low German Dictionary by Jack Thiessen. The other is Kjenn Jie Noch Plautdietsch? by Herman Rempel.

Let’s have a look at them.

Anything I say is bound to have errors as I don’t know Low German myself, nor am I well-versed in the nuances and history of the language. But, anyway, here are my observations.

There are two main differences between the two dictionaries.

The first thing you’ll notice is the Thiessen dictionary is much thicker. I don’t know the total number of words, but I believe the Thiessen dictionary is about twice as thick and perhaps has twice as many words. Anecdotally, Andrew says that he has found words in the Thiessen dictionary that are not in the Rempel dictionary.

The spellings are also different. The main difference I noticed was Thiessen uses ‘tj’ spellings, while Rempel uses ‘kj’. For example tjinja vs. kjinja (children). There might also be a pronunciation difference here. Is one pronounced tch vs. k ? I’m not sure. I had always been under the impression that the differences in Plautdietsch dialects were a jantsied-ditsied thing, but both dictionaries make it very clear that the differences in the two main dialects are divided by Molotschna and Chortitza (or Old Colony). No doubt there would be differences in where these folks settled in Manitoba, but the dialect differences trace back to Ukraine. There may also be differences based on GC, EMC, MB, etc. but again these might actually have more to do with the colony these people lived in in the old country.

A few other differences between the dictionaries is that Thiessen’s has a High German translation for each word after the Low German entry (not on the English side). I’m sure this would be useful for people who can read and speak High German. Thiessen’s dictionary also has more background information and a lengthy appendix. Oh, since we’re Mennonites, after all, it should be noted there is a price difference. Rempel’s is around $23, while Thiessen’s (much lengthier book) is approx. $43.

And while we’re at it, I’ll add that there is also a hilarious Low German glossary in Andrew’s The Best of the Bonnet, so that’s a third option for those who are looking for something less serious. Haha. Andrew said he mostly used Thiessen’s spellings, but on a few occasions used Rempel’s.

Anyway, if you’re in the market for a good quality Mennonite Low German-English dictionary, you can get either one from the Mennonite Heritage Village bookstore in Steinbach and the Mennonite Heritage Archives in Winnipeg.