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The Polabian language was a West Slavic language that was spoken by the Polabian Slavs (German: Wenden) in present-day northeastern Germany around the Elbe (Łaba/Laba/Labe in Slavic) river, from which derives its name ("po Labe" – unto Elbe or [traveling] on Elbe). It was spoken approximately until the rise to power of Prussia in mid-18th century – when it was superseded by Low German – in the areas of Pomoré (Mecklenburg-West Pomerania), compare the related Morini and Veneti of Armorica), central (Mittelmark) part of Branibor (Brandenburg) and eastern Saxony-Anhalt (Wittenberg originally part of Béla Serbia), as well as in eastern parts of Wendland (Lower Saxony) and Dravänia (Schleswig-Holstein), Ostholstein and Lauenburg). Polabian was also relatively long (until the 16th century) spoken in and around the cities of Bukovéc (Lübeck), Starigard (Oldenburg) and Trava (Hamburg). The very poorly attested Slavic dialects of Rügen seemed to have had more in common with Polabian than with Pomeranian varieties. In the south, it bordered on the Sorbian language area in Lusatia.
By the 18th century Lechitic Polabian was in some respects markedly different from other Slavic languages, most notably in having a strong German influence. It was close to Pomeranian and Kashubian, and is attested only in a handful of manuscripts, dictionaries and various writings from the 17th and 18th centuries.
About 2800 Polabian words are known; of prose writings, only a few prayers, one wedding song and a few folktales survive. Immediately before the language became extinct, several people started to collect phrases and compile wordlists, and were engaged with folklore of the Polabian Slavs, but only one of them appears to have been a native speaker of Polabian (himself leaving only 13 pages of linguistically relevant material from a 310-page manuscript). The last native speaker of Polabian, a woman, died in 1756, and the last person who spoke limited Polabian died in 1825.
The most important monument of the language is the so-called Vocabularium Venedicum (1679–1719) by Christian Hennig.
The language left many traces to this day in toponymy; for example, Wustrow "Place on the island", Lüchow (Polabian: Ljauchüw), Sagard, Gartow, Krakow etc. It is also a likely origin of the name Berlin, from the Polabian stem berl-/birl- (swamp).
For Polabian the following segments are reconstructable:
Oral non-reduced monophthongs
Stress and vowel reduction
Polabian had free and mobile stress, which means its placement could not be predicted based on the shape of the word, and it could shift to other syllables in inflection and derivation, much like in Russian. Four-syllable words with stress on the last syllable had secondary stress on the second one.
Stress was interconnected with vowel reduction. All vowels except /ə/ and /ɐ/ were full vowels and could only occur in stressed syllables, or in the syllable immediately preceding primary stress, unless it was itself preceded by a syllable with secondary stress. Thus for example a four syllable word stressed on the third syllable had full vowels in the second and third syllable; but if this same word had stress on the last syllable, it had full vowels in the second and fourth syllable.
Reduced vowels were very short, so much that the transcribers (who mostly spoke Low German) sometimes ommited them in places where they could be expected, which was probably not caused by the ellipsis of said vowels, but rather by their very short duration. The full vowels were noticeably long and were often marked as such in the texts.
The Lord's Prayer
The Lord's Prayer in Polabian and related Lechitic languages, compared to Upper Sorbian, Old Church Slavonic, German and English: Germanic loanwords, which are comparatively rare in the other West Slavic languages, are highlighted in bold.
- Nôße Wader,
- ta toy giß wa Nebisgáy,
- Sjungta woarda Tügí Geima,
- Tia Rîk komaj,
- Tia Willia ſchinyôt,
- kok wa Nebisgáy,
- tôk kak no Sime.
- Nôßi wißedanneisna Stgeiba doy nâm dâns,
- un wittedoy nâm nôße Ggrêch,
- kak moy wittedoyime nôßem Grêsmarim.
- Ni bringoy nôs ka Warſikónye,
- tay löſoáy nôs wit wißókak Chaudak.
- Aita Nos,
- tâ toi jis wâ nebesai,
- Sjętü wordoj Tüji jaimą,
- Tüji Rik komaj,
- Tüja wüľa mo są ťüńot,
- kok wâ nebesai,
- tok no zemi,
- nosę wisedanesnę sťaibę doj nam dâns,
- a wütâdoj nam nose greche,
- kok moi wütâdojeme nosim gresnarem.
- Ni bringoj nos wâ Warsükongę,
- toi losoj nos wüt wisokag chaudag.
- Òjcze nasz,
- jaczi jes w niebie,
- niech sã swiãcy Twòje miono,
- niech przińdze Twòje królestwò,
- niech mdze Twòja wòlô
- jakno w niebie
- tak téż na zemi.
- Chleba najégò pòwszednégò dôj nóm dzysô
- i òdpùscë nóm naje winë,
- jak i më òdpùszcziwóme naszim winowajcóm.
- A nie dopùscë na nas pòkùszeniô,
- ale nas zbawi òde złégò.
- Ojcze nasz,
- któryś jest w niebie,
- święć się imię Twoje,
- przyjdź królestwo Twoje,
- bądź wola Twoja
- jako w niebie
- tak i na ziemi.
- Chleba naszego powszedniego daj nam dzisiaj;
- i odpuść nam nasze winy,
- jako i my odpuszczamy naszym winowajcom;
- i nie wódź nas na pokuszenie,
- ale nas zbaw ode złego.
- Wótče naš,
- kiž sy w njebjesach.
- Swjeć so Twoje mjeno.
- Přińdź Twoje kralestwo.
- Stań so Twoja wola,
- kaž na njebju,
- tak na zemi.
- Wšědny chlěb naš daj nam dźens.
- Wodaj nam naše winy,
- jako my tež wodawamy swojim winikam.
- A njewjedź nas do spytowanja,
- ale wumóž nas wot złeho.
|Old Slavic (transliteration):
- Otĭče našĭ,
- Iže jesi na nebesěchŭ.
- Da svętitŭ sę imę Tvoje,
- da pridetŭ cěsar'ĭstvije Tvoje,
- da bǫdetŭ volja Tvoja
- jako na nebesi
- i na zeml'i.
- Chlěbŭ našĭ nasǫštĭnyi daždĭ namŭ dĭnĭsĭ;
- i otŭpusti namŭ dlŭgy našę,
- jako i my otŭpuštajemŭ dlŭžĭnikomŭ našimŭ;
- i ne vŭvedi nasŭ vŭ iskušenije,
- nŭ izbavi ny otŭ neprijazni.
|German, 8th century:
- Fater unsêr,
- thu pist in himile,
- uuîhi namun dînan,
- qhueme rîhhi dîn,
- uuerde uuillo diin,
- sô in himile
- sôsa in erdu.
- Prooth unsêr emezzihic kip uns hiutu,
- oblâz uns sculdi unsêro,
- sô uuir oblâzêm uns sculdîkêm,
- enti ni unsih firleiti in khorunka,
- ûzzer lôsi unsih fona ubile.
|German, 20th century:
- Vater unser,
- der Du bist im Himmel,
- geheiligt werde Dein Name;
- zu uns komme Dein Reich;
- Dein Wille geschehe,
- wie im Himmel,
- also auch auf Erden!
- Unser tägliches Brot gib uns heute;
- und vergib uns unsere Schuld,
- wie auch wir vergeben unsern Schuldigern;
- und führe uns nicht in Versuchung,
- sondern erlöse uns von dem Übel.
- Our Father
- who art in heaven,
- hallowed be thy name.
- Thy kingdom come,
- thy will be done
- on earth
- as it is in heaven.
- Give us this day our daily bread, and
- forgive us our trespasses (or "debts"; cf. German use of feminine singular Schuld, "debt"/"guilt")
- as we forgive those who trespass against us (or "our debtors"; German Schuldiger[e]n, however, refers only to perpetrators of wrongdoing, with dative plural of "debtors" instead being Schuld[e]ner[e]n),
- and lead us not into temptation
- but deliver us from evil (or "the Evil One").