Mennonite Low German Plautdietsch/ Plattdeutsch Interpreters & Translators
Attorneys and law firms in Texas, Nebraska, New Mexico, Kansas, Indiana, Arizona, California, and other parts of the U.S. are often looking for deposition interpreters fluent in Mennonite Low German, also referred to as Plautdietsch/ Plattdeutsch, for personal injury cases, and for other civil and criminal matters. As is the case with the many rare, hard-to-find, exotic languages that All Language Alliance, Inc. supports, such as Sinhala, Anuak, Kunama, Nyanja, Malayalam, Dinka, Kambaata, Mongolian, many lawyers are likely to become aware of the existence of the Mennonite Low German language for the first time when faced with a need to depose a Mennonite Low German-speaking witness. Below we have outlined some pointers about the Low German Mennonite language and culture to help make a Low German Mennonite deposition via Zoom a more rewarding experience for all the participants.
The Origins of Low German Mennonite Plautdietsch Language
Mennonites are a religious group that originated in Europe during the Protestant Reformation. With an emphasis on separation from the world, over time they became a group with both ethnic and religious identities. Two streams of Mennonites came to North America between the 18th and 20th centuries.
The Swiss-South German Mennonites came to the United States in 18th century and spoke Pennsylvania Dutch.
The Dutch-North German Mennonite stream migrated to what is now Poland in the 16th century and then to the Russian Empire in 18th century. While in Poland they developed a unique dialect of the Low German language that was spoken in the Vistula delta around present day Gdansk, Poland.
Pennsylvania Dutch and Mennonite Low German, while related are not intelligible to speakers from the two groups. A significant migration of Mennonites to North America from the Russian Empire occurred in the 1870s with settlements in Manitoba, Canada, and Kansas and Nebraska.
In Canada they came into conflict with the state over education in the 1920s and further migrations occurred to Mexico and Paraguay. Being primarily agrarian and having large families, the continuing search for land has resulted in migrations all over Latin and South America.
There are large numbers of Low German speaking Mennonites, also known as Old Colony Mennonites, in Mexico, Bolivia, Belize, Paraguay and lesser numbers in Argentina, Brazil, Columbia and Peru. Economic conditions in these countries have also resulted in large return migrations to Canada and migration to Kansas and Texas in the United States.
Translating and Interpreting the Mennonite Low German Language
As a variation of German, Mennonite Low German has similarities with modern High German, but also has unique sounds and structures. Over time, loan words from Swedish, Ukrainian and, later, English and Spanish have entered the language.
Given that its historical development came at a time where most Mennonites lived in farming villages the Mennonite Low German language is rich in rural and agricultural vocabulary. On the other hand, its speakers’ struggle to explain medical conditions or other aspects of life using modern terminology and need to rely on loan words from English or Spanish. Attempts to create a written form of Mennonite Low German have largely been unsuccessful. There are dictionaries of Mennonite Low German, however there is no widely accepted orthography of the language.
Low German Deposition Interpreting Services
Most Low German speaking Mennonites who have migrated to areas of the United States use Low German as the exclusive language of the home and have minimal reading or writing ability in another language.
The language of church is most often Low German with scripture read in High German. Conservative Mennonites use the Luther translation of the German Bible; however, their knowledge of modern High German is quite limited.
The Mennonites who migrated to the Spanish speaking countries of Latin and South America were the most conservative and for most of their time in the south they have tried to remain isolated. Schooling in the colonies has not developed beyond providing only the most basic education. In both their former homes and in the United States men are more likely to work or interact outside the home in occupations where some knowledge of English or Spanish became necessary. As a result, women are less likely than men to be functional in English.
Exposure to English and Spanish has also produced a Low German that is a mixture of the three languages. Loan words can often be specific to the individual or the geographic region where they live or grew up. Frequently younger family members who have gone to English language schools serve as English to Low German translators and interpreters. Depending on the nature of the interaction this may be adequate. In legal or medical translation environments this is not advisable given that the family member’s English vocabulary may not be sufficient to be sure the subject has understood what they are being told, and they are also not impartial. The interaction may also involve discussion of things never talked about in the home that may result in misunderstanding and embarrassment.
Low German Interpreting Services and Informed Consent
Obtaining informed consent is one of the challenges faced by medical and social agencies when dealing with Low German speaking clients. The interpreter who is charged with conveying to the client the risks and possible outcomes of a certain intervention will need to use work around language to overcome the lack of medical or psychological terminology available in Low German. This results in what may seem a long conversation between the interpreter and the client in comparison to what the practitioner has conveyed to the interpreter in English. The Mennonite Low German interpreter also needs to be keenly aware of the euphemisms used by conservative Mennonites when talking about various bodily functions or sexual matters.
Low German Interpreting Services in Judicial Proceedings
As in the case of medical terminology, Mennonite Low German also has limited vocabulary for legal terminology. Since the language is not used in any legal jurisdiction, direct translation is often not possible. For similar reasons, consecutive rather than simultaneous translation is preferable because the English to Mennonite Low German interpreter must search for equivalent vocabulary in Low German to convey the meaning of the English legal term or concept. In many cases a Low German interpreter or translator may also have to rephrase several times to be sure the subject is understanding what is being said or asked.
Contact the legal translation, deposition interpreting and linguistics expert witness service All Language Alliance, Inc. to retain a competent English to Mennonite Low German deposition interpreter for your Zoom deposition; or to hire a linguistic expert witness with the unique knowledge of Mennonite Low German cultural practices and language.