One winner (best adapted screenplay) in the 2023 Oscars is Women talking, a film adaptation of the novel by the Canadian author Miriam Toews, a fictional response to real events that took place in a Mennonite community in Bolivia. When I first heard about this it prompted me to look into the history of the Mennonites. I was fascinated by the numerous moves groups of them had made during the last 500 years. This blog post will look at some of the main migrations during that time and also consider the Mennonites’ Low German dialect, Plautdietsch, which they have preserved across the world. The UL has a huge number of resources, both print and online, on the Mennonites, showing that their beliefs, culture and language are of great interest to researchers.
Menno Simons, picture by Rijksmuseum via Wikimedia Commons
The name Mennonite was used to refer to Dutch Anabaptists (there were others in Switzerland and Germany) and was derived from Menno Simons, a Catholic priest who turned away from Catholicism and became a leader of the Anabaptist movement in the Low Countries during the time of the Reformation (Anabaptist simply means “one who is baptised again”, referring to the belief that baptism of infants was wrong and that only adults who could knowingly profess their faith should be baptised). Mennonites in the Netherlands were regarded as heretics and were suppressed and persecuted not just by the prevailing Catholics but also by other Protestants. Continue reading →
Recently added to the catalogue is a charming introduction to the German language for soldiers stationed at the Citadelle of Strasbourg. Published in 1731, this anonymous work, entitled L’art de bien parler allemand : qui comprend tout ce qui est necessaire pour apprendre facilement & en peu de tems cette langue, à l’usage de messieurs les cadets gentils hommes de la Citadelle de Strasbourg, stands at 7001.d.230. It is clearly a very rare item –we have been able to locate no other copies in the United Kingdom or the United States, and only one in Germany, in the Badische Landesbibliothek Karlsruhe. The catalogue collectif de France gives a further three locations. The Cambridge copy contains a few manuscript notes, and the contemporary ownership inscription of a young soldier, “Liercour, cadet”, on the back cover.
The work begins with a brief general introduction to grammar, which is followed by German phonetics, German grammar, declination, regular and irregular verbs etc. The main section contains extensive topical bi-lingual word lists and glossaries. Terms for food and drink, with descriptions of the separate parts of the meal – starters, main courses, desserts – are explained in detail, and are clearly aimed at a sophisticated French audience. The word lists which follow cover parts of the human body, illnesses, clothing, politics, history, fortification and nature. A special section is of course devoted to war and military vocabulary, ranging from “pressing a soldier into service” to “fighting battles” and “standing guard”.
Continue reading →