Written by Dyami Millarson
Klaus Groth (1819-1899) was a pioneering Low German poet, who has been dubbed the most painted poet of his day. Linguistically speaking, Klaus Groth’s works are written in Heide Low German, which belongs to Dithmarschen Low German, which belongs to Holstein Low German, which belongs to Low German. Klaus Groth is pioneering in that he serves as an inspiration for later Low German writers. He was truly a prolific writer; for he produced countless works throughout his life.
You can find Klaus Groth’s works if you enter the following in Google Books:
Klaus Groth was born in the Holstein Low German-speaking Heide in Dithmarschen, which lies South of North Frisia. Heide means heath in Dutch, Cape Dutch (Afrikaans), Groningen Saxon, East Frisia Saxon, Shire Frisian, and German. Heide is named after a church built on the heath in the 15th century. Klaus Groth had fond memories of his youth in Heide and this greatly influenced his poetical works.
He became a girls’ school teacher in Heide after completing his education. He disliked his job. He quit his job because of this and spent 6 years with a friend of his. This is when he produced his first Dithmarschen Low German work Quickborn, which earned him fame all over Germany.
Klaus Groth suffered from frail health. He intended to travel to Rome for this reason, but never made it to his destination for the same reason. Klaus Groth married a vintner’s daughter. This turned out to be very fortunate for him, because his wife would organise many musical and social gatherings at their home, which would acquaint Klaus Groth with countless musicians and painters of his day. The knock-on effect of this was that many of his works were set to music by the musicians and that many paintings and drawings were made of him by the artists, which has earned him the reputation of being the most painted 19th-century poet.
Dithmarschen Low German is linguistically interesting since it is spoken near the North Frisian languages. It has been claimed by various authors, such as the literary giant Moritz Momme Nissen (1822-1902) who was Klaus Groth’s contemporary, that North Frisian was once spoken in Dithmarschen as well.
Others, such as Theodor Siebs (1862-1941) and Klaus Groth himself, claim to have found no traces of North Frisian in Dithmarschen Low German. It is nevertheless interesting to study Dithmarschen Low German and compare it with North Frisian, because the North Frisian languages from the Southern part of the North Frisian-speaking areas were influenced by the local Low German while the more Northern North Frisian languages by the local Danish.
Since Dithmarschen is near the ancient settlement area of the North Frisians of Eiderstedt, I do not think North Frisians living in Dithmarschen is unthinkable, but if the North Frisians moved there, which they very well could have, they might have found a relatively large non-Frisian population already living there in the area. So I imagine it is quite possible that the North Frisian speakers of Dithmarschen left no traces as they might have been a very small population, and so if there are no linguistic clues of North Frisian presence in Dithmarschen, it might simply mean these North Frisians were an insignificant minority, which left no linguistic traces after it disappeared.
Dithmarschen has coastal areas since ancient times as well as its location near Eiderstedt would have been geographical factors attractive to North Frisians. As North Frisian languages started dying in the South, the North Frisian native to Dithmarschen – if they had indeed felt attracted to settling in Dithmarschen for the aforementioned reasons – might have been the first Southern domino to fall in the North Frisian-speaking region. Many undocumented languages disappear without a trace, and so it is not that strange to suppose the same night have happened with a – perhaps small – population of North Frisian speakers native to Dithmarschen.
In any case, the study of the Dithmarschen Low German of Klaus Groth is relevant for comparison with North Frisian. I have not studied the Dithmarschen Low German of the works of Klaus Groth yet, but first it was important for me to identify what language he wrote his works in, so that I could register it in my mind as ‘one of the adjacent languages of the North Frisian area.’ The study of adjacent languages is always interesting, yet often overlooked. I want to understand an entire linguistic area. I find the interaction between (adjacent) languages fascinating – particularly how they influence each other’s evolution in one direction or another. So I am looking forward to the study of Dithmarschen Low German through Klaus Groth’s works at some undetermined future date.