Carnivorous Donkeys and “Binsenweisheiten”. A Conference Report.

The presentations and subsequent discussions at the 129th conference of the Verein für niederdeutsche Sprache (VndS) in Stendal presented a colourful and inspiring mix of perspectives on new methods in Low German studies.

Opening presentation: Ursula Kundert on “Poetik und Semantik des Layouts. Am Beispiel niederdeutscher Psalmen des 15. Jahrhundert”

The main topics in the presentations were corpora and tools, exemplified by a wide variety of projects which covered subjects ranging from history over theology to linguistics and palaeography (see the programme). Exciting and constantly growing Low German corpora and data bases were introduced, such as the “Referenzkorpus Mittelniederdeutsch/Niederrheinisch 1200-1650” (ReN), or the “Corpus of Historical Low German” (CHLG), as well as intriguing new digital methods for analysing, editing and using these accumulated amounts of data, such as the REDE SprachGis project, which provides a tool to generate individual maps based on either existing data bases or a project’s own data.

Matthias Schulz on regiolects and Binsenweisheiten: “Stadtsprachgeschichte(n) im Ostseeraum. Eine annotierte digitale Plattform für die Untersuchung der Stadtsprachgeschichte Greifswalds”

It was fascinating to see the many different ways in which new digital methods and features are used, and that, ultimately, all pursue the same goal: to facilitate research work.

Accordingly, the discussions revolved around the importance of balancing the efforts and the benefits when using these methods, so as not to loose oneself in the great but endless possibilities that the digital world offers. Indisputably, diverging disciplines approach corpora with different research questions, and the consensus was reached that the main consideration should always be: it is possible, but is it expedient?

Embedded in this context my presentation illustrated not only how the XML encoding supports me in answering my research questions regarding the dictation theory and provides me with evidence and statistics for lexicographical and philological analyses, but also, how digital methods facilitate an interdisciplinary dialogue via social media, and by generating XML-based interfaces between projects. This is, of course, of particular importance for smaller, highly specialised subjects such as Middle Low German lexicography.

jennifer vortrag
Jennifer Bunselmeier on Engelhus: “Neue digitale Methoden zur mittelniederdeutschen Lexikographie. Das Beispiel des Engelhus-Vokabulars”

Not the least important aspect of the annual “Pfingsttagung” is to explore a town historically linked to Low German. Stendal proved an inspired choice – an intact brick Gothic town, the most important of the Hanseatic places in the Altmark. We were welcomed warmly with tours of the city archive, the museum with important historic holdings and guided through the impressive Church of St Mary the Virgin. The public lecture on the literature of the Altmark by Volker Honemann invited our local hosts into the scholarly discussion and presented e.g. the print output of the Westphal print workshop from 15th century Stendal.

The conference venue was the medieval town hall with the largest wooden screen of the Renaissance in a secular building, featuring biblical subjects on good governance as well as fun animals from frog to a #notalion and something that, to me, looks like a donkey devouring a lizard.

NB: For more fun, medieval depictions of animals, including a sow wheelbarrowing her piglets, read Hanne Griessmann’s post on drolleries: “Von Phantasiewesen, pummeligen Schosshunden und einer fidelen Wildsau“.

The conference proved that Low German studies are a lively subject which is attractive to both distinguished experts and junior researchers and which is open to new ideas and methods and continues to reassess and redefine itself – and that the digital exchange is made more lively by the personal exchange. You can follow some of the discussions under the Hashtag #VndS2016.

Photos courtesy of Henrike Lähnemann and Jennifer Bunselmeier.


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