Old Prussian language

Old Prussian language
(Prūsiskai Bilā, Prūsiskan)
Spoken in Prussia
Region Europe
Extinct Late 17th / Early 18th century
Language family
Language codes
ISO 639-3 prg
Linguasphere 54-AAC-a

Prussian is an extinct Baltic language, once spoken by the inhabitants of the original territory of Prussia (Prūsa in Prussian, not to be confused with the later and much larger German state of the same name; see map and article by Marija Gimbutas below) in an area of what later became East Prussia (now north-eastern Poland and the Kaliningrad Oblast of Russia) and eastern parts of Pomerelia (some parts of the region east of the Vistula River). It was also spoken much further east and south in what became Polesia and part of Podlasia with the conquests by Rus and Poles starting in the 10th century and by the German colonisation of the area which began in the 12th century. In Old Prussian itself, the language was called “Prūsiskan” (Prussian) or “Prūsiskai Bilā” (the Prussian language). According to Gimbutas, the entire area has thousands of river names that can be traced back to an original Baltic language, even though they have undergone Slavicization.

The Aesti, mentioned by Tacitus in his Germania, may have been a people who spoke Old Prussian. Tacitus describes them as being just like the Suebi (a group of Germanic peoples) but with a more Britannic-like (Celtic) language.

Old Prussian was closely related to the other extinct Western Baltic languages, Curonian, Galindian and Sudovian. It is more distantly related to the surviving Eastern Baltic languages, Lithuanian and Latvian. Compare the Prussian word seme (zemē),[1] the Latvian zeme, the Lithuanian žemė.

Old Prussian contained a few borrowings specifically from Gothic (e.g., Old Prussian ylo "awl," as with Lithuanian ýla, Latvian īlens) and even Scandinavian languages.[2] The language also has many Slavic loanwords, e.g., Old Prussian curtis "hound," just as Lithuanian kùrtas, Latvian kur̃ts come from Slavic (cf. Russian/Ukrainian хорт, khort; Polish chart; Czech chrt). There are many loanwords directly from German, the result of German colonization in the 13th century.[2]

In addition to the German colonists, groups of people from Poland,[3][4] Lithuania, France,[citation needed] Scotland,[5] England,[6] and Austria,[citation needed] found refuge in Prussia during the Protestant Reformation and thereafter. Such immigration caused a slow decline in the use of Old Prussian, as the Prussians adopted the languages of the others, particularly German, the language of the German government of Prussia. Baltic Old Prussian probably ceased to be spoken around the beginning of the 18th century due to many of its remaining speakers dying in the famines and bubonic plague epidemics harrowing the East Prussian countryside and towns from 1709 until 1711.[7] The regional dialect of Low German spoken in Prussia (or East Prussia), Low Prussian, preserved a number of Baltic Prussian words, such as kurp, from the Old Prussian kurpi, for shoe (in contrast to the standard German Schuh).

The language is called “Old Prussian” to avoid confusion with the German dialects Low Prussian and High Prussian, and the adjective “Prussian”, which also relates to the later German state. The Old Prussian name for the nation, not being Latinized, was Prūsa. This too may be used to delineate the language and the Baltic state from the later German state.

Old Prussian began to be written down in the Latin alphabet in about the 13th century. A small amount of literature in the language survives.

Until the 1930s, when the Nazi government began a program of Germanization, and in 1945, when the Soviets annexed Prussia and made Old Prussian place-names illegal,[8] one could find Old Prussian river and place names in East Prussia, like Tawe, Tawelle, and Tawelninken.



Lord's Prayer

Lord's Prayer after Simon Grunau

Nossen Thewes, cur tu es Delbes,
Schwiz gesger thowes Wardes;
Penag mynys thowe Mystalstibe;
Toppes Pratres giriad Delbszisne, tade tymnes sennes Worsinny;
Dodi momines an nosse igdenas Magse;
Unde geitkas pamas numas musse Nozegun, cademas pametam nusson Pyrtainekans;
No wede numus panam Padomum;
Swalbadi mumes newusse Layne. Jesus. Amen.

Lord's Prayer after Prätorius

Thewes nossen, cur tu es Debbes,
Schwisch gesger thowes Wardes;
Pena mynis thowe Wiswalstybe;
Toppes Patres gir iat Delbeszisne, tade tymnes senjnes Worsinny;
Annosse igdenas Mayse dodi mums szon Dien;
Pamutale mums musu Noschegun, kademas pametan nousson Pyktainekans;
No wede numus panam Paadomam;
Swalbadi numes ne wust Tayne.

Lord's Prayer in mixed dialects

Thawe nuson kas tu asse Andangon,
Swintits wirst twais Emmens;
Pergeis twais Laeims;
Twais Quaits audasseisin na Semmey, key Andangon;
Nusan deininan Geittin deis numons schindeinan;
Bha atwerpeis numans nuson Auschautins, kay mas atwerpimay nuson Auschautenikamans;
Bha ny wedais mans Enperbandan;
Sclait is rankeis mans assa Wargan. Amen

Lord's Prayer in the dialect of Insterburg (Prediger Hennig)

Tewe musu, kurs essi Danguje,
Buk szwenczamas Wardas tawo,
Ateik tawo Karalijste;
Buk tawo Walle kaip Daguje, taip ir an Zemes;
Duna musu dieniszka duk mums ir sze Diena;
Atleisk mums musu Kaltes, kaip mes atoeidzjam sawo Kaltiems;
Ne wesk mus Pagundima;
Bet gelbek mus nu Pikto.

Lord's Prayer in the dialect of Nadruvia (Simon Prätorius)

Tiewe musu, kursa tu essi Debsissa,
Szwints tiest taws Wards;
Akeik mums twa Walstybe;
Tawas Praats buk kaip Debbesissa taibant wirszu Sjemes;
Musu dieniszka May e duk mums ir szen Dienan;
Atmesk mums musu Griekus, kaip mes pammetam musi Pardokonteimus;
Ne te wedde mus Baidykle;
Bet te passarge mus mi wissa Louna (Pikta)

A list of monuments of Old Prussian

  • Prussian-language geographical names within the territory of (Baltic) Prussia. The first basic study of these names was by Georg Gerullis, in Die altpreußischen Ortsnamen ("The Old Prussian Place-names"), written and published with the help of Walter de Gruyter, in 1922.
  • Prussian personal names.[9]
  • Separate words found in various historical documents.
  • Vernacularisms in the former German dialects of East and West Prussia, as well as words of Old Curonian origin in Latvian, and West-Baltic vernacularisms in Lithuanian and Belarusian.
  • The so-called Basel Epigram, the oldest written Prussian sentence (1369).[10][11] It reads:
Kayle rekyse •
thoneaw labonache thewelyse •
Eg koyte poyte •
nykoyte • pe^nega doyte

Kaīls rikīse!
Tu ni jāu laban asei tēwelise,
ik kwaitēi pōiti,
ni kwaitēi peningā dōiti

Cheers, Sir!
You are no longer a good little uncle,
if you want to drink
(but) do not want to give a penny!

This jocular inscription was most probably made by a Prussian student studying in Prague (Charles University); found by Stephen McCluskey (1974) in manuscript MS F.V.2 (book of physics Questiones super Meteororum by Nicholas Oresme), fol. 63r, stored in the Basel University library.
  • Various fragmentary texts:
Recorded in several versions by Hieronymus Maletius in Sudovian Nook in the middle of the 16th century, as noted by Vytautas Mažiulis, are:
  1. Beigeite beygeyte peckolle ("Run, run, devils!")
  2. Kails naussen gnigethe ("Hello our friend!")
  3. Kails poskails ains par antres – a drinking toast, reconstructed as Kaīls pas kaīls, aīns per āntran ("A healthy one after a healthy one, one after another!")
  4. Kellewesze perioth, Kellewesze perioth ("A carter drives here, a carter drives here!")
  5. Ocho moy myle schwante panicke – also recorded as O hoho Moi mile swente Pannike, O ho hu Mey mile swenthe paniko, O mues miles schwante Panick ("Oh my dear holy fire!")
  • A manuscript fragment of the first words of the Pater Noster in Prussian, from the beginning of the 15th century: Towe Nüsze kås esse andangonsün swyntins.
  • 100 words (in strongly varying versions) of the Vocabulary by friar Simon Grunau, an historian of the Teutonic Knights, written ca. 1517–1526; these have been reconstructed into a more unified single system of spelling by Mažiulis. Except those words Grunau also recorded an expression sta nossen rickie, nossen rickie ("This (is) our lord, our lord").
  • The so-called Elbing Vocabulary, which consists of 802 thematically sorted words and their German equivalents. This manuscript, copied by Peter Holcwesscher from Marienburg on the boundary of the 14th and 15th centuries, was found in 1825 by Fr. Neumann among other manuscripts acquired by him from the heritage of the Elbing merchant A. Grübnau; it was thus dubbed the Codex Neumannianus. Again, the words have been reconstructed into a more unified single system of spelling by V. Mažiulis, a scholar and contributor to the revival of the Prussian language.
  • The three Catechisms[12] printed in the Prussian language in Königsberg in 1545, 1545, and 1561 respectively. The first two consist of only 6 pages of text in Prussian – the second one being a correction of the first into another sub-dialect. The third one, however, consists of 132 pages of Prussian text, and is a translation by Abel Will of Martin Luther’s Enchiridion.
  • Commonly thought of as Prussian, but probably actually Lithuanian:
  1. An adage of 1583, Dewes does dantes, Dewes does geitka: the form does in the second instance corresponds to Lithuanian future tense duos ("will give")
  2. Trencke, trencke! ("Strike! Strike!")

Examples of Prussian

Here are several basic Prussian phrases :

Translation Phrase
Prussian [language] Prūsiskan
Prussia Prūsa and Prūsija
Hello Kaīls
Good morning Kaīls Anksteīnai
Good-bye Ērdiw
Thank you Dīnka
How much? Kelli?
No Ni
Where is the bathroom? Kwēi ast Spektāstuba?
(Generic toast) Kaīls pas kaīls aīns per āntran
Do you speak English? Bilāi tū Ēngliskan?

Prussian was a highly inflected language, as can be seen from the declension of the demonstrative pronoun stas, "that". (Note that translators of the Teutonic Order frequently misused stas as an article, i.e. for the word "the"; Old Prussian, like the other Baltic languages, but unlike German, had no real articles.)

Case m.sg. f.sg. n.sg. m.pl. f.pl. n.pl.
Nominative stas stāi stan stāi stās stai
Genitive stesse stesses stesse stēisan stēisan stēisan
Dative stesmu stessei stesmu or stesmā stēimans stēimans stēimans
Accusative stan stan stan or sta stans stans stans or stas

Prussian also possessed a vocative case.

Revived Old Prussian

Flag of the Prusai minority.

A few experimental communities involved in reviving a reconstructed form of the language now exist in Lithuania, Russia, Poland, and other countries. About 200 people have learned the language and are attempting to use it in as many everyday activities as possible.

Important in this revival was Vytautas Mažiulis, who died on 11 April 2009.

The current versions being used in these revival attempts are:[13]

  • A dialect based on the Samland dialect as recorded in the Catechisms. It is admitted that the language of the Catechisms may contain material from the language of some Sudovians whom the Teutonic Order resettled in northwest Samland. This revival necessitated much reconstruction of lost or missing vocabulary.[14] This dialect is used:
    1. In Lithuania, by Prāncis Arellis and Vytautas Rinkevičius
    2. In the Kaliningrad oblast, by Glabbis Niktorius
    3. In Polish Warmia-Mazuria, by Nērtiks
    4. In Latvia, by the late Dailūns Russinis
    5. In Belarus, by Alis Mikus
  • Other dialects:
    1. A version based on Pomesanian of the Elbing Vocabulary, by Mikkels Klussis and Valdis Muktupāvels, but used for sacred and poetic texts only.
    2. In Germany, by Günter Kraft-Skalwynas. G.Kraft, has written many New Prussian texts. This version is a mixture of Old Prussian dialects (Samlandian and Pomesanian) and Lithuanian and Latvian words.
    3. In Poland, by Maciej Piegat. This version is said to be a far from accurate reconstruction, e.g. ignoring vowel lengths.
    4. By Joseph Pashka in Arizona, U.S.A. He named his language Sudovian, but some say that it is not dialect-specific.


  1. ^ Mikkels Klussis. Bāziscas prûsiskai-laîtawiskas wirdeîns per tālaisin laksikis rekreaciônin Donelaitis.vdu.lt (Lithuanian version of Donelaitis.vdu.lt).
  2. ^ a b Encyclopaedia Britanica article on Baltic languages
  3. ^ A Short History of Austria-Hungary and Poland by H. Wickham Steed, et al. Historicaltextarchive.com

    "For a time, therefore, the Protestants had to be cautious in Poland proper, but they found a sure refuge in Prussia, where Lutheranism was already the established religion, and where the newly erected University of Königsberg became a seminary for Polish ministers and preachers."

  4. ^ Ccel.org, Christianity in Poland

    "Albert of Brandenburg, Grand Master of the German Order in Prussia, called as preacher to Konigsberg Johann Briesaman (q.v.), Luther's follower (1525); and changed the territory of the order into a hereditary grand duchy under Polish protection. From these borderlands the movement penetrated Little Poland which was the nucleus for the extensive kingdom. [...] In the mean time the movement proceeded likewise among the nobles of Great Poland; here the type was Lutheran, instead of Reformed, as in Little Poland. Before the Reformation the Hussite refugees had found asylum here; now the Bohemian and Moravian brethren, soon to be known as the Unity of the Brethren (q.v.), were expelled from their home countries and, on their way to Prussia (1547), about 400 settled in Posen under the protection of the Gorka, Leszynski, and Ostrorog families."

  5. ^ "Scots in Eastern and Western Prussia, Part III – Documents (3)". http://www.electricscotland.com/history/prussia/part3-3.htm. Retrieved 2007-02-18. 
  6. ^ "Elbing" (PDF). http://www.elbing.de/Eastland.pdf. Retrieved 2007-02-18. 
  7. ^ Donelaitis Source, Lithuania
  8. ^ Poshka.bizland.com, Pirmojiknyga.mch.mii.lt, Eki.ee.
  9. ^ Reinhold Trautmann, Die altpreußischen Personennamen (The Old Prussian Personal-names). Vandenhoeck und Ruprecht, Göttingen: 1923. Includes the work of Ernst Lewy in 1904.
  10. ^ Basel Epigram
  11. ^ The Old Prussian Basel Epigram
  12. ^ Prussian Catechisms.
  13. ^ Donelaitis.vdu.lt
  14. ^ Donelaitis.vdu.lt
  15. ^ Donelaitis.vdu.lt, "Reconstructing Prussian".


  • G. H. F. Nesselmann, Thesaurus linguae Prussicae, Berlin, 1873.
  • E. Berneker, Die preussische Sprache, Strassburg, 1896.
  • R. Trautmann, Die altpreussischen Sprachdenkmäler, Göttingen, 1910.
  • G. Gerullis, Die altpreussischen Ortsnamen, Berlin-Leipzig, 1922.
  • G. Gerullis, Georg: Zur Sprache der Sudauer-Jadwinger, in Festschrift A. Bezzenberger, Göttingen 1927
  • R. Trautmann, Die altpreussischen Personnennamen, Göttingen, 1925.
  • J. Endzelīns, Senprūšu valoda. – Gr. Darbu izlase, IV sēj., 2. daļa, Rīga, 1982. 9.-351. lpp.
  • L. Kilian: Zu Herkunft und Sprache der Prußen Wörterbuch Deutsch–Prußisch, Bonn 1980
  • J.S. Vater: Die Sprache der alten Preußen Wörterbuch Prußisch–Deutsch, Katechismus, Braunschweig 1821/Wiesbaden 1966
  • J.S. Vater: Mithridates oder allgemeine Sprachenkunde mit dem Vater Unser als Sprachprobe, Berlin 1809
  • V. Mažiulis, Prūsų kalbos paminklai, Vilnius, t. I 1966, t. II 1981.
  • W. R. Schmalstieg, An Old Prussian Grammar, University Park and London, 1974.
  • W. R. Schmalstieg, Studies in Old Prussian, University Park and London, 1976.
  • V. Toporov, Prusskij jazyk: Slovar', A – L, Moskva, 1975–1990 (nebaigtas, not finished).
  • V. Mažiulis, Prūsų kalbos etimologijos žodynas, Vilnius, t. I-IV, 1988–1997.
  • M. Biolik, Zuflüsse zur Ostsee zwischen unterer Weichsel und Pregel, Stuttgart, 1989.
  • R. Przybytek, Ortsnamen baltischer Herkunft im südlichen Teil Ostpreussens, Stuttgart, 1993.
  • M. Biolik, Die Namen der stehenden Gewässer im Zuflussgebiet des Pregel, Stuttgart, 1993.
  • M. Biolik, Die Namen der fließenden Gewässer im Flussgebiet des Pregel, Stuttgart, 1996.
  • G. Blažienė, Die baltischen Ortsnamen in Samland, Stuttgart, 2000.
  • R. Przybytek, Hydronymia Europaea, Ortsnamen baltischer Herkunft im südlichen Teil Ostpreußens, Stuttgart 1993
  • A. Kaukienė, Prūsų kalba, Klaipėda, 2002.
  • V. Mažiulis, Prūsų kalbos istorinė gramatika, Vilnius, 2004.
  • LEXICON BORVSSICVM VETVS. Concordantia et lexicon inversum. / Bibliotheca Klossiana I, Universitas Vytauti Magni, Kaunas, 2007.
  • OLD PRUSSIAN WRITTEN MONUMENTS. Facsimile, Transliteration, Reconstruction, Comments. / Bibliotheca Klossiana II, Universitas Vytauti Magni / Lithuanians' World Center, Kaunas, 2007.

External links

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Look at other dictionaries:

  • Old Prussian language —       West Baltic language extinct since the 17th century; it was spoken in the former German area of East Prussia (now in Poland and Russia). The poorly attested Yotvingian dialect was closely related to Old Prussian.       Old Prussian… …   Universalium

  • Old Prussian — Infobox Language name = Prussian nativename = ( ba. Prūsiskai Bilā , ba. Prūsiskan ) states = Prussia region = Europe extinct = Late 17th/Early 18th century iso1 = iso2 = iso3 = prg familycolor = Indo European fam1 = Indo European fam2 = Balto… …   Wikipedia

  • Old Prussian — 1. adjective Of or pertaining to the Old Prussian language or people. 2. noun the Baltic language spoken by the people of Prussia prior to their subjugation by the German Order …   Wiktionary

  • Old Prussian — n. a West Baltic language that was once spoken in East Prussia and became extinct in the 17th cent …   English World dictionary

  • Old Prussian — Old′ Prus′sian n. peo the extinct language of the Baltic speaking Prussians, attested principally in several religious texts of the 16th century Abbr.: OPruss • Etymology: 1870–75 …   From formal English to slang

  • Old Prussian — noun a dead language of the (non German) Prussians (extinct after 1700); thought to belong to the Baltic branch of Indo European • Hypernyms: ↑Baltic, ↑Baltic language …   Useful english dictionary

  • Old Prussian — noun Date: 1841 a Baltic language used in East Prussia until the 17th century see Indo European languages table …   New Collegiate Dictionary

  • Old Prussian — a Baltic language extinct since the 17th century. Abbr.: OPruss [1870 75] * * * …   Universalium

  • Old Prussian — noun a Baltic language, related to Lithuanian, spoken in Prussia until the 17th century …   English new terms dictionary

  • Old Prussian — /oʊld ˈprʌʃən/ (say ohld prushuhn) noun a Baltic language extinct since the 17th century …   Australian English dictionary