Historic Colognian or Old Colognian is the spoken and written language of the city of Cologne in Germany from the 12th century to the 18th century, before the development of Modern Colognian. The German name for it is Altkölnisch. This classification is primarily based on the research and publications, including a dictionary, of Prof. Dr. Adam Wrede (1875-1960), a linguist at the University of Cologne. He also published a dictionary of Modern Colognian, which is still having reprints today. It was Wrede who coined the term Altkölnisch.
Since the middle of the 5th Century, Cologne was under the rule of the Franks, who took over after almost 500 years of Roman rule. The Franks brought their own language, which gradually replaced Latin as the common language of the residents. The Old Colognian language developed later than the 12th Century, evolving from a mixture of the then old fashioned Ripuarian and Low Franconian dialects and Old High German. Old Franconian developed into a huge variety of dialects, including most of Middle High German and later Luxembourgish, while Old Low Franconian developed into Middle Low German, Dutch, Afrikaans and others. Old High German developed into New High German and Modern German. So Old Colognian was already influenced by High German in the Middle Ages.
Old Colognian was not a mere dialect. It was the language of the Electorate of Cologne, spoken and written every day by both the ecclesiastical and secular authorities as well as the residents of the city and its surrounding area. So it was very well preserved through the Middle Ages and into the Modern times, with a rich variety arising from everyday use. Contemporary literature was written and later printed in Old Colognian. Beginning in the first half of the 16th century, even mundane literary sources exist.
During the 16th century, the influence of the New High German language increased in Cologne and along the Rhine River, changing the way of writing used by the monasteries, authorities, and printers. But it did not affect the spoken language of the ordinary citizens. This is evident from the written accounts of the 18th Century, when Colognian was revived for the literature, and they show the development of Old Colognian into Modern Colognian, at least in its spoken form.
Towards the end of the 16th century, the Low Franconian writing system was gradually abandoned by printers and offices in favor of the developing New High German writing system. Since then, spoken and written languages diverged in Cologne, and documents written in Old Colognian have grown scarce.
- Prof. Dr. Adam Wrede: Altkölnischer Sprachschatz [Old Colognian Vocabulary]. A first partial edition was published in 1928 in Bonn. The economic crisis, and World War II stopped the publication, which was not resumed. A planned continuation was interrupted by the unexpected death of Dr. Wrede, and is now halted after the collapse of the building of the City Archives of Cologne, which was where the manuscripts were kept.
- Prof. Dr. Adam Wrede: Neuer Kölnischer Sprachschatz [New Colognian Vocabulary], Three Volumes, 12th Ed. (Cologne: Greven-Verlag, 1999) ISBN 3-7743-0243-X
- Wrede: Neuer Kölnischer Sprachschatz, Volume 2, page 74, top.
- Wrede: Neuer Kölnischer Sprachschatz. Volume 3, page 332, top.
- One of them, written in the 16th Century, is the so called “Weinsberg Book” (Buch Weinsberg), a kind of diary of a son of a Colognian patrician, Hermann von Weinsberg, who wrote about his own life from youth to adulthood. Most remarkably, with his writings, he placed himself with the kings and queens of his time, usually the only ones whose lives are documented by existing records, letters and reports.