Warren Kliewer and Bertha Fast Harder have collected children's rhymes used by Mennonite speakers of the Low German dialect in Minnesota. Many represent nursery lore; that is, rhymes used by adults with pre-school children. Among these are verses used while counting the child's fingers, naming parts of the face and body, and bouncing the child on the knee. Others are childlore; that is, verses used by children while playing with other children. Chief among these are game and counting off rhymes, jokes, satiric narratives, and holiday poems. Although no comparative data is supplied, these rhymes are probably also found in non-Mennonite Low German cultures.
The same is apparently true of the Plautdietsch rhymes and songs collected by Victor Carl Friesen among the Western Canadian Mennonites. One of the most interesting of these is the 19-stanza "Brummels Song," a nonsense song about a man who found a louse in his shirt while washing it. The 11-stanza "Brummtopp Song" must have many variant stanzas, since the young people who sing it while performing the New Year's mummers' play typically compose or alter stanzas to make the song fit the household in which they are performing.
A distinctively Mennonite use of rhyming has been identified by Doreen Klassen among Russian Mennonite immigrants to North America since the 1870s. In this living tradition, individual community members, using traditional Germanic and English tunes, compose verses for songs that are then sung and passed on by ear by other community members.
The subject matter is varied, including nonsense songs, work songs, satires of deviant members of the community, game songs, love songs, laments, religious songs and narratives (ballads). Typical contexts for singing these songs are while doing farm chores and other work or at family evening singings. In earlier times, such songs were composed and sung at meetings on the streets (Gausseshlinyels songs), meetings of hired hands on Saturday nights or Sunday afternoons, and young peoples' evenings (Schlüsselbund songs). Two newer contexts for performing these songs are evenings of entertainment used for fund-raising in rural Manitoba (Plautdietsha Ohvent [Low German evenings]) and commemorative events such as village reunions and centennial celebrations.
Friesen, Victor Carl. The Windmill Turning: Nursery Rhymes, Maxims, and Other Expressions Of Western Canadian Mennonites. Edmonton: U. of Alberta Press, 1988.
Harder, Bertha Fast. "Low German for Children -- Rhymes, and Poems." Mennonite Life 36, no. 3 (September 1981): 12-16.
Klassen, Doreen. "Low German Songs? Ohba yo!" Mennonite Life 33, no. 4 (December 1978): 23-26.
Klassen, Doreen. Singing Mennonite: Low German Songs Among the Mennonites. Winnipeg: U. of Manitoba Press, 1988.
Kliewer, Warren. "Low German Children's Rimes." Mennonite Life 14, no. 3 (July 1959): 141-42.
Kliewer, Warren. "More Low German Children's Rhymes." Mennonite Life, 15, no. 4 (October 1960): 173-74, 180.
Ervin Beck's Bibliography on Amish and Mennonite folk arts (includes section on Rhymes).
Cite This Article
Beck, Ervin. "Rhymes." Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. 1989. Web. 28 Sep 2023. https://gameo.org/index.php?title=Rhymes&oldid=77243.
Beck, Ervin. (1989). Rhymes. Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. Retrieved 28 September 2023, from https://gameo.org/index.php?title=Rhymes&oldid=77243.
Adapted by permission of Herald Press, Harrisonburg, Virginia, from Mennonite Encyclopedia, Vol. 5, pp. 774-775. All rights reserved.
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