What are the origins of the Sorbian languages spoken in Germany?

The Sorbian languages, consisting of Upper and Lower Sorbian, are classified as West Slavic languages, spoken by the Sorbs, a West Slavic ethnic group predominantly residing in eastern Germany in the regions of Lusatia. Despite being a minority language facing challenges due to cultural assimilation and political influences, the Sorbian people have managed to preserve their linguistic heritage, resulting in a vibrant and distinctive facet of Germany’s cultural landscape. This article will delve into the background of the Sorbian languages, touching upon their linguistic and historical origins.

Linguistic Classification of the Sorbian Languages

The Sorbian languages fall under the West Slavic branch of the larger Indo-European language family. They share many commonalities with their Slavic neighbors, particularly Polish and Czech. Like most Slavic languages, the Sorbian languages are inflective; they utilize cases and grammatical gender to convey meaning. Upper Sorbian and Lower Sorbian are distinct with their own vocabulary, phonology, and grammar, though they still retain a high degree of mutual intelligibility.

Historical Context of the Sorbian Languages

The origins of the Sorbian languages can be traced back to the Great Migration period, which occurred between 4th and 6th centuries CE. As the Slavic tribes migrated from their ancestral homeland, which is believed to be situated around present-day western Ukraine and Belarus, they gradually settled in the territories of Central and Eastern Europe. The West Slavic tribes made their way to areas such as Lusatia, Bohemia, and Poland.

In the context of Lusatia, the region which would later become home to the Sorbian-speaking people, the Slavic settlement began in the 6th century. By the 10th century, these West Slavic settlers were already referred to as Sorbs, due to their partial political and cultural assimilation with the Polabian Slavs in the east. The medieval period saw the development and consolidation of the Sorbian identity and the emergence of the Upper and Lower Sorbian languages.

The Influence of German Rule

From the late Middle Ages onward, the Sorbian-speaking regions of Lusatia came under the rule of various German-speaking states. Consequently, the Sorbian people faced numerous challenges, such as cultural and religious assimilation, which threatened the survival of their linguistic heritage. Despite these difficulties, the Sorbian language survived and even experienced a cultural revival during the 18th and 19th centuries.

In modern Germany, the Sorbian languages continue to face challenges, such as dwindling numbers of native speakers and limited resources for education and preservation. However, the Sorbian people continue their efforts to promote and maintain their linguistic and cultural identity, with numerous institutions and organizations dedicated to this cause.


The Sorbian languages offer a unique and valuable insight into the linguistic and cultural diversity of Germany. Rooted in the West Slavic branch of the Indo-European language family, their origins can be traced back to the migration and settlement of Slavic tribes in the Lusatian region. Despite facing numerous obstacles throughout history, the Sorbian languages persevere and contribute to the rich tapestry of languages spoken in Germany today.