Considering the huge influence Prussia had for a time over Germany, did many words from the Old Prussian language get borrowed into German?

(Sorry I didn't originally include the word "Old" as I thought it might make it too technical or confusing compared to say English/Old English. The most recent spoken version of the Baltic language spoken in Prussia is called Old Prussian apparently to make it clear it doesn't refer to a German dialect spoken in the area. Old Prussian was extinct by the 19th century according to Wikipedia)

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    Ick würd ja jern ma wissen, wat die preußische Sprache so ausmacht, wa? ;-)
    – Jan
    Aug 26, 2011 at 9:41
  • I wasn't sure whether to call it Old Prussian since that sounded a bit technical. I see the smiley but if the question really could confuse people thinking I meant the modern dialect rather than the now extinct Baltic language. Let me know if I should change it or just go ahead and edit it (-: Aug 26, 2011 at 16:23
  • Ich würd's auch gern wissen, aber nach dieser Tabelle sieht's nicht wirklich so aus, da kommt mir gar nichts bekannt vor. Aug 26, 2011 at 16:25
  • @Hippietrail but you added the link to the baltic language yourself, didn't you? Aug 26, 2011 at 16:26
  • Yes I did add the link - was that enough? Aug 26, 2011 at 16:37

7 Answers 7


Since you apparently don't mean the "Old Prussian" baltic language, we are talking about the language used in the Kingdom of Prussia. I have not found any exact references to this, as both High Prussian and Low Prussian were baltic dialects only spoken in East Prussia.

I don't think there is a "Prussian" language or dialect per se, but most of Prussia belongs to the Low German part of Germany, which was among the first parts to adopt New High German (probably decades or centuries before the kingdom came into existence), so I would guess there won't be too many prussian relics to be found in Modern German, apart from regional dialects, which co-existed as dialects during the Kingdom of Proussia and evolved independently of High German.

  • Sorry @Sean Patrick Floyd: I did mean the Old Prussian language and added a link to make that clear and some comments asking if I should make it more explicit. I guess I should... Aug 26, 2011 at 16:45
  • @hippietrail OK, if you did mean the old language, then I guess the answer is "no", for the reasons I mentioned. The Kingdom of Prussia spoke High German (and French), baltic languages were not integrated into it (apart from regional dialects) Aug 26, 2011 at 16:47
  • I don't think your reasoning is sufficient. Wikipedia says Old Prussian wasn't fully extinct until the 19th century so it seems possible some localized words may have been retained just as has happened in many other languages around the world. Aug 26, 2011 at 16:56
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    Based on Wikipedia an sources cited there, i think @Sean is completely right. I coulnd't find a source saying "Old Prussian wasn't fully extinct until the 19th century"; the beginning of the 18th century would be more precise IMHO, see here and here (PDF, in german, page 3 / 591). Because of this, i think it's very unlikeliy that high german did borrow any old-prussian words. WP says Low Prussian used some, but i suppose that's all.
    – tohuwawohu
    Aug 26, 2011 at 18:28
  • I did some hunting on the English Wiktionary and in fact I can only find one German word from any Baltic language. "Elen", a synonym for "Elch" from Lithuanian. I don't know how rare or regional it is... Aug 26, 2011 at 18:46

Old Prussian is a language of its own. Many of the words did filter into the Low German dialect of East Prussia (typically called Niederpreuss, meaning Low Prussian).

The problem people have in researching this topic is that the word Prussian has been used to describe 2 different ethnicities, 2 unrelated languages (prior to the mixing), and 3 different concepts of the geography.

  • Old Prussian generally refers to the Prusa tribes prior to German contact (Pruzzen in German). That's the easy part.

  • German Prussia is centered in what later was defined as East Prussia, but it was expanded when it linked with Brandenburg, and then again when it came to define most of northern Germany. Prussia is often thought of as a military state because of these later concepts but there were times in its history when it was quite liberal.

The origins of the Old Prussians is a fascinating piece of history. If anyone wants to know more about the Old Prussian words that made it into Low German, I have a long list of authors you can research. If you can read German, you will be amazed at what you can find.


The names "Prussia" and "Russia" are not related. That is a misinterpretation that, unfortunately, still lingers in our modern books. These two names are similar only in English. If you dig deeper, you will find the root of Russia in the name Rus, which refers to the Vikings who settled in present day Russia. Prussia in its original is Prusa, which became Preussen in German, and was derived from one specific band of the Prusa peoples.

Also, the Prusa people were not wholly extinguished by the Teutonic Knights. There were 2 small pockets remaining, both on the Courland Spit, until 1945. It took the German/Russian rivalry to finish off what the Teutonic Knights had begun. There is an excellent book on this topic called "Teuton and Slav" by Hermann Schreiber (it has been translated into English).

There is a bounty of information on linguistics compiled by Hermann Frischbiers if you can read German.

Other excellent sources, in English, are "Before the Storm" by Marion Countess Doenhoff, and the published diaries of Agate Nesaule, Modris Eksteins, Marie Vassiltchikov, Irene Zarina White, Evelyne Tannehill, Christa Eckert Blum, Margarete Mueller, and Gunter Nitsch.

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    Thanks for providing some important missing information! But the beginning of your post makes it seem like you're correcting a misunderstanding between Prussia and Russia in the other posts where no such misunderstanding occurred. Nov 27, 2011 at 9:07
  • Borssen wie in Borussia (~ Mönchengladbach, ~ Dortmund) haben dann auch nichts mir Russen zu tun? Oder da dann doch? Nov 30, 2011 at 16:45
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    @userunknown: Borussia ist der lateinische Name für Preußen, hat also etwas mit Preußen zu tun. Feb 18, 2019 at 12:50

Yes, but apparently not into Standard German.

Many people seemed to have read into my question things I never said. Such as the Old Prussians directly influencing Germany, or words jumping directly from Old Prussian to Hochdeutsch.

What I expected may have occurred was that the German spoken in Prussia might pick up words from Old Prussian just like English picked up words from native American and Australian languages. From there it could have also occurred that words borrowed into the Prussian form of German might make it into Germany itself due to German Prussia having a great influence on Germany.

As it happens, according to Wikipedia, many Old Prussian words were borrowed into the local German dialect, "Low Prussian":

Low Prussian        Old Prussian    Standard German         English
Flins               plīnksni        Pfannkuchen             "pancake, scone, biscuit"
Kaddig              kaddegs         Wacholder               "juniper"
Kurp                kurpi           Schuh                   "shoe"
Kujel               kūilis          Wildschwein             "boar"
Margell, Marjell    mērgā           Magd, Mädchen, Mädel    "maiden, girl"
Paparz              papartis        Farn                    "fern"
Pawirpen            pawīrps         Losmann                 "freelancer"
Zuris               sūris           Käse                    "cheese"

But as far as I can tell none of these (or any others) made the second transition into the other German dialects or Standard German / Hochdeutsch.

(Thanks to tohuwawohu, whose comment led me to hunt down the Low Prussian path.)

  • Your "flins" looks like the Yiddish "blintz", but according to Wikipedia this derives from the Slavin "mlin" meaning "mill". Of course the Old Prussian could be related to the Slavic. Similarly, one of the few Yiddish words we trace to Lithuanian is "bulbes" (potatoes), where the Lithuaninan "bulve" is also apparently an import via the Polish "bulwa" for a root that seems to mean bulb everywhere in Europe. (I owe the analysis of "bulbes" to the following article by one Philologos in the Jewish Daily Forward). EDIT: Oops: I meant Nov 29, 2011 at 13:33
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    The prevailing opinion asserts that Lithuanian is the trunk of the European linguistic tree. The word to word comparisons are certainly striking, so finding the links that you note here are not at all surprising. The grammar structure of Lithuanian is problematic because it is such a highly inflected language, which we see in German but not in English. It's a fascinating study. I highly encourage you to use Wikipedia as a starting point, not an end all, especially when you trace Prussian words because of the many variables in the language. Nov 29, 2011 at 14:11
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    I think you understand that I was comparing the pathway Old Prussian => German with the corresponding pathway Lithuanian => Yiddish. What has always baffled me is the disparity between the ease with which we import words from Polish and Ukrainian as compared to the paucity of words from such coterritorial sources as Lithuanian and Hungarian. Nov 29, 2011 at 14:20
  • plīnksni rings a bell. Just searched for it, "Plinse" is still a regional expression for a pancake in some parts of east Germany. Apparently it is derived from the Sorbian language, though. The Slavic origin explains the similarity.
    – idspispopd
    Dec 20, 2018 at 10:30

I disagree with the premise that "Prussia" (in its original form) had a huge influence on Germany.

Prussia was originally the "fourth" Baltic state (after Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania). It was occupied by the Teutonic Knights as a "springboard" in their (unsuccessful) attempt to conquer the others. The original Prussian people were "absorbed" (to put it kindly), by the Teutonic knights, and pretty much lost their identity. As such, the alleged "Prussian" influence on Germany was really the "Teutonic Knights" influence.

In fact, "Prussia" (originally a Slavic, "Russian" construct), was probably the main word borrowed by the Germans from the "Prussians." There may be a few others that I don't know of. But not many.

  • That's a good point you're making here. Aug 29, 2011 at 17:46
  • It seems the history is quite a bit more complicated than I expected (-: Aug 29, 2011 at 18:51
  • My first girlfriend's father was from East Prussia (her mother was American) and that's the main reason I know this.
    – Tom Au
    Aug 29, 2011 at 19:16
  • I never said anything about its original form directly influencing Germany. That would be nonsensical. But conquered peoples often still provide words to the occupying language all over the world. Under rule of the Teutonic Knights the place was still called Prussia. The Prussia of this form seemed to have a huge influence on the Unification of Germany. There's no logical reason that Prussia under German rule wouldn't absorb any Old Prussian words that would further spread into general German use. It's happened plenty in the rest of the world. Oct 30, 2011 at 9:00
  • Depending upon one's understanding of "Prussia", one can argue that it did indeed have a huge influence on the evolution of Germany. The word Prussia encapsulates a great deal, much of which is still highly charged political debate. The West still clings to the notion of Prussian Militarism: is that an accurate picture of East Prussia or Brandenburg-Prussia? In regard to the Prussian Hohenzollern, yes, the influence was great and it continues to this day. One can argue the influence is global as the philosopher Kant is still a major force in Western thought, but was he really Prussian? Nov 29, 2011 at 14:34

I thought I saw a question about the origins of the names Prussia and Russia coming from the same root. I'm half blind, so I must have been reading with the wrong eye.

As to the links: I am old school, I still buy books and put them under a reading glass. However, I have one link that everyone might find helpful. I pasted the web address below. From that page you can access a dictionary for the East Prussian dialect of Low German (Neiderpreuss or Niederpreussisch as I said in an earlier post). Scroll down to the bottom to find those books. The top one is by Fischbiers in which he explores the Niederpreuss lexicon of witchcraft, which might be the only online source of its kind.


One other point. When researching the former languages or dialects of the region, it is important to note that the original forms were not written. Later researchers drafted the written language. The work done by Germans and the later work done by Lithuanians can have some wide differences beginning with pronunciation and spelling. The root of the Prusa tongues might be closest to Lithuanian, but to what extent does it differ? German researchers used German grammar in compiling the written text, but to what extent? The overarching problem is this: which dialect was studied? There were Prusa languages, not just a single language, not just a single people, but to what extent did they differ?

Recent British and American research has added another layer of knowledge and probably a dozen layers of questions to the topic--the Prusa were a safe shore for Norse explorers and later Viking raiders, so how much did the Scandinavian peoples influence the Prusa? The answer could be far greater than we can imagine, for, among recent discoveries, a bronze Buddha was unearthed. This data comes straight from the book "The Baltic" by Alan Palmer, published in 2006. See page 19. I highly recommend the book.


Considering the huge influence Prussia had for a time over Germany, did many words from the Old Prussian language get borrowed into German?

No, the influence of Old Prussian is insignificant.

  1. Prussia had been conquered by the Teutonic Knights in the 13th century. The crusader knights from Germany and other parts of Western Europe spoke their varieties of German, Latin and a few other languages and didn't adopt the language of the peasants. The knights invited colonists from Germany (with many Flemish) who spoke German to colonize the wild country depopulated by many years of warfare. In the course of time, the ruling elite and the colonists would have adopted a few words, but Prussia was a remote territory. The trade and the number of people moving back from Prussia to other parts would have been insufficient to have a major impact.

  2. It was not Prussia that took control of Germany, it was Brandenburg (aka. Prussia):

    After some time as a powerful state in the Baltics, the Teutonic Knights had to accept being Polish vassals for their possessions in Prussia. During the Reformation this led to a conflict between loyalty to the German emperor and to the Polish king. This was solved by converting Prussia into a secular (and Protestant) principality dynastically connected to Brandenburg (the region around Berlin). Brandenburg grew in power and its princes wanted to style themselves as kings. However, they were told that there can only be one German king ("Rex Germaniae" was a title acquired prior to becoming Emperor. Often the crown prince was crowned as such during his father's lifetime.). Ultimately, Brandenburg managed to get rid of the Prussian vassaldom to Poland and the acceptance of the German emperor to crown the Prince-Elector of Brandenburg as "King in Prussia" as Prussia was outside of Germany. Later the "Prince-Elector of Brandenburg and King in Prussia" would simply be called "King of Prussia".

    (Any professional historian may forgive me, if I stated something wrong.)

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