The Sorbs (Upper Sorbian: Serbja, Lower Sorbian: Serby, in German: Sorben or also Wenden) are the smallest West-Slavic nation. They are recognised as national autochthonous minority in Germany. The area of settlement of the Sorbs – the region of Lusatia – stretches from Upper Lusatia in Saxony to Middle and Northern Lusatia in Brandenburg. For that reason, they are normally called the Lusatian Sorbs/Lausitzer Sorben/Łužiscy Serbja. There are approximately 60,000 Sorbs in this region nowadays. Two different languages are distinguished: Upper Sorbian and Lower Sorbian. Down to the present day these languages are spoken within many families and in daily life.


The Sorbs can look back to a long turbulent history of 1500 year. In the course of the Migration Period in the fifth century, Slavic tribes came to Central Europe. They settled in the area that is now Eastern Germany. The area of settlement of the Sorbs stretched from Berlin in the North to the Saale in the West. Current area of settlement of the Sorbs After the Sorbs lost their political independence in the 10th century the area shrunk because of natural assimilation, a policy of intense Germanisation and by increasing industrialisation (lignite mining). Other reasons for the decline in the Sorbian-speaking population in the past two centuries have been the two World Wars and the prohibition to use the language – especially from 1933 until the end of the Second World War and the emigration of mainly young Sorbs from Lusatia.

The Sorbian language

The two Sorbian languages are Indo-European languages from the family of the West-Slavic languages. There are two different standard languages: Upper Sorbian in the region of Upper Lusatia and Lower Sorbian in the region of Lower Lusatia. Both languages retained some special features from Old-Slavic. Whereas Upper Sorbian is closer to Czech and Slovak and developed from the dialect spoken in the surroundings of Bautzen, Lower Sorbian is more similar to Polish and has its roots in the dialect of Cottbus. In the border region between Upper and Lower Lusatia transition dialects have developed

Within the Sorbian area of settlement Sorbian is an official language besides German. There are not only Sorbian children day-care centres and schools, but e.g. also bilingual place and streets signs, media and many cultural organisations. There is an active community life, amateur theatre and folklore-, singing and dance groups, but also Sorbian-language radio broadcasting and monthly television programmes that help to preserve and transmit the culture and language to the following generation.

Ethnologists estimate that the number of speakers of Lower Sorbian is 7,000 and the number of speakers of Upper Sorbian is 18,000; but trending down. The core of the Upper Sorbian area, where Sorbian is an everyday language, lies in the triangle between the towns of Bautzen, Hoyerswerda and Kamenz. In Lower Lusatia there is no longer a stable core area of this sort.

Despite a close traditional connection of the Sorbian language with family, church and school one can notice a decline in everyday life. Next to economic reasons (increased mobility, relocation of villages as a result of lignite mining), also the transmission of language within the family plays an important role.

One reason for the decline may certainly be the image of the language as well – down to the present day many of the advantages that being raised bilingually bring for children are not acknowledged. This is what language diversity is raising awareness for! Lusatia is one of the focus regions of the European campaign.

Do you want to know more?

The Lusatian Sorbs: an overview
Culture, traditions, media:
Internationales Folklorefestival Łužica/Lausitz
Berlinska dróha – Duo from Berlin
Serbski konsum