1902 Encyclopedia > Germany > The German Language - Introduction

(Part 27)



In its ordinary sense the same German Language or Deutsche Sprache is now generally used to denote, in all their stages from the earliest time tot he present day, the different languages and dialects of Teutonic origin spoken in the German and Austrian empires and in Switzerland, not including, however, the Frisian language, which once was spoken, and still in a few remanants survives, on the shores and islands of the German Ocean, nor the dialects of the Danish population of northern Schleswig. Flemish and Dutch, although very closely connected with German, are likewise excluded. But the word Deutsch has also been and still excluded. But the word Deutsch has also been, and still continues to be, used in a wider sense. Jacob Grimm introduced it, in his famous Deutsche Grammatik, as a comprehensive name for that family of the so-called Indo-European or Aryan languages, for which English writers generally use the name of "Teutonic, and of which the principal branches are represented by Gothic, the Scandinavian languages, English, Frisian, and German. In this Grimm has had many followers, but scarcely anywhere out of Germany; and even there fact that the name, in this application, besides being incorrect from an historical point of view (as the word had never been used thus by any one of the people to whom it has been applied by Grimm), is also liable to be misunderstood, has caused a growing tendency towards confining it again to its original meaning described above, and using, Germanishc, or Germanic, in the collective sense of the English "Teutonic." But even in the stricter sense the designation Deutch is not of very long standing, nor has the word always been a real proper name for a district power or tribe. In Bishop Ulfilas’s Gothich version of the Bible we find the adverb thiudisko (GREEK), Gal.ii. 14, which is clearly a derivative from thiuda (GREEK), meaning primarily "after the manner of the people." German writers of the earlier centuries were therefore as fully justified in calling their own language diutisc, or, in a Latinized form, theudiscus, theotiscus, that is, their popular or vernacular language, as were those mediaeval Latin writers of all nations who distinguished their national languages by the name of lingua vulgaris from Latin, the only literary language fully acknowledged in their time. It was not until the 10th century that another Latinized form frequently used in later times, viz, teutonicus, began to be used instead of the older theotiscus, of which the only rivals in former times had been such local names as franciscus (frenkisc) or saxonicus, which were no doubt derived from the names of single tribes, but were often also used in the same comprehensive sense as theotiscus, without necessarily implying any allusion to dialectal differences between the languages of the tribes they properly belonged to. The last name we have to mention here is the Latin Germanus, with its different derivatives in the modern languages, including the English form German. Many attempts have been made to elucidate the origin of this word, but as yet nothing can be taken for certain beyond the fact that it is neither of Latin nor of German origin. Most probably it was a Celtic word, and, according to what Tacitus says in his Germania (ch. ii), it was originally the name of a Celtic tribe, from which, by some strange error of the Roman and Greek historians, it has been transferred to the non-Celtic inhabitants of Germany. Accordingly the name has never been used by the German themselves except in imitation of its used in the works of Latin writers.

As to its geographical extension the German language has undergone very great changes in the course of the last two thousand years. At the dawn of history no Germans were to be found to the left of the Rhine, and even to the right of it Celtic tribes occur in the earliest times. There were Celts also in the south of the present Germany as far north at least as the Danube and the Main ; Bohemia, too, derives its name from an early Celtic population, the Boii. Only the midland and north werer inhabited by Germanic nations or tribes, stretching as far east as Poland, and perhaps covering even parts of the adjoining territories of Russia, where Slavonic and Finnish tribes were their neighbours. But of these Germanic tribes and their languages some have left no equivalents in our modern German tribes and dialects. We have mentioned the Frisian language as not belonging to German in its proper sense, although the Frisians have kept their original residence up to the present day, and have always been in constant connexion and frequent intercourse with their "German" neighbours. Many other tribes have wandered from their seats and colonized other countries. It was as late as the middle of the 5th century that the Jutes, Angles, and Saxons began their voyages of conquest to England, where they founded a new people and a new language,_ leaving their native soil open to Danish invasions. Much earlier the midland tribes had already been slowly pushing on to the west and south, and expelling or subduing and assimilating the Celtic owners of the territories they invaded. But what was gained in these parts was counterbalanced by great losses in the north and east. The territories about the lower and middle Elbe, Oder, and Vistula, abandoned by the Lombards, the Burgundians, the Goths, and some other Germantic tribes, as well as Bohemia, which for some short time had been in the possession of the German Marcomans, were soon filled up by the immigration of numerous tribes of the great Slavonic family. Without going into details of the facts which are well known to the student of history,_ we may simply state that, since about 500 A.D., when the great migration of the nations had come to an end so far as Germany was concerned, no further change of any great importance has taken place in the western and southern parts. In the cast the German population at this time did not go beyond a line that may be drawn from about Kiel to the Böhmerwald, passing near Hamburg, Magdeburg, Naumburg, Coburg, and Baireuth. As is well known, it is in later centuries that almost all the eastern districts have been recovered for the German language._

In the 6th century the remains of the numerous smaller Germantic tribes, mentioned before and during the migration of the nations, had consolidated into seven larger bodies or aggregations of tribes. The Frisians still held the extreme north of Holland and Germany. Their midland and eastern neighbours were then called by the new name of Saxons, borrowed from the Saxons who had left the Continent for England. In the main parts of the Netherlands and Belgium, along both sides of the Rhine, and across Germany to the Thuringian and Bohemian Forests, the powerful Frankish confederation had established itself, and it soon incorporated the smaller and less vigorous tribes of the Hessians and Thuringians, which were surrounded by the midland or eastern Franks, the Saxons, and the Slavs. Alsatia, Switzerland, and South Germany eastward to the river Lech were occupied by the Alemannians, while the inhabitants of the remaining districts of the present Bavaria and Austria bore the collective name of Bavarians.

The history of the German language cannot be severed from the history of these tribes, for Frisian, Saxon, Frankish (Hessian, Thuringian), Alemannian, and Bavarian are the leading dialects of the Continental branch of the Teutonic family. What Dr J. A. H. Murray has pointed out about the origin of the principal English dialects4 may equally well be said of these Continental idioms. Having no specimens of the languages of the Continental tribes for nearly three centuries after their final settlement, we cannot tell to what extent they originally agreed with or differed from each other, although, there must have been some dialectal differences to begin with, which were afterwards increased and multiplied, partly by phonetic changes (most probably resulting from scarcely discernible phonetic peculiarities, which even in the earliest times, must have prevailed in those idioms), and partly by such alterations of the inflexional systems as are known to occur frequently in all languages whose character is not merely literary. But, however scanty our means of illustrating the earliest history of these idioms may be, there is no doubt that they were not all them related to each other in the same degree. Three main groups are easily distinguishable :—(1) Frisian and Saxon, whose nearest relation is English ; (2) Frankish, Hessian, and Thuringian ; and (3) Alemannian and Bavarian. Frisian is generally considered as a separate language. From Saxon the later Low German dialects (Niederdeutshce Mundarten) have srpung. The members of the third group ( generally designated as Oberdeutsch, or Upper German), combined with Mitteldeutsch, or the midland dialects, viz, Thuringian, Hessian, and part of the Frankish dialects, are the sources of the later Hochdeutsch or High German. The greatest difference prevails between the first and third groups ; the second may be characterized as containing various transition dialects. The southern Frankish dialects are very closely akin to the adjacent Upper German idioms, while Dutch, the utmost offshoot of the Frankish language to the north, does not very materially differ from Saxon or Frisian in the earliest period. The most striking phonetic feature of the languages of the first group is their regular dropping of the nasal sounds before the spirants f, the, s accompanied by subsequent lengthening of the preceding vowels. Thus we have in Anglo-Saxon or Old English fif, ó_er,cú_, gós (Mod. English five, other, (un-) couth, goose), in Old Frisian fíf, óthar, cúth, gós, in Old Saxon fíf óthar, cúth, gós, corresponding to such Gothic forms as fimf, anthar, kunths, or the ordinary high German fünf, ander, kund, gans. Since, however Duthch partakes of this peculiarity to some extent, we cannot easily form a decisive opinion as to the value of this fact as a distinctive mark ; but more stress may be laid on a very remarkable difference in the inflexional of the verb. Here the languages of the first group have melted together the forms of the three persons of the plural number, thus wé, gé, hie finda_, or fundon, we, you, they find, or found, in Old English ; wí, gí, hia finda_, or fundon in Old Frisian ; wí, gi, sia finda_, or fundon in Old Saxon. The corresponding Old High German forms are wir findam, ir findat, sie findant for the present, wir funtum, ir funtut, sie funtun for the perfect tense. Old Dutch joins, in this case, the German branch ; from werthan, to become, for instance, are derived wí werthun, gí werthi_, sia werthunt, &c. The declension of the substantives shows another remarkable differences. While the languages of the first group have retained the original s in the nominative plural of such words as Old English dagus, days, Old Saxon dagos, or changes it to r, as Old Frisian dagar, Dutch and German have dropped it altogether, the corresponding forms being daga and taga. These facts must be taken for decisive, as it seems to be certain that they existed before any distinction of Low and High German in their sense (a distinction chiefly dependent on subsequent changes in their mute system) could be thought of. From a purely grammatically point of view, Duthc, although generally considered a separate language (which no doubt it is, with regard to its literary and political position), is entitled to claim a closer relation to High German than even Low German, whose nonliterary character, taken along with the political union of northern and southern Germany, had led to the current opinion that it is only a dialect of "German" in its narrower sense. We do not mean to deny that there is, at present, a more conspicuous conformity between Dutch and Low German than Between Low German and High German ; but this is only due to the fact that High German, after the final settlement of the German tribes, had deviated much more from its original features than either Dutch or Low German. The most peculiarities of High German, as opposed to all other Teutonic idioms, have mainly been caused by the second or High German "Lautverschiebung," or change of mute consonants, which forms, part of a long series of sound-change generally comprehended under the name of Germanische Lautverschiebung of Grimms Law. This Lautverschiebung began, perhaps as early as the 7th century, in the south, and thence slowly spread northward, but with decreasing vigour and consistency, Dutch and Low German not being touched at all. It was only thus that the idiom of the Netherlands Franks of the later centuries was separated from the dialects of their "German" relations. Before, however, the first literary documents are met with, this separation is complete ;and we may therefore restrict ourselves to a short history of High and Low German alone. The German language presents, as do most of the cognate tongues, three main stages of development,—Old, Middle, and Modern,—distinguished by their inflexional and literary character. In accordance with Mr Henry Sweet’s description of the stage of the English language,_ Old German may be defined as the period of full inflections (Old Low German, dages, dage, dagu ; dagô, dago, dagun ; Old High German, tages tage, tagu ; tagâ tago, tagum), while the Middle period is that of levelled inflections (Middle Low German, dages, dage, dagen ; Middle High German, tages, tage, tagen); but it is chiefly the literary character that distinguishes Modern High German from Low German and its own earlier stages. A special form of High German is established in this period for all literary purpose, supplanting the dialects both of Low and of High German that formerly were freely used in literary intercourse. Assuming two periods of transition besides, we have the following divisions, with the approximate dates :

Old High German…………………………..to 1050
Early Middle High German …………1050 to 1150
Middle High German…………………1150 to 1350
Late Middle High German……………1350 to 1500
Modern High German………………..1500 onward.

The same divisions have to be made for Low German, but the scheme cannot be so fully carried through, as the time between 1000 to 1200 is almost destitute of literary monuments.


FOOTNOTE (p. 515)

(1) See the articles ENGLISH LANGUAGE, vol, viii. p.390 sqq.

(2) For fuller particulars see C. Zeusss, Die Deutschen und die Nachbarstämme, Munich, 1837.

(3) See G. Wendt, Die Nationalität der Bevölkerung der Deutschen Ostmarken vor dem Beginne der Germanisierung, Göttingen, 1878.

(4) SEE ENGLISH LANGUAGE, as above, p. 391.

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