1902 Encyclopedia > Germany > [German Language] Modern High German

(Part 30)


[German Language] Modern High German

In the preceding paragraph we have tried to give a short sketch of the origin of literary Modern High German ; and it is this very idiom of the imperial and Saxon chanceries that Luther made afterwards popular by his translation of the Bible and his numerous other writings. We may quote his own words in confirmation:—

"Ich habe kein gewisse, sonderliche, eigne sprache im deutschen, sondern brauche der gemeinen deutschen sprache, das mich beide ober-und Niederländer verstehen mögen. Ich rede nach der sechsischen cantzlei, welcher nachfolgen alle fürsten vund könige in Deutschland ; Alle reichsstedte, fürstenhöfe schreiben nach der sechsischen vnd vnsers fürsten cantzeley. Darumb ists auch die gemeinste deutsche sprache. Kaiser Maximilian vnd chrucfürst Friderich, hertzog von Sachsen, haben im römischen die deutschen sprachen also in eine gewisse sprach zusammengezogen."_

Luther’s language, again, was soon acknowledge by German grammarians, as Sebastian Franck (1531) and Johannes Clajus (1578), and was accordingly imitated, as the best pattern of High German. It is true that in the 16th century many writers, especially in Switzerland and Lower Germany, still clung with great pertinacity to their native dialects. But about 1600 Luther’s language was fully established as the only idiom of literary intercourse throughout Germany._ The changes the language has undergone since Luther’s time mostly concern the inflexional system. In the strong verbs the differences between the singular and plural and the indicative and subjunctive of th past have been levelled in the course of time ; thus, ich fand, wir fan-den, I, we found, subj. ich fände, or ich schnitt, wir schnitten, I, we cut, for ich fand, wir funden, ich fünde, or ich schneit, wir schnitten. At present the verb werden, to become, is the only specimen left of the old regular inflexion:—ich ward, wir wurden, ich würde ; but even here a new irregular form, ich wurde, has come into use and almost superseded the more archaic ich ward, which is now chiefly confined to poetry. Many other vowel changes have taken place besides, as in webe, wob, gewoben, weave, wove, woven, for Middle High German wibe, wap, geweben, so that the old system of "Ablaut," or vowel change in the root syllables of the strong verbs has often become quite indistinct. A great number of verbs have passed from the strong inflexion to the weak, and vive versa. The declension of substantives has also been greatly altered. Umlaut is now regularly used as a plural sign with most monosyllabic and many dissyllabic masculine words, as in baum, bäume, or nagel, nägel, for Middle High German boum, boume, and nagel, nagele; originally it was confined to a much smaller number of words (I-stems, as gast, gäste, Middle High German gat, geste). Other masculine words have adopted the plural –er, together with Umlaut of the root syllables, from the neuter declension, as mann, männer, geist, geister, besides frequent exchanges between the strong and weak declensions, which cannot be specified here. The strong and the weak declension of feminine words originally ending in e have been melted together, one form (ending in e, or a consonant) being used for all singular, and one (ending in en or n after a consonant) for all plural cases, as gabe, gaben, zahl, zahlen, zunge, zungen, for Middle High German g_b, g_be, gen. and dat. G_ben; zal, zal, gen. and dat. Zaln ; zunge, gen. dat. And acc,. Zungen, pl. zungen throughout. As to phonology, no change of vowel quality is noticeable in literary German. Modern High German still has the Midland sounds _ (often spelt ie) _, _, for Southern ie, uo, üe, as well as the Bavarian dipthongs ei, au, eu (äu), for the older sounds _, _, iu, the latter not being distinguished either in spelling or in educated pronunciation from the older diphthongs ei, ou, öu. We have thus zwei, drei, baum, haus, freude, häuser, leute for Middle High German zwei, dr_, boum, h_s, vröude, hiuser, liute. Change of vowel quantity is the most prominent phonetic feature of Modern High German when compared with the earlier stages of the language. All root-syllables ending formerly ina short vowel followed by a simple consonant have now become long, either by lengthening the vowel or by doubling the consonant, thus t_g, t_ge, s_l, b_te. or gott, gottes, blatt, blätter, for Middle High German t_g (or t_c), t_ge, s_l, b_te, g_t, g_tes, bl_t, bl_ter. The rules for dropping unaccented vowels have often been changes accoridingly. It must not be forgotten, however, that all these rules are only applicable to the literary idiom ; the dialects, and even those of the educated people, often differ very materially from the rules laid down above. There is, indeed, no such thing as generally recognized standard pronunciation of German, except perhaps on the stage, which no doubt has exercised and still exercise a certain influence on the current opinions as to how one ought to pronounce, but has not been powerful enough to abolish all dialectal peculiarities in the case of even the highest classes. Only a very few general rules can be given. Englishmen will do well to pronounce the vowels as in Italian : ü and ö are rounded or labialized i and e sounds, formed by pouting the lips while trying to pronounce i or e. Long vowels are always pronounced simple, never as diphthongs (which is frequently the case in English, especially with a and o). Unaccented e is invariably dropped in the terminations el, en, the real pronunciation of such words as handel, bitten, lippen, haben, nehmen being handl, bittn, lippn or lippm, h_bn or h_bm, n_m (with a lengthened m)._ Among the peculiarities of the consonant system we may mention the sound of ch (in two distinct varieties as in ach ich), the z, which is a combination of t and s, and the r, which ought to be trilled with the tip of the tongue, but is often pronounced as a uvular or guttural sound. S initial is generally sounded like the English z, in stage pronunciation, but only usually elsewhere ; st and sp initial are never pronounced on the stage like English st or sp, but are always sht, shp, as in stein, spiel, pronounced (to use English spelling) as shtine, shpeel. The English w ought to be avoided. The German w sound is more like English v, but somewhat softer ; in Midland pronunciation a sound intermediate between English w and v takes its place. German v is simply f._

The varieties of the German dialects of the present are too numerous to be described here. It may suffice to state that the old divisions of Low German, Midland, and Upper German dialects are still applicable. Among the first, the Western or Westphalian dialects are distinctly marked by the pronunciation of g initial as a gh, or voiced ch (sometimes even voiceless), ad the use of numerous dipthongs, both long and short, instead of simple vowels. The principal sub-divisions of Midland German are the Lower Rhenish or Middle Frankish dialect (including the German dialects of Transylvania), South-Western and Eastern or High Frankish, Hesseian, Thuringian, Saxon, and Silesian. Alemannian is divided into the three main groups of Swabian, Alsatian, and Swiss, while Bavarian is constituted by several subdialects spoken in Bavaria and Austria. The study of these dialects has been carrried on the Germany for a considerable time,4 but not always very successfully, especially so far as phonology is concerned ; for many observers, while well-trained in all the disciplines of the older school of philology, have been totally ignorant of the simplest laws of phonetics. It is only within the last few years that the value of phonetic studies (although they began in German researches) has been duly recognized in the country of their origin, and dialectology has not hitherto gained much by the more theoretical study of general phonetics. Some excellent beginnings indeed have been made, among which Dr Winteler’s book on his native Swill dialect holds by far the foremost rank;5 but it is probable that a long time must yet elapse before Germany can prossess so well trained and independent a school of phonetists as that which already exists in England headed by Mr A. Melville Bell and Mr Alexander J. Ellis. Not till then, however, can a real history of the German language be written. (E. SI.)


FOOTNOTE (p. 520)

(1) The particulars which follow are chiefly taken from an able sketch by Dr E. Wülcker, Die Entstehung der kursächsischen Kanzleisprache. See Zeitschrift des Vereins für thüringische Geschichte, ix. p. 349.

(2) Tischreden, ch. 69. Dr Wülcker assign these words to the year 1545.

FOOTNOTE (p. 521)

(1) For fuller particulars readers are referred to H. Rückert, Geschichte der neuhochdeutschen Schriftsprache, 2 vols., Leipsic, 1875.
(2) Foreigners are easily detected by their generally inserting a real vowel-sound before the l, n.
(3) For more accurate descriptions of the German sounds see E. Sievers, Grundzüge der Lautphysiologie, Leipsic, 1876.
(4) A very full list of books referring to German dialectology has been given by C. H. Herrmann, Bibliotheca Germanica, Halle, 1878, p. 67 sqq.
(5) J. Winteler, Die Kerenzer Mundart des Kantons Glarus, Leipsic, 1876. This is indeed the only work that can be justly compared with Dr J. A. H. Murray’s Dialect of the Southern Countries of Scotland published in 1873.

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