Monday, 30 May 2016

On Foreign-Language Influence on German's Linguistic History c.1050-1700

The influences of foreign words and phrases on the German language, and the changes in morphology, phonology and vocabulary they cause, form a fundamental aspect of its linguistic history. By examining (a) the type and function of borrowed words, (b) the sources of these words, and (c) the varying reactions to such borrowing, and by distinguishing between the two periods of Middle High German (1050-1350) and Early New High German (1350-c.1700) as we do so, we will arrive at a broad overview of both periods in terms of foreign influences on German.
After the work of Swiss semiotician Ferdinand de Saussure[1] and the lexical interference model of Betz (1974)[2], Wells differentiates between the signifiant (the expression through which meaning is signified), and the signifié (the meaning which is signified through the expression)[3]; in terms of foreign borrowings, one or other or both aspects together can be, and have been, adopted into German from another language. Betz also identifies a “loan typology” that essentially splits into lexical and semantic loans. Lexical loans (referring to the signifiant, i.e. the focus is on the import of a particular sound or morpheme) can be subdivided into assimilated loan words (e.g. âventiure from Old French to Middle High German, becoming a much-used word in works of the mittelhochdeutsche Blütezeit such as Parsival and the Nibelungenlied) and loan suffixes (such as OFr into MHG –îe, -ier, and –ieren, many of which survive in NHG; as Hock notes, such derivational morphemes are particularly easily borrowed and their functions especially helpful[4]). Semantic loans (referring to the signifié, i.e. the focus is on the import of meaning) can be subdivided into loan translations (such as partial translations of OFr words or phrases into MHG: curt-eis, court-ly, becomes höv-esch and curt-eis-ie, court-li-ness, becomes höv-esch-(h)eit) and loan meanings (in which the native MHG word’s meaning is affected by the corresponding OFr word: mâze gains new meanings in light of OFr mesure). Some foreign words, or Fremdwörter, may remain sociolinguistically foreign (i.e. speakers remain aware that they are using a foreign word; the word has not been fully assimilated into German), but others may become completely assimilated into the lexicon, so that speakers are unaware they are using a word of foreign origin.
Such classifications can help us identify reasons for borrowing, and place them within their historical and sociolinguistic context. For instance, a loan translation such as curt-eis-ie > höv-esch-(h)eit reflects its historical and sociolinguistic context, in that French courtly culture had developed long before its German equivalent, its courts were permanent while Germans’ were itinerant, and contact between French and German medieval audiences was predominantly in courtly and chivalric spheres, e.g. the marriage of Henry III and Agnes of Poitiers in 1043; the Mainzfest of 1184, in which a large number of French courtly poets were in attendance; and the German-led Third Crusade of 1189-92. Most OFr > MHG loans were therefore of such chivalric/courtly roots (e.g. schevalier < chevalier, lanze < lance, markîs < marquis, doschesse < duchesse, etc.); as Wells asserts, “Germans acknowledged French chivalry, manners, and dress as superior and increasingly emulated them”[5]. As above, OFr loans are notably pre-eminent in works of the mittelhochdeutsche Blütezeit – both Wolfram von Eschenbach and Gottfried von Straßburg use OFr loan-words prolifically: the former’s Willehalm boasts 267 foreign words, 130 of which were already attested and 137 not[6]. That these borrowings occur most frequently in the sphere of courtly poetry hints at a certain degree of affectation behind them rather than widely-spread native usage, as we can see in passages from Wernher de Gärtner’s Helmbrecht (c.1250-1280); for instance, the son’s pretentiousness in relying on OFr/Middle Dutch phrases (‘dê ûs sal!’, 725) is largely mocked by his family (‘er ist ein Walh’, 735, the father says incredulously: he is a Frenchman!). On the whole, however, such unfavourable reactions to import of OFr terms into MHG appear to have been rare: instead, such edifying vocabulary was – in surviving texts at least – upheld as desirable and beneficial, so that audiences might learn ‘der spaehen wörter harte vil’[7]. Even in Helmbrecht, the satire is directed more at the use of borrowings by 'the wrong sort' rather than the borrowings themselves; the same would later prove true with Gottsched, who deplored French being spoken by those who would not normally speak French.
There are, naturally, imports into MHG from other sources besides courtly French – Wells notes some Low German/Flemish influence (e.g. the diminutive –kîn, and ritter from Flemish ridder)[8], whilst some LG words were ‘verhochdeutscht’ as if under the Second Sound Shift: an example would be OFr danse > Middle Dutch dans > MHG tanz, in which the [d] > [t] shift reflects the broader pattern of MHG phonology. Other sources include Latin, which is used for commercial & religious terms (especially mysticism), Italian, contributing to the areas of banking & commerce, and Arabic lending words for various luxuries, but these are less prominent than OFr loans both in the language’s development and in comparisons with Early New High German.
The father’s reaction in Helmbrecht may have been fictional, but later reactions of 17th century purists to what they saw as bastardization of the German language were certainly not. Some contextualising of 17th century loan words is necessary first. Öhmann (1974)[9] identifies 350 loans in the 12th century, 700 in the 13th, and 300 in the 14th (excluding compounds/derivations based on original loans); Wells testifies to an aggregate number of 2000 loans by the 14th century[10], and though both identify a decline in foreign borrowing in the 15th century, this appears to be temporary, if foreign influences on Early New High German – and the subsequent reactions of grammarians in the 17th century – are anything to go by. The greatest French influence on ENHG appears to post-date the start of the Thirty Years War (1618-48), when a number of (relatively specialist) French military terms enter the German vernacular. 30% of 453 French borrowings between 1575 and 1648 were military in nature, around 75% of which were attested before 1625 (e.g. in the war’s early years)[11]. But it is the spheres of courtly politeness, of fashion and of house and garden, which borrowed from French as much as the battlefield; Jones’ lexicon finds 32 different compounds and 7 derivatives from the French phrase à la mode alone[12], and, as Brunt notes, in the 17th century it became common practice for private letters to be written solely in French[13]. Alongside this, architectural, musical and theatrical terminology is derived from Spanish and Italian (most notably the principles of commedia dell’arte and elements of opera and music, while Spanish linguistic power naturally held sway over Vienna). The register of such borrowings varies from the grandest (Friedrich II ‘der Große’, King of Prussia, was a noted Francophile who named his Potsdam residence Sanssouci, where a visitor as refined as Voltaire could note that ‘je me trouve ici en France. On ne parle que notre langue. L’allemand est pour les soldats et pour les cheveux ; il n’est nécessaire que pour la route’[14]) to the basest (foreign swearing, which was seen as both more emphatic and less obviously blasphemous)[15].
Elsewhere, Jones (1978)[16] identifies 1,421 words of French origin in the German language in the 74-year-period between 1575 and 1648; while conceding that his is only one source, he notes that around 43% of the words in his published Lexicon occur in the works of one author only, and suggests that around 300 of the 1,421 have survived into NHG (Jones’ work is based on the Duden Fremdwörterbuch of 1960, so the current figure is likely to be slightly lower). Jones’ research points towards the highly technical function of many of these words, particularly those that occur only once or twice and are much less likely to have survived. Of more interest in terms of how they have affected the German language are the words that recur again and again, and have a much broader, more applicable use – words such as Monsieur and Dame. If we briefly compare these ENHG borrowings to those of MHG, we may note a similar penchant for elevated titles (cf. MHG markîs, doschesse), a result of ‘princes’ concern for spectacle and pomp’[17], of the German elite’s admiration for French values; but in this instance, the reaction against such borrowings was far more vehement.
German purists were usually men of the bourgeoisie benefiting from aristocratic patronage; their particular response to foreign lexical interference was parody and satire. To give one example, we have the early anti-Fremdwörter verse of Der Teutsche Michel (c. 1617), mocking slippery, long-winded French terms:

‘was ist blocquiren/was bastoniren?/Benedicieren/blaterieren?/Was blasphemieren/was bucciniren?/was balsamieren/blandieren?’[18]

Humorous though some responses may have been, the serious goal underlying them was to purge German of the adulterating influences of French, Italian and Spanish. These latter three (particularly French) were regarded with a hostility that was almost never levelled at Latin terminology, despite the fact that Latin words were in fact far more common; Wells suggests this has as much to do with the socio-political context as anything else (‘[French borrowings] were clearly felt to be much more objectionable [than Latin borrowings] because they were borrowed for social, not ‘functional’, reasons, and from a living European rival, not a dead classical model’[19]). Many purists did not simply deplore this linguistic trend, lamenting the slow Francophone encroachment on German, an ‘ancient and pure language, to be preserved and nurtured on patriotic grounds’[20]; they actively combatted it, translating the foreign word literally into German or created a new compound to serve instead (e.g. Briefwechsel to replace the French loan word Correspondence, Mundart for Dialect, and Gewissensfreiheit for Liberté de conscience). This shared interest led to the formation of the 17th century societies (e.g. the Fruchtbringende Gesellschaft of 1617), devoted to linguistic purism as one of their many goals for a purer culture. Some extremer purists like Philipp von Zesen (responsible for the creation of the above compound word Briefwechsel) also attempted to replace long-established words with their own Verdeutschungen, which we might regard with some amusement today (Brunt singles out Tageleuchter for Fenster < French fenêtre in this regard[21]). In stark contrast, Thomasius (1687/1701) advocated borrowing from, or indeed imitating, French, if admittedly within reason – since certain Francophone words were by this stage so widely used and well-known in German that it would be folly to resist them[22]. In the long run, history seems to have sided with Thomasius over Zesen; a relatively impressive 20% of French loans from before 1648 has survived into modern German, suggesting that their usefulness ultimately outweighed purists’ objections[23]. Yet to give Zesen and other, less extreme purists their due, the backlash they caused arguably enriched German as much as the Fremdwörter, given that it necessitated the formation of inventive neologisms and native coinings.
As von Grimmelshausen noted, efforts to fully purge a language of all foreign lexical interference ought to begin with Latin classifications of the names of plants and animals[24]; this wryly comic observation points to the general futility of ‘policing language’. But the fact that, in the 17th century, German was seen as needing safeguarding at all makes for the most interesting comparison between MHG and ENHG; that the latter lies on the near side of Martin Luther’s translations of the Bible, and the birth of the printing press, would suggest that a certain pride in, and protectiveness toward, the German language was what motivated vitriolic attacks on Fremdwörter during this period; this nationalist defence does not seem anywhere near as apparent in earlier centuries, during which time German-speakers are usually deferential towards French. In both MHG and ENHG, however, we can note the varied and long-lasting importance of foreign lexical interference – in terms of lexical and semantic loans, in terms of very distinct registers, and whether German-speakers of the day were aware of foreign borrowings or not.

Bibliography. 
  1. Betz, Werner, ‘Lehnwörter und Lehnprägungen im Vor- und Frühdeutschen’ in Deutsche Wortgeschichte, Vol 1, (eds. Maurer and Rupp), de Gruyter, 1974.
  2. Brunt, Richard J., The Influence of the French Language on the German Vocabulary (1649-1735), de Gruyter, 1983.
  3. der Gärtner, Wernher, Helmbrecht, Reclam, 2011.
  4. Hock, Hans Heinrich, Principles of Historical Linguistics, Mouton de Gruyter, 1988.
  5. Jones, William, ‘A Quantitative View of Franco-German Loan Currency’, in Zeitschrift für Dialektologie und Linguistik 45, 1978.
  6. Öhmann, Emil, ‘Der romanische Einfluß auf das Deutsche bis zum Ausgang des Mittelalters’ in Deutsche Wortgeschichte, Vol 1, (eds. Friedrich Maurer and Heinz Rupp), de Gruyter, 1974.
  7. Salmons, Joseph, A History of German, Oxford University Press, 2012.
  8. Schmidt, Wilhelm, Geschichte der deutschen Sprache, S. Hirzel, 2000.
  9. Vorderstemann, Jürgen, und Dittrich, Gunda, “Gyburc oder Kyburc: Zur Rückentlehnung ursprünglich germanischer Namen aus dem Französischen in Wolframs Willehalm,” in Wolfram-Studien II, 1974.
  10. Walshe, M.O’C., A Middle High German Reader, Oxford University Press, 1974.
  11. Wells, C.J., German: A Linguistic History to 1945, Oxford University Press, 1987.





[1]de Saussure, Ferdinand, Cours de linguistique générale, Lausanne, 1916.
[2]Betz, Werner, ‘Lehnwörter und Lehnprägungen im Vor- und Frühdeutschen’ in Deutsche Wortgeschichte (ed. Maurer and Rupp), de Gruyter, 1974.
[3]Wells, C.J., German: A Linguistic History to 1945, Oxford University Press, 1987, pp275-7.
[4]Hock, Hans Heinrich, Principles of Historical Linguistics, Mouton de Gruyter, 1988.
[5]Wells, C.J., German: A Linguistic History to 1945, Oxford University Press, 1987, p119.
[6]Vorderstemann, Jürgen, und Dittrich, Gunda, “Gyburc oder Kyburc: Zur Rückentlehnung ursprünglich germanischer Namen aus dem Französischen in Wolframs Willehalm,” in Wolfram-Studien II, 1974, p. 174-184.
[7]von Zerclaere, Thomasin (1216), ed. Heinrich Rückert (1852), line 45.
[8]Wells, C.J., German: A Linguistic History to 1945, Oxford University Press, 1987, p122-3.
[9]Öhmann, Emil, ‘Der romanische Einfluß auf das Deutsche bis zum Ausgang des Mittelalters’ in Deutsche Wortgeschichte, Vol 1, (eds. Friedrich Maurer and Heinz Rupp), de Gruyter, 1974.
[10]Wells, C.J., German: A Linguistic History to 1945, Oxford University Press, 1987, p120.
[11]Ibid, p265-6.
[12]Jones, William, ‘A Quantitative View of Franco-German Loan Currency’, in Zeitschrift für Dialektologie und Linguistik 45, 1978.
[13]Brunt, Richard J., The Influence of the French Language on the German Vocabulary (1649-1735), de Gruyter, 1983.
[14]Wells, C.J., German: A Linguistic History to 1945, Oxford University Press, 1987, p268.
[15]Ibid, p279.
[16]Jones, William, ‘A Quantitative View of Franco-German Loan Currency’, in Zeitschrift für Dialektologie und Linguistik 45, 1978.
[17]Wells, C.J., German: A Linguistic History to 1945, Oxford University Press, 1987, p266.
[18]Cited in Brunt, Richard J., The Influence of the French Language on the German Vocabulary (1649-1735), de Gruyter, 1983.
[19]Wells, C.J., German: A Linguistic History to 1945, Oxford University Press, 1987, p271.
[20]Ibid, p285.
[21]Brunt, Richard J., The Influence of the French Language on the German Vocabulary (1649-1735), de Gruyter, 1983.
[22]Wells, C.J., German: A Linguistic History to 1945, Oxford University Press, 1987, p270.
[23]Ibid, p272.
[24]von Grimmelshausen, Hans Jakob Christoffel, Der weltberuffenen Simplicissimi Prahlerey und Gepräng mit seinem Teutschen Michel (ed. J H Scholte), Halle, 1943.

No comments:

Post a Comment