Manual German: Biography of a Language

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But there is too much history of the German German : Biography of a Language.

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Ruth Sanders. Thousands of years ago, seafront clans in Denmark began speaking the earliest form of Germanic language--the first of six "signal events" that Ruth Sanders highlights in this marvelous history of the German language. Blending linguistic, anthropological, and historical research, Sanders presents a brilliant biography of the language as it evolved across the millennia.

She sheds light on the influence of such events as the bloody three-day Battle of Kalkriese, which permanently halted the incursion of both the Romans and the Latin language into northern Europe, and the publication of Martin Luther's German Bible translation, a "People's" Bible which in effect forged from a dozen spoken dialects a single German language.

The narrative ranges through the turbulent Middle Ages, the spread of the printing press, the formation of the nineteenth-century German Empire which united the German-speaking territories north of the Alps, and Germany's twentieth-century military and cultural horrors. It will appeal to everyone interested in German language, culture, or history.

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Showing Rating details. More filters. Sort order. Jul 06, Manybooks rated it liked it Shelves: history , linguistics , book-reviews. For a general and approachable, readable introduction to the long and involved history of the German language, Ruth H. Sanders' German: Biography of a Language is both informative and enlightening, and does indeed hold true to its title and what is promises, presenting the evolution of German as a language and to an extent, the Germanic languages as a whole, as an entity like a kind of life story, through a series of essential, and interconnected important linguistic and historical turning poi For a general and approachable, readable introduction to the long and involved history of the German language, Ruth H.

Sanders' German: Biography of a Language is both informative and enlightening, and does indeed hold true to its title and what is promises, presenting the evolution of German as a language and to an extent, the Germanic languages as a whole, as an entity like a kind of life story, through a series of essential, and interconnected important linguistic and historical turning points.

And for the first presented and analysed turning point, Professor Sanders has naturally and understandably chosen the third millennium B. Now I personally do find it majorly refreshing that the rather obvious fact that we still do not even remotely know with any certainty what exactly caused the Germanic languages to branch off from its sister languages, from the main family tree of Indo-European, that this is readily accepted and clearly delineated by the author that we do not really know what specific linguistic our historical phenomena for example caused the so-called first or Germanic sound shift, what caused the Germanic verb endings for the regular or "weak" past verb tenses, and from which language or languages the almost one third non Indo-European but pan Germanic vocabulary dealing with such themes as the ocean and seafaring came or perhaps more accurately, were borrowed, loaned and gleaned.

To continue, I have to admit that on an entirely personal level, I have found the second of Ruth Sanders' described turning points a bit problematic from a cultural and political standpoint. And it is indeed both the truth and interesting to realise that in the romanised areas of Central and Southern Germany, while the population readily seems to have adopted and even embraced Roman cultural, political practices and lifestyles, Latin as a language did not simply replace the extant Germanic dialects unlike in what is now Spain and France, where aside from some place and river names, Celtic was basically across most of the conquered areas replaced with and by Latin, in the long run giving birth to the Romance languages, to Spanish, French etc.

However, even if Arminius and the Battle of Teutoburg Forest was as such likely an important linguistic and historical turning point event , considering the rather overt and hero-worshipping Arminius and Germania cults that became so prevalent in the Third Reich, I have found this particular section of Germany: Biography of a Language while interesting, also more than a bit uncomfortable. While of course, the split of the Western Germanic languages, the Western Germanic dialects into high alpine, southern and low northern, coastal varieties is another important and of much linguistic interest turning point especially with regard to the second or old high German sound shift, which is the main point of separation between high and low German, including for that matter Anglo Saxon , for the German language as a whole, for today's standard German, the most celebrated and yes the most essential and as such also covered the most extensively and intensively in German: Biography of a Language is without a doubt the literary work and influence of Martin Luther and his Bible translations from Latin into German vernacular.

Luther's linguistic importance and influence has of course almost since the beginning of historical linguistics been both noticed and readily accepted, but Ruth Sanders makes an important point stating that Luther did not simply translate the Bible into some randomly chosen German dialect East Middle German , but that he specifically combined "Kanzleideutsch" chancellery German with East Middle German, a dialect that in many ways truly straddles the middle and thus contains aspects of both high and low German dialect peculiarities so as to produce, so as to provide to the potential readers of his translated Bible a German vernacular that could be learned, that could be understood by most or rather by the most individuals, their different and varying dialects notwithstanding.

And since many Germans especially from the 15th to the late 19th century often actually learned to both read and write from Martin Luther's Bible translations, his combination of chancellery German and East Middle German thus also and relatively quickly became the basis for what we now label as modern standard written German and in ALL areas of Germany, not just in those areas traditionally deemed Protestant. Furthermore, Luther's written German has also lastingly affected the spoken tongue, the pronunciation of German, and so much so that in many ways, Germany's dialects are today not nearly as robust, not nearly as vibrant as erstwhile, simply because with much of the population learning how to read and write from Luther's Bible, the spoken word, the pronunciation of German has also become more and more standardised, even within the dialects themselves and although it is true that recently, there has been a concerted effort to protect and revitalise Germany's many dialects, some of the "damage" has likely been permanent, with Luther's standard becoming both the written and the oral comme il fact.

I have to say that the final two sections of German: Biography of a Language basically the post Martin Luther chapters do feel rather rushed and are in my humble opinion not covered nearly as extensively and as intensively as the history or should I say the biography of the German language up to and including Martin Luther. While I supposed there is enough basic information presented, when one then considers how meticulously and specifically detailed Professor Sanders' presentation of Martin Luther's influence on the development of a standard written German has been, it is more than a bit disappointing that for example the role of German as a language weapon during the Nazi era is described in something like two odd pages I do know and yes, even realise that how the Nazis approached the German language, how they abused and manipulated it is a potentially explosive and in all ways majorly uncomfortable topic, but it is nevertheless a linguistic occurrence, a historical situation that did happen and as such remains a scenario that has also influenced the development and yes the international reputation of modern, of contemporary German and Ruth Sanders should really have devoted more than simply two pages to this.

Another personal and minor disappointment with German: Biography of a Language is that alongside the author's tendency to repetition, to at times presenting already covered information in a new habit, in a new costume, the accompanying timelines and tables most definitely contain far too many errors and typos and could really have befitted from some editing. However and all that being said, I do and very much so still consider German History of a Language a both enjoyable and academic but thankfully never too textually, philosophically dense read, and as such worthy of a high three star rating and while knowledge German and especially German grammar rules etc.


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Recommended to and for those readers interested in historical linguistics and the history of German and the Germans with the caveat NOT to consider the Kindle edition of German: Biography of a Language , as the transfer from paper book to e-book format has been less than stellar, with especially many of the timelines and tables rendered almost unreadable and useless.

View all 6 comments. Sep 06, Gina rated it it was amazing Shelves: germany. I give this book 5 stars for succeeding in what it sets out to do: Give a readable, basic overview of the development of German and Germanic languages including the political, social, and cultural factors that affected it. English speakers have much to learn here, too, since ours is a sister language, and American history has been profoundly shaped by Germans.

The book is general, but I learned new things even though German language and literature is my field. There are a few points where a non-l I give this book 5 stars for succeeding in what it sets out to do: Give a readable, basic overview of the development of German and Germanic languages including the political, social, and cultural factors that affected it. There are a few points where a non-linguist may get glazed eyes, such as the description of the sound shifts, however Sanders also does a good job of explaining why languages change- something I could not say for more technical books I've read on the subject.

What I found particularly interesting were the tables that put Germanic history points in perspective to events happening elsewhere in the world.

Tobias Heinrich - School of European Culture and Languages - University of Kent

Sanders touches briefly also on Swiss, Austrian, Icelandic, Finnish, Yiddish, and English, as well as discussing Latin and French in the context of how these affected European languages as a whole. As a textbook, this would at best be an introduction, but as a story- the story of German- it's an excellent read. Read on the Nook. Nook version is mostly clean, though the tables are hard to read, something that is sadly often the case. Dec 24, Suzanne rated it it was amazing Shelves: german-theme. As a language buff, I loved this book. It takes you back to years BC and the clans and tribes whose early languages would ultimately become modern German.

It answers many questions, such as how could languages as different as French and German have developed from the same source language? The conquering Romans had better luck in Gaul than in Germania, so French has more Latinate influence. Why is Finnish so different from Germanic Scandinavian languages? It comes from a different source As a language buff, I loved this book. It comes from a different source language. What traces of Germanic origins are found in Spanish?

One is the ending -ez on Spanish names, which means 'son of. The book traces the development of German over the centuries and explains how languages such as English branched off, and how Luther's Bible pulled together speakers of numerous German dialects and dramatically established a commonly understood German standard. Linguistic elements are interwoven with stories of the people who spoke the language and how their migrations and settlements influenced language development over time.

Jan 18, Maria rated it it was ok.

Reich und DDR. Jan 12, Frank Stein rated it really liked it. Despite its confusion as to intent and organization, this book offers a wonderful and consistently surprising look at the development of the German language over years. Of course in telling the history of the language much of the regular political and social history of the Germans has to be told, and Sanders spends almost as much time detailing the peregrinations of the Alemmani tribes and the progress of the Reformation as the shift in consonant sounds, but even the oft-told tales take on a Despite its confusion as to intent and organization, this book offers a wonderful and consistently surprising look at the development of the German language over years.

Of course in telling the history of the language much of the regular political and social history of the Germans has to be told, and Sanders spends almost as much time detailing the peregrinations of the Alemmani tribes and the progress of the Reformation as the shift in consonant sounds, but even the oft-told tales take on a new twist in her book. For instance, I knew Luther's German bible of was an important event in both the Reformation and the creation of German nationalism, but I didn't know how hard Luther worked to make his language fit a still inchoate country.

He consciously combined the Kanzleideutsch "chancery German" with its more vernacular cousins to create a new earthy amalgam. His home district, Meissen-Upper Saxony, was right in the middle of the "Benrath Line," which divided Low and High German, so he was perfectly placed to combine these two once distinct dialects, and he consulted friends on each side to ask if individual words had migrated to different areas in far reaches of the North and the South the Bible was often combined with a glossary to help dialectal speakers.

Luther importantly celebrated the natural language of the people he was trying to reach, stating "Don't ask the letters of the Latin language how to speak German Within a few decades almost 1 in 5 German households had his bible, and a new national identity was born. Later, the celebration of a peculiar German Kulturnation Nation of Culture or Land das Dichter und Denker Land of the Thinkers and Writers , along with an oddly compatible belief in the primeval rootedness of German people, helped unify the disparate principalities of the country.

German thinkers from Kant to Fichte to the Grimm brothers thought that there was everywhere a mystical union between a people and its language, but that German was the most perfect example of this union. Fichte even claimed that the Romance languages were mere decadent offshoots of a dead tongue, and that German represented the thought of a more vital "Urvolk," or primitive people.

German language

It alone was "a language shaped to express the truth. The horrors of the two World Wars turned German, which was once so popular that the Reverend Theodore Parker in America cited a "German Epidemic" among the learned classes, into a lingua non grata. Sanders of course takes much time dealing with simple grammatical and phonetic changes, like the First and Second Sounds Shifts ending in c. The First Sound Shift was originally identified by Jacob Grimm, and "Grimm's Law" still explains why certain Latin sounds are almost always changed to particular German sounds in similar root words.

Of course this was part of his quest for a new nationalism in the wake of German's defeat in the Napoleonic wars, but it was also the first coherent explanation of language change in linguistic history. So German, which gave us offshoots as varied as English and Yiddish, provides a perfect case study for the evolution of a language. Its tortured history, and the often just as tortured study of that history, demonstrate the importance of words in human events like no other language, for good or ill. Dec 23, Ushan rated it liked it Shelves: linguistics.

Germanic languages are a branch of the Indo-European family with a simplified morphology, peculiar sound shifts the Latin pater is cognate to the English father, the Latin canis to the English hound, the Latin tertius to the English third and a large number of words with unknown etymology, especially pertaining to seafaring sea, ship, sail, keel and weaponry sword, shield, helmet. Nobody really knows, why this is the case; there are place names in Aquitaine with Basque-like etymology, whic Germanic languages are a branch of the Indo-European family with a simplified morphology, peculiar sound shifts the Latin pater is cognate to the English father, the Latin canis to the English hound, the Latin tertius to the English third and a large number of words with unknown etymology, especially pertaining to seafaring sea, ship, sail, keel and weaponry sword, shield, helmet.

Nobody really knows, why this is the case; there are place names in Aquitaine with Basque-like etymology, which suggests that a language related to Basque was once spoken there, but there are no place names with non-Indo-European etymology in the homeland of the Germanic tribes. East Germanic is significant because it includes the Gothic language, a 4th century translation of the Bible into which is the earliest known large text in a Germanic language; a variety of Gothic was spoken in Crimea until the 16th century.


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As the Western Roman Empire collapsed, many Germanic tribes migrated to its provinces; outside of Britain, they soon lost their language but made in impact on the local Vulgar Latin; the first component of the Spanish name Rodrigo is the same as that of Hrothgar. Another sound shift affected only the southern part of West Germanic in mid-first millennium CE; it accounts for the differences in such English-German cognates as eat-essen, apple-Apfel, ship-Schiff; the dialects where the shift took place are known as High German, the dialects where it didn't are known as Low German, and the dialects where it partly did are known as Middle German.

The standardizer of the German language was Martin Luther, who published a Bible translation in ; it was in a variety of High German, but he tried to make it comprehensible to all speakers of German, and not tie it to a particular dialect. The translation proved enormously popular, thanks to the printing press, and was read by millions in his time and continuously ever since.

Germany had no political unity until the s, but it had a common standard language, even though for most of the population it was a second language. Since then, German-speaking peoples has been either unified, or divided into a few large states Austria, East Germany, West Germany ; the written language of them all has been standard German, which is slowly becoming the only German language; as of , only a third of the population of West Germany spoke a nonstandard Germanic dialect.

Spoken German is slowly simplifying its morphology and becoming more isolating, though it still has a long way to go before it becomes like English. Oct 29, Amelia rated it liked it Shelves: read-in I was a bit disappointed with this book, which is billed as a "marvelous history of the German language. While much of it is interesting, anyone who has previously read about the history of the Germanic tribes will find most of it incredibly familiar. Furthermore, the organization of the book is not exactly chronological, which feels somewhat disjointed in reading.

The subsections of th I was a bit disappointed with this book, which is billed as a "marvelous history of the German language. The subsections of the book directly dealing with language development are too short and disparate. I expected a stronger focus on the language and linguistic development. Anyone reading on a traditional Kindle will probably notice two important limitations. First, the tables are too small to read not a problem using the iPad Kindle app.

Second, the conversion of the book to electronic format has introduced numerous errors in the German language examples, most notably the letter b frequently appearing were the letter h belongs.