Language history as a history of diversity : a study of language history from below of Early New High German




Fuchs, Katrin, Ph. D.

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This dissertation analyses the accuracy of the orthographic descriptions found in traditional Early New High German grammars. The analysis is based in the assumption that these language overviews have too narrow a focus in their data selection, as they rely solely on upper class and literary documents. The question of whether a comparison of the feature descriptions in these grammars with a corpus of a non-traditional genre written by people from other social classes may yield different results is posed. Furthermore, it is asked what potential reasons might exist for this narrow selection of data. The general discussion follows the research frame of “language history from below” (Elspa[beta] 2005), which aims to include material from other genres, social classes, and women to draw a more accurate and dynamic picture of language history. The present study is based on a corpus of witch hunt interrogation records (Hexenverhörprotokolle, Macha et al. 2005), which were written by scribes of intermediate social status. The records stem from West Middle German and West South German regions and were created between 1580 and 1660. This time frame largely overlaps with the presumed end phase of an internal standardization process of the German written language, which is also the focus of this dissertation in order to make a direct comparison possible. Six orthographic features that are well-documented and should show a strong tendency towards standardization within the time frame were investigated. These investigations revealed that certain deviations between the feature discussions in the Early New High German grammars and the results of this dissertation exist. However, the too narrowly focused data selection of these grammars was not the only factor contributing to these deviations. Other possible explanations are a general reluctance to discuss idiolectal variation and orthographic variation not based on sound change. These could exist due to a long-standing focus on national and spoken language. In general, it was shown that it is important to include more diverse data in the investigation of language history in order to incorporate the entirety of language use across all social classes.


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