Online Encyclopedia


Online Encyclopedia
Originally appearing in Volume V11, Page 780 of the 1911 Encyclopedia Britannica.
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THE OLD HIGH GERMAN PERIOD The language spoken during the Old High German period, that is to say, down to about the year 1050, is remarkable for the fulness and richness of its vowel-sounds in word-stems as well as in inflections. Cf. elilenti, Elend; luginari, Liigner; karkari, Kerker; menniskono slahta, Menschengeschlecht; herzono, Herzen (gen. pl.); furisto, vorderste; hartost, (am) hartesten; sibunzug, siebzig; ziohemes,. (wir) ziehen; salbota, (er) saibte; gaworahtos, (du) wirktest, &c. Of the consonantal changes which took place during this period that of the spirant th (preserved only in English) to d (werthan, werdan; theob, deob) deserves mention. It spread from Upper Germany, where it is noticeable as early as the 8th century to Middle and finally, in the Ilth and 12th centuries, to Low Germany. Further, the initial h in hl, hn, hr, hw (cf. hwer, wer; hreini rein; hlahhan, lachen) and w in wr (wrecceo, Recke) disappeared, this change also starting in Upper Germany and spreading slowly north. The most important vowel-change is the so-called mutation (Umlaut) ,6 that is to say, the qualitative change of a vowel (except i) in a stem-syllable, owing to the influence of an i or j in the following syllable. This process commenced in the north where it seems to have" been already fully developed in Low German as early as the 8th century. It is to be found, it may be noted, in Anglo-Saxon, as early as the 6th century. It gradually worked its way southwards to Middle and Upper Germany where, however, certain consonants seem to have protected the stem syllable from the influence of i in a following syllable. Cf., for instance, Modern High German drucken and driicken; glauben, kaufen, Haupt, words which in Middle German dialects show mutation. Orthographically, however, this process is, during the first period, only to be seen in the change of a to e; from the loth century onwards there are, it is true, some traces of other changes, and vowels like u, o, ou must have already been affected, othezwise we could not account for the mutation of these vowels at a period when the cause of it, the i or j, no longer existed. A no less important change, for it helped to differentiate High from Low German, was that of Germanic e2 (a closed e-sound) and o diphthongs in Old High German, while they were retained in Old Low German. Cf. O.H.G. her, hear, hiar, O.L.G. her; O.H.G.fuoz, O.L.G. fot. The final result was that in the loth century ie (older forms, ia, ea) and uo (older ua, oa in Alemannic, ua in South Franconian) had asserted themselves throughout all the High German dialects. Again while in Old High German the older diphthongs ai and au were pre-served as ei and ou, unless they happened to stand at the end of a word or were followed by certain consonants (h, w, r in the one case, and h, r, 1, n, th, d, t, z, sin the other; cf. zeh from zihan, zoh from ziohan, verlods, &c.), the Old Low German shows throughout the monophthongs e (in Middle Low German a closed sound) and o (cf. O.L.G. sten, oga). These monophthongs are also to be heard in Rhenish Franconian, the greater part of East Franconian and the Upper Saxon and Silesian dialects of modern times (cf. Stein: Steen or Stan; laufen: to fen or lopen). Of the dialects enumerated above, Bavarian and Alemannic, High and Rhenish Franconian as well as Old Saxon are more or less represented in the literature of the first period. But this literature, the chief monuments of which are Otfrid's Evangelienbuch (in South Franconian), the Old Saxon Heliand (a life of Christ in alliterative verse), the translation of Tatian's Gospel Harmony (East Franconian) and that of a theological tract by Bishop Isidore of Seville and of parts of the Bible (Rhenish Franconian), is almost exclusively theological and didactic in character. One is consequently inclined to attach more value to the scanty remains of the Hildebrandslied and some interesting and ancient charms. The didactic spirit again pervades the translations and commentaries of Notker of St Gall in the early part of the 11th century, as well as a paraphrase of the Song of Songs by an abbot Williram of Ebersberg a little later. Latin, however, reigned supreme throughout this period, it being the language. of the charters, the lawbooks (there is nothing in Germany to compare with the laws of the Anglo-Saxons), of science, medicine, and even poetry. It is thus needless to say that there was no recognized literary language (Schriftsprache) during this period, nor even any attempt to form one; at most, we might speak of schools in the large monasteries, such as Reichenau, St Gall, Fulda, which contributed to the spread and acceptance of certain orthographical rules.

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