Language Purification Attempts during the German Empire: The „Allgemeiner Deutscher Sprachverein“

Essay, 2007

20 Pages, Grade: 1


Table of contents

1. Introduction

2. Structure of the ADSV
2.1 Central Board and ADSV branches
2.2 ADSV publications

3. Projects and Objectives
3.1 Projects concerning German language and writing in general
3.2 Campaign for German words, campaign against foreign words
3.2.1 Nationalism and the ADSV
3.2.2 Dispensable and indispensable loanwords
3.2.3 Actions, Actionism Successful projects influencing the use of the German language Failed projects and adaptation difficulties Other ADSV projects

4. ADSV criticism

5. Outlook

6. Conclusion

7. References

1. Introduction

The year 1871 brought Germany a victory over France, concluding the Franco- Prussian War, and ended with the founding of the “Deutsches Reich“, the German Empire. As a result of the nationalistic elation felt all through society Herman Riegel, museum curator and art historian in Mannheim, published his Ein Hauptst ü ck von unserer Mutterprache1 , a text that established him as the foremost agitator in a widespread campaign against the adoption of foreign words into the German language.2 Riegel then called for the formation of a German language association responsible for the purification of the German dictionary from words borrowed from other languages, most notably French, and occasionally English. In 1885, supported by similar-minded academics and politicians nationwide such als gymnasium professor Hermann Dunger, Riegel presided over the establisment of the “Allgemeiner Deutscher Sprachverein,” the universal German Language Association (ADSV).3 It’s objectives were laid down as follows:

1. Projects advancing the purification of the German language, cleansing it from „unneccessary foreign particles“,4
2. Preservation and renovation of „the real spirit und unique character“ of the German language,5
3. Strengthening the „general and overall national awareness“ of all Germans, not only concerning language, but also concerning „German-ness“ in general.6

The following essay will concentrate on the main ADSV projects from 1885 until the start of the First World War in 1914, on its project successes and failures, especially concerning the incorporation of foreign words via translation, and on the inevitability of massive problems during the transferral of general linguistic principles into the language actually used outside academic circles.

2. Structure of the ADSV

2.1 Central Board and ADSV branches

The ADSV was organised as a Central Board organisation that oversaw regional branches. The branches remained langely autonomous,7 while the Central Board, based in Berlin, managed assignments (Germanisation pursuit: „Verdeutschungs- arbeiten“), oranisation of functions (language sessions and homeland evenings against foreign words: „Spachveranstaltungen“ und „Heimatabende gegen Fremdwörter“), funding and public representation.8 The years till 1914 saw the establishment of not less than 270 branches of the ADSV all throughout the German Empire and Austria, with an additional 50 branches in Franconian Switzerland, Belgium, Luxembourg, Italy, Great Britain, the USA and South America, in the German colonies in Russia9 a and „German Bohemia“, today’s Czech Republic.10 1887, only two years after it was founded, the ADSV already counted 6500 members.11 The number rose to 12000 in 1890 and finally reached more than 34000 in 1914.12 Membership was divided into two categories: individual members, meaning persons as such, and collective memberships, comprising whole enterprises and secondary organisations that joined in toto.13

2.2 ADSV publications

The ADSV began the publication of the „Zeitschrift des Allgemeinen Deutschen Sprachvereins“ (magazine of the Universal German Language Association) in April 1886; it was distributed among members and was widely for sale to the general public.14 It mainly consisted of linguistic essays, notifications to members and the public, letters, colums such as the „Zeitungsschau“ (overview of the use of German in newspapers), the „Bücherschau“ (criticism of books on a wide array of linguistic subjecs), and the notifications and news from the branches, „aus den Zweigvereinen.“ From 1891 on the ADSV additionally published the „Wissenschaftliche Beihefte“ (scientific addenda), which was limited to „purely scientific publications.“15

3. Projects and Objectives

3.1 Projects concerning German language and writing in general

Next to the Germanisation of foreign words, which will be looked at in chapter 3.2, the ADSV was concerned with other topics. In order to improve German style and grammar, Hermann Dunger introduced the column „Zur Schärfung des Sprachgefühls“ (sharpening the awareness of our language) in the Association magazine. The column used examples from the „Zeitungsschau“ to list the most common violations of proper German style and grammar; it dissected sentences and single words as a means to demonstrate the ongoing desecration of the mother tongue by the disproportionately large use of „Fremdewörter“ (foreign or, even stronger, alien words) and demontrated that even seemingly innocent newspaper articles contained grievous syntactical mistakes and offences against „den guten deutschen Ausdruck“ (the good German style of expression).16

From 1900 on, most of the prussian ministeries regularly consulted the ADSV in matters of style and language in official publications, often even sending in new laws and edicts for professional „stilistische Überprüfung und Bearbeitung“ - review and editing of style.17

A separate orthographic section in the „Zeitung“ was dedicated to lengthy discussions about street and city names. Debates in this column even covered the suggestion to remove latinate place denominators such as avenue („Allee“).18 In cases in which the German origin of the place name was in question, it was suggested to rename the whole town: „Neuehausen“ instead of „Neuweiler“, the word Weiler stemming from the latin villa, meaning „house“.

In addition to place names the ADSV scrutinized given names, which resulted in a general appeal to give German names to German children. The branch in Darmstadt even researched and suggested a list of appropriate German dog names.19 German script became a topic of great interest in 1895 as the ADSV discovered that the German „Frakturschrift“ (fracture text type) increasingly lost ground to the Latin typeset „Antiqua“ that was already common in most neighbouring countries.20 Additionally, the ADSV organized lectures about German literature and philosophy, poetry readings and events held in one of the numerous German dialects; some venues even being accompanied by a musical arrangement to keep the wider public interested.21

3.2 Campaign for German words, campaign against foreign words

3.2.1 Nationalism and the ADSV

The main objective of the Language Association, which was fixed in paragraph 1 of the statutes, was the Germanization of foreign words. This endeavor got motivated by a strong national sentiment that had widened into full-grown nationalism since Germany prevailed in the Franco-Prussian War in 1871. In his call to establish a German language association, Riegel demands commitment to the „Dienst am vaterländischen Gedanken“ (to service the notion of the father land) and characterizes foreign words as „fremde Lappen“ (alien patches) which are „eingeflickt“ (patched haphazardly) into the German language. He evokes the picture of a carnival dress („Hanswurstenkleid“), into which the noble robe of German language is thus turned. The usage of foreign words is described as „an evil“, „a plague“ and „an ignominy“ („Übel“, „Elend“, „Schande“) that befalls German men. People who are actually using those words have to face the question: „Sind das noch Deutsche?“ (Are those really still Germans?“)22

It comes as no surprise that the basic principle of the ADSV was as follows: „Kein Fremdwort für das, was deutsch gut ausgedrückt werden kann!“ (No foreign word for anything that cannot also be described well by a German word!), and „Gedenke auch, wenn du die deutsche Sprache sprichst, daß du ein Deutscher bist!“ (Always remember that you are a German when you are using the German language).23 Riegel’s humble attempt at a relativation of this - to avoid „blinde Reinigungswuth, die unvernünftige Übertreibung, die alte verblendete Deutschthümelei“24 (blind fits to cleanse the language, irrational exaggeration, old blinded German chauvinism) - is thus more or less intentionally negated by his own radical point of view that classifies „das Fremdwort nicht als Wort, sondern als Zeichen nationaler Stumpfheit und sprachlicher Versumpfung“ (the foreign word is not a word, but a symbol of progressing national insensivity and linguistic swampiness).25 This sentiment prevailed all throughout the ADSV in general.

Main arguments against foreign words were mainly stereotypes such as the notions that they are generally superfluous, that they diminish the beauty and originality of the German language, that they inhibit word flow especially in works of poetry, that they keep the German people from fully profiting from their own Germanic methods of word formation - derivation and combination - and thus threaten to actually diminish the German vocabulary. In addition to that, foreign words are often described as obscure, ambiguous or unintelligible, which either results in confusion or creates an educational and social barrier within the „Sprachgemeinschaft“ (community of native speakers). Usage of foreign words is attributed to smugness, laziness of thought, conceitedness, airiness or arrogance towards people with a lesser educational background.


1 Riegel, Hermann: Ein Hauptst ü ck von unserer Muttersprache. Mahnruf an alle national gesinnten Deutschen.

2 Greule, Albrecht, Ahlvers-Liebel, Elisabeth: Germanistische Sprachpflege. Geschichte, Praxis und Zielsetzung. Darmstadt, 1986. p. 29: „Rolle des Wortführers einer umfassenden Kampagne gegen die Fremdwörter“

3 Greule, 1986. p. 29.

4 Verdeutschungsb ü cher III, 1890. Articles of Association §1, p. 117: „von unnöthigen fremden Bestand-teilen“

5 Verdeutschungsb ü cher III, 1890. Articles of Association §1, p. 118: „des echten Geistes, und eigen-thümlichen Wesens der deutschen Sprache“

6 Verdeutschungsb ü cher III, 1890. Articles of Association §1, p. 119: „das allgemeine nationale Bewusstsein aller Deutschen“

7 Greule, 1986. p. 30.

8 Verdeutschungsb ü cher VII, 1896. p. 3.

9 Hauffen, Adolf: „Der Allgemeine Deutsche Sprachverein und Deutschböhmen“. Sonderdruck aus der Monatschrift Deutsche Arbeit 16, 1917. p. 2-10. p. 3f.

10 Hauffen, 1917. p. 4.

11 Greule, 1986. p. 30.

12 Bernsmeier, Helmut: „Der Allgemeine Deutsche Sprachverein in seiner Gründungsphase“. In: Muttersprache. Zeitschrift zur Pflege und Erforschung der deutschen Sprache 87, 1977. p. 369-395. p. 388.

13 Olt, Reinhard: Wider das Fremde? Das Wirken des Allgemeinen Deutschen Sprachvereins in Hessen 1885-1944. Darmstadt/Marburg, 1991. p. 127f.

14 Greule, 1986. p. 30.

15 Hauffen, 1917. p. 3: „streng wissenschaftliche Abhandlungen“

16 cf. Zeitschrift IV, 1898, column 42.

17 Hauffen, 1917. p. 3.

18 Olt, 1991. p. 95ff.

19 Olt, 1991. p.103.

20 Olt, 1991. p. 113ff.

21 Hauffen, 1917. p. 5f.

22 Verdeutschungsb ü cher III, 1890. p. 117f.

23 Verdeutschungsb ü cher III, 1890. p. 119.

24 cf. footnote 24.

25 Kirkness, Alan: „Fremdwort und Sprachpurismus: Lehren aus der Sprachgeschichte für den Deutschunterricht“. In : Sprache und Literatur in Wissenschaft und Unterricht 14, 1983, H. 52. p. 14-29. p. 20.

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Language Purification Attempts during the German Empire: The „Allgemeiner Deutscher Sprachverein“
University of Heidelberg  (Anglistisches Seminar)
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Silja Ruebsamen (Author), 2007, Language Purification Attempts during the German Empire: The „Allgemeiner Deutscher Sprachverein“, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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