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Early New High German

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Title: Early New High German  
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Subject: Middle High German, German language, History of German, High German languages, 1511 in literature
Collection: Early Modern Languages, High German Languages, History of the German Language
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Early New High German

Early New High German
Region Germany (south of the Uerdingen line), parts of Austria and Switzerland
Era developed into Modern German from the 1650s
Early forms
Old High German
Language codes
ISO 639-3
Glottolog None

Early New High German (ENHG) is a term for the period in the history of the German language, generally defined, following Wilhelm Scherer, as the period 1350 to 1650. Alternative periodisations take the period to begin later, e.g., at the invention of printing with moveable type in the 1450s.

The term is the standard translation of the German Frühneuhochdeutsch (Fnhd.), introduced by Scherer. The term Early Modern High German is also occasionally used for this period (but the abbreviation EMHG is generally used for Early Middle High German).


  • Periodisation 1
  • Classification 2
  • Phonology and grammar 3
  • Literature 4
    • Example Text 4.1
  • See also 5
  • References 6
  • Sources 7
  • External links 8


The start and end dates of ENHG are, like all linguistic periodisations, somewhat arbitrary. In spite of many alternative suggestions, Scherer's dates still command widespread acceptance. Linguistically, the mid 14th century is marked by the phonological changes to the vowel system which characterise the modern standard language; the mid 17th sees the loss of status for regional forms of language, and the triumph of German over Latin as the dominant, and then sole, language for public discourse.

Scherer's dates also have the merit of coinciding with two major demographic catastrophes with linguistic consequences: the Black Death, and the end of the Thirty Years' War. Arguably, the Peace of Westphalia in 1648, by ending religious wars and creating a Germany of many small sovereign states, brought about the essential political conditions for the final development of a universally acceptable standard language in the subsequent New High German period.


There was no standard Early New High German, but the period saw the gradual development of forms of German, in writing at least, which were not simply reflections of local dialect. Two supra-regional Schriftsprachen ("written languages") rose to prominence, influencing all dialects, and each other:

Phonology and grammar

In phonology and morphology, the main linguistic developments of the period are:

  • Changes to the long vowels and diphthongs:
    • Diphthongisation of the long high vowels î, û and iu ([yː]): MHG hût > NHG Haut ("skin").
    • Monophthongisation of the MHG opening diphthongs ie, uo and üe, replacing the lost long high vowels: MHG huot > NHG Hut ("hat")
    • lengthening of stressed short vowels in open syllables: MHG sagen /zaɡən/ > NHG sagen /zaːɡən/ ("say")

which brought consequent changes to

  • The loss of unstressed vowels in many circumstances (MHG vrouwe > NHG Frau ("lady")), which contributed to
    • further simplification of the noun declensions

These changes did not affect all dialects equally, and led to greater divergence between the dialects than in Middle High German.


The period saw the invention of printing with moveable type (c.1455) and the Reformation (from 1517). Both of these were significant contributors to the development of the Modern German Standard language, as they further promoted the development of non-local forms of language and exposed all speakers to forms of German from outside their own area — even the illiterate, who were read to. The most important single text of the period was Luther's Bible translation, the first part of which was published in 1522, though this is now not credited with the central role in creating the standard that was once attributed to it. This is also the first period in which prose works, both literary and discursive, became more numerous and more important than verse.

Example Text

Luther, 1545 Luther Bible, 1984[1] Authorised Version
  1. Im anfang war das Wort, vnd das wort war bey Gott, vnd Gott war das Wort,
  2. das selbige war im anfang bey Gott.
  3. Alle ding sind durch dasselbige gemacht, vnd on dasselbige ist nichts gemacht, was gemacht ist.
  4. Jn jm war das Leben, vnd das Leben war das Liecht der Menschen,
  5. vnd das liecht scheinet in der Finsternis, vnd die Finsternis habens nicht begriffen.
  1. Im Anfang war das Wort, und das Wort war bei Gott, und Gott war das Wort.
  2. Dasselbe war im Anfang bei Gott.
  3. Alle Dinge sind durch dasselbe gemacht, und ohne dasselbe ist nichts gemacht, was gemacht ist.
  4. In ihm war das Leben, und das Leben war das Licht der Menschen.
  5. Und das Licht scheint in der Finsternis, und die Finsternis hat's nicht ergriffen.
  1. In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.
  2. The same was in the beginning with God.
  3. All things were made by him; and without him was not any thing made that was made.
  4. In him was life; and the life was the light of men.
  5. And the light shineth in darkness; and the darkness comprehended it not.
The opening verses of John's Gospel

See also


  1. ^ Die Bibel nach der Übersetzung Martin Luthers. Revidierter Text 1984. Deutsche Bibelgesellschaft, Stuttgart 1985; Durchgesehene Ausgabe in neuer Rechtschreibung 1999.


  • Kenneth Brooke, An Introduction to Early New High German, Oxford 1955. The only book-length treatment in English.
  • R.E.Keller, The German Language, London 1978. ISBN 0-571-11159-9
  • Lexikon der Germanistischen Linguistik, ed. Hans Peter Althaus, Helmut Henne, Herbert Ernst Weigand, 2nd revised edition, Tübingen 1980. ISBN 3-484-10396-5
  • Wilhelm Scherer, Zur Geschichte der deutschen Sprache (Berlin 1868)
  • C.J.Wells, German. A Linguistic History to 1945, Oxford 1987. ISBN 0-19-815809-2

External links

  • Early New High German - English Dictionary
  • Early New High German Search Engine
  • Early New High German texts (German Wikisource)
  • Luther's translation of the New Testament (German Wikisource)
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