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Title: Neogrammarian  
Author: World Heritage Encyclopedia
Language: English
Subject: Sound change, Karl Brugmann, Verner's law, Greek language question, August Leskien
Collection: Historical Linguistics
Publisher: World Heritage Encyclopedia


The Neogrammarians (also Young Grammarians, German Junggrammatiker) were a German school of linguists, originally at the University of Leipzig, in the late 19th century who proposed the Neogrammarian hypothesis of the regularity of sound change. According to this hypothesis, a diachronic sound change affects simultaneously all words in which its environment is met, without exception. Verner's law is a famous example of the Neogrammarian hypothesis, as it resolved an apparent exception to Grimm's law. The Neogrammarian hypothesis was the first hypothesis of sound change to attempt to follow the principle of falsifiability according to scientific method. Today this hypothesis is considered more of a guiding principle than an exceptionless fact, as numerous examples of lexical diffusion (where a sound change affects only a few words at first and then gradually spreads to other words) have been attested.

Other contributions of the Neogrammarians to general linguistics were:

  • The object of linguistic investigation is not the language system, but rather the idiolect, that is, language as it is localized in the individual, and therefore is directly observable.
  • Autonomy of the sound level: being the most observable aspect of language, the sound level is seen as the most important level of description, and absolute autonomy of the sound level from syntax and semantics is assumed.
  • Historicism: the chief goal of linguistic investigation is the description of the historical change of a language.
  • Analogy: if the premise of the inviolability of sound laws fails, analogy can be applied as an explanation if plausible. Thus, exceptions are understood to be a (regular) adaptation to a related form.

Leading Neogrammarian linguists included:

Despite their strong influence in their time, the methods and goals of the Neogrammarians have been criticized from various points of view, but mainly for: reducing the object of investigation to the idiolect; restricting themselves to the description of surface phenomena (sound level); overvaluation of historical languages and neglect of contemporary ones. In addition, the independence of phonology from other grammatical processes (e.g., syntax) is rejected by most modern linguists, particularly the adherents of generative grammar.


  • Hermann Paul: Prinzipien der Sprachgeschichte. (1880).
  • Karl Brugmann und Bertold Delbrück: Grundriß der vergleichenden Grammatik der indogermanischen Sprachen. (1897–1916).
  • Hugo Schuchardt: „Über die Lautgesetze. Gegen die Junggrammatiker“, in Hugo-Schuchardt-Brevier, ein Vademekum der allgemeinen Sprachwissenschaft., ed. Leo Spitzer. Halle (Saale) 1922.
  • Harald Wiese: Eine Zeitreise zu den Ursprüngen unserer Sprache. Wie die Indogermanistik unsere Wörter erklärt, Logos Verlag Berlin, 2007, ISBN 978-3-8325-1601-7.
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