German Language Blog

Der Duden – the cornerstone of German spelling Posted by on Mar 25, 2015 in Culture, Language

Was ist richtig, was ist falsch? Schlag im Duden nach!

Like the Oxford Dictionary, the Dikke van Dale, or Mirriam-Webster, Germany has the Duden.

Just like all the above-mentioned famous dictionaries, the Duden has its own history. In the 19th century, Konrad Duden, a High School teacher at the Gymnasium created his own dictionary, which was named after him. It influenced the creation of a unitary German grammar and spelling.

For his own life, he was quite a guy. He started studying in Bonn, Germany. After four semesters, he stopped his studies, probably because of financial reasons. Then he became Hauslehrer (a private tutor) in Frankfurt am Main and in Genua in Italy. Just six years later, then, in 1854 he still did the Staatsexamen (state examination), without studying more because of his job as a Hauslehrer. Well played! He became a teacher in Soest, but stopped that and then did his PhD in the same year at the University of Marburg. No, he did not write this dissertation in less than a year. He already worked on it during his time as Hauslehrer in Italy. Then again, he went to Genua to be a Hauslehrer. In 1859, he then came back and became teacher and then principal of the Gymnasium in Soest he was a teacher at before. Hauslehrer seems to be quite a rewarding job!

He married there, and became father of seven children.

In 1869, he became principal of the Generalgymnasium in Schleiz. Here, different accents collided (the Frankish, Thuringian, and Saxon dialects). The spelling of each student was graded by their descent and home dialect. Mr Duden did not like this, and thus worked on a way to make it easier, especially for those that were excluded from Bildung (education), to read and write. In 1880 he finalized his extremely successful work: Vollständiges Ortographisches Wörterbuch der deutschen Sprache (Complete Orthographic Dictionary of the German Language). It quickly became the standardized work in schools, however Bismarck prohibited it to be used by the Verwaltung (administration).

In 1901, then, an Einheitliche Rechtschreibung (unitary spelling/orthography) was introduced on a national, German level based on Duden’s work. In 1902, the German Senate, the Bundesrat, decided to use Duden’s work as the mandatory spelling rules for all German Bundesstaaten (Federal states).

Also, today, the Duden still has significant influence. It is the standard for spelling, and a lot more is offered now. There is, for example, also the Fremdwörterduden, with words from other languages that found their way into the German language. A lot of this, of course, is English. Couchsurfing is such a word, for example!

Who is the “spelling hero” of your country?


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About the Author: Sten

Hi! I am Sten, both Dutch and German. For many years, I've written for the German and the Dutch blogs with a passion for everything related to language and culture. It's fascinating to reflect on my own culture, and in the process allow our readers to learn more about it! Besides blogging, I am a German-Dutch-English translator, animator and filmmaker.