Old High German

Spoken in

  • Indo-European Germanic West Germanic Old High German




As Old High German ( OHG abbreviated. ) Is called the oldest form of writing testified High German language in the time 750-1050.

The word " German " appears for the first time in a document from the year 786 in the medieval Latin form theodiscus. In a church meeting, the decisions had been tam latine quam theo Disce read, so both in Latin and in the vernacular '. The Old High German form of the word is occupied until much later. In the copy of an ancient language textbook in Latin, probably made in the second quarter of the 9th century, the entry of a monk who had apparently not understood the Latin word galeola (dishes in helmet shape ) found. He has checked with a brother of the meaning of this word and have added the German meaning. He used the Old High German early form diutisce gellit ( on German shell ') for his note.

Territorial delimitation and classification

The Old High German language is not uniform, as the term suggests, but the name for a group of West Germanic languages ​​( which runs from Dusseldorf -Benrath approximately in an east-west direction) were south of the so-called " Benrather line " spoken. These dialects differ from the other West Germanic languages ​​through the implementation of the Second (or High German ) Sound Shift. The dialects of the north " Benrather line ", ie in the region of the North German plain and in the territory of the present Netherlands, have not performed the second sound shift. These dialects are used to distinguish it from the Old High German, Old Saxon under the name (also: Altniederdeutsch ) summarized. From the Old Saxon, the Central and Neuniederdeutsche has developed. However, it has also Altniederfränkische from which the present-day Dutch came into being afterwards, the second sound shift also not participated, making this part of the Franconian is not to count the Old High German.

Since the Old High German was a group of closely related dialects, and there was no unified written language in the early Middle Ages, the traditional textual evidence can assign to each Old High German languages ​​, so that you can often aptly speaks of (old) Südrheinfränkisch, Altbairisch, Altalemannisch etc.. This West Germanic varieties with the Second Sound Shift, however, have a different proximity to each other, in the later differences between Upper, Middle and Lower German are justified. For example, writes Stefan Sonderegger for spatially - language geographical breakdown:

" The earliest stages of medium and high- Frankish, ie West Central German dialects on the one hand and the Alemannic and Bavarian, ie Upper German dialects on the other hand, and in OHG first time tangible, but at the same time already dying language level of the Lombard in northern Italy. Divorced clearly remains the Ahd. from the Old Saxon in the subsequent north, while to the Old Dutch - Altniederfränkischen and West Franconian in the north- west and west a graduated transition is observed. "

Old High German traditions and written

The Latin alphabet was adopted in Old High German for the German language. It came on the one hand to excesses of graphemes as and and on the other hand to senior German phonemes as diphthongs, affricates ( such as / pf /, / ts /, / tʃ /) and consonants such as / ç / and / ʃ / , which did not exist in Latin. In Old High German the grapheme was for the phoneme / f / also mainly used, so here it fihu ( cattle ), filu (a lot), fior (four), firwizan ( direct) and folch ( people ) is, while in Middle High German mainly the grapheme was used for the same phoneme, here it is, on the other hand vinsternis ( darkness ), vrouwe ( woman), vriunt ( friend) and vinden (Find ). These uncertainties that affect today in spellings such as "Bird " or " Vogt " are due to the described Graphemüberschüsse of Latin.

The first Old High German text is the Abrogans, a Latin- Old High German glossary. Generally, there is the Old High German tradition to a large extent from spiritual texts ( prayers, Taufgelöbnissen, Bible translation ); only sporadically, there are secular seals ( Hildebrandslied, Ludwig song) or any other language certificates ( inscriptions, spells ). To public law include the Würzburg Mark description or the Oaths of Strasbourg of 842, which, however, survives only in a copy of a Romance-speaking scribes from the 10th and 11th centuries.

The so-called " Old High German Tatian " is a translation of the Diatessaron of Tatian the Syrian- Christian apologists (2nd century ) in the Old High German. He is bilingual (Latin - German ); the only surviving manuscript is now in St. Gallen. The Old High German Tatian is next to the Old High German Isidor the second great translation service from the time of Charlemagne.

In the context of the political situation was in the 10th century, the written language in general and the production of German texts in particular back; a reviving a German literacy and literature can be observed from about 1050. Since the written tradition of the 11th century clearly different in phonetic respects from the older tradition, refers to the language from about 1050 as Middle High German. The endpoint of the Old High German text production and the death of Notker is often defined in St. Gallen 1022.

Characteristics of the language and grammar

The Old High German is a synthetic language.


Typical of the Old High German and important for the understanding of certain forms in later stages of the German language (such as the back end weak verbs umlaut ) is the Old High German umlaut primary. This cause the sounds / i / and / j / in the following syllable, that / a / is to / e / umlauted.

Final syllables

Characteristic of the Old High German language still sonorous vowel endings (see Latin), for example:

The weakening of the final syllables in Middle High German from 1050 is considered as the main criterion for distinguishing the two language levels.


The noun has four cases. Remains of a fifth case ( Instrumental) still exist. A distinction is made between a strong ( vocalic ) and a weak ( consonantal ) declination. Even when products are differentiated accordingly.

Personal pronouns

The declension of personal pronouns in Old High German is as follows:

Demonstrative / Definite article in Old High German

In the Old High German period is more likely, however, still speaks of the demonstrative pronoun, because the definite article has developed as a grammatical phenomenon until the late Old High German from the demonstrative pronoun.

Nominative and accusative plurals are quite arbitrary and varies from dialect to dialect, so explicit separation which explicitly the accusative and describing these forms of the nominative, is not possible. In addition, you can reference this list already notice a slow collapse of the various forms. While there are many quite irregular forms in the nominative and accusative plural, dative and genitive are, both in the singular and in the plural, relatively regularly.


Even with the verbs distinguishes between a strong ( vocalic ) and a weak conjugation. The number of weak verbs was at all times higher than that of strong verbs, but the second group was significantly larger than it is today in Old High German. Besides these two groups, there is the Präterito - Präsentien, verbs which have with their Präteritumsform present importance.

Strong verbs

In the strong verbs in Old High German it comes to the change of the vowel in Grundmorphem carrying the lexical meaning of the word. The flexion (bending ) of the words is characterized by Flexionsmorpheme ( endings). We distinguish seven different Ablautreihen in Old High German, the seventh is not due to an ablaut, but on reduplication.


Examples in reconstructed and unified Old High German:

  • Ablautreihe Ia: Ritan - Ritu - reit - ritun - giritan ( NHG ride, ride )
  • Ablautreihe Ib: zihan - zīhu - toe - zigun - gizigan ( NHG accuse, accuse )
  • Ablautreihe II.a: biogan - biugu - boug - Bugun - gibogan ( NHG turn )
  • Ablautreihe II.b: Biotan - biutu - bot - butun - ( offer NHG ) gibotan
  • Ablautreihe III.a.: bintan - bintu - bant - buntun - gibuntan ( NHG bind )
  • Ablautreihe III.b.: werfan - wirfu - threw - wurfun - giworfan ( NHG throw )
  • Ablautreihe IV: neman - Nimu -nam - namun - ginoman ( NHG take )
  • Ablautreihe V.: geban - GIBU - gave - Gabon - gigeban ( NHG enter )
  • Ablautreihe VI:. Faran - Faru - fuor - fuorun - (pass NHG ) gifaran
  • Ablautreihe VII: Ratan - Ratu - advised - rietun - girātan ( NHG advise )
Finite and infinite inflections

Example: werfan - wirfu - threw - wurfun - giworfan ( NHG throw ) to the Ablautreihe III. b

Weak verbs

The weak verbs of the Old High German can be morphologically and semantically divided over their endings into three groups:

With causative meaning 1 verbs ending in- jan ( do something ) to provide, as * → zaljan cells - "count" ~ " make numbers ":

2 verbs with the suffix -on with instrumental meaning ( use something )

3 verbs ending in- ên with durative meaning ( make, be ).

The former are essential for the understanding of the very common and still partially present in the Middle High German weak verbs with Riickumlaut, since the / j / in the ending causes the primary umlaut in the present tense as described above.

Special verbs

The Old High German verb refers to the substantive Sin as a verb because it can stand on its own and a life of describing anything. It is one of the root verbs which have no vowel between the stem and Flexionsmorphem. These verbs are also called athematic ( excluding binder or theme vowel). The special feature of Sin is that his paradigm is suppletive, ie is formed of various verb stems ( IE * h ₁ es- ( exist), * b ʰ hurt ₂ - ( be ) and * h ₂ wes - ( live ) ). In the present tense and the subjunctive is still the ₁ to * h it - declining sin ( the b- incipient forms are, however, at * b ʰ hurt ₂ - back ), in the past tense, however, it will have been by the strong verb wesan ( NHG; see also NHG nature ) replaced, which is formed after the fifth Ablautreihe.


In Germanic there were only two tenses: the preterite for the past and the present for the non- past ( present, future ). With the onset of textualization and translations from Latin into German began to develop German equivalents for the Latin tenses such as perfect, past perfect, future tense, and Future Perfect in Old High German. At least approaches to have and be - Perfect can already be in Old High German make. The development was continued in Middle High German.