German Vocabulary

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German Vocabulary

Most German vocabulary is derived from the Germanic branch of the European language family.[citation needed] However, there is a significant amount of loanwords from other languages, in particular from Latin, Greek, Italian, French[77] and most recently English.[78] In the early 19th century, Joachim Heinrich Campe estimated that one fifth of the total German vocabulary was of French or Latin origin.[79]

Latin words were already imported into the predecessor of the German language during the Roman Empire and underwent all the characteristic phonetic changes in German. Their origin is thus no longer recognizable for most speakers (e.g. Pforte, Tafel, Mauer, Käse, Köln from Latin porta, tabula, murus, caseus, Colonia). Borrowing from Latin continued after the fall of the Roman Empire during Christianization, mediated by the church and monasteries. Another important influx of Latin words can be observed during Renaissance humanism. In a scholarly context, the borrowings from Latin have continued until today, in the last few decades often indirectly through borrowings from English. During the 15th to 17th centuries, the influence of Italian was great, leading to many Italian loanwords in the fields of architecture, finance, and music. The influence of the French language in the 17th to 19th centuries resulted in an even greater import of French words. The English influence was already present in the 19th century, but it did not become dominant until the second half of the 20th century.

At the same time, the effectiveness of the German language in forming equivalents for foreign words from its inherited Germanic stem repertory is great.[citation needed] Thus, Notker Labeo was able to translate Aristotelian treatises in pure (Old High) German in the decades after the year 1000. The tradition of loan translation was revitalized in the 18th century, with linguists like Joachim Heinrich Campe, who introduced close to 300 words that are still used in modern German. Even today, there are movements that try to promote the Ersatz (substitution) of foreign words deemed unnecessary with German alternatives.[80] It is claimed that this would also help in spreading modern or scientific notions among the less educated and as well democratise public life.

As in English, there are many pairs of synonyms due to the enrichment of the Germanic vocabulary with loanwords from Latin and Latinized Greek. These words often have different connotations from their Germanic counterparts and are usually perceived as more scholarly.

Historie, historisch – “history, historical”, (Geschichte, geschichtlich)
Humanität, human – “humaneness, humane”, (Menschlichkeit, menschlich)[81]
Millennium – “millennium”, (Jahrtausend)
Perzeption – “perception”, (Wahrnehmung)
Vokabular – “vocabulary”, (Wortschatz)

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