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The German Language Today

Unit code: GERM20222
Credit Rating: 20
Unit level: Level 2
Teaching period(s): Semester 2
Offered by German Studies
Available as a free choice unit?: N




This course unit focuses on the characteristics of the German language today (since about 1970), paying particular attention to recent events and developments, such as the increased use of Anglicisms, shifting politeness conventions and efforts to avoid sexist language use.


This course unit acknowledges that all languages change over time and that every period in the “lifetime” of a language has certain typical properties. It asks what characterises the German language of today and attempts to answer this question mainly on the basis of written texts (especially from popular science publications and national papers).

We begin by considering linguistic data providing an indication of how broad a range of varieties may be labelled ‘German’. What shape the German language (for our purposes, the standard variety used within Germany) takes today in terms of syntactic, morphological and lexical properties (and their interdependence) is our next topic. To help us explore this, we will contrast post-1945 German with forms of the language from earlier centuries, using some very basic methods of statistical analysis. The discussion of lexical developments in recent decades brings us straight to our next topic, the influx of Anglicisms and the current efforts by purist organisations to limit their use. In this context, we ask whether the threat to the German language, as perceived by these groups, is in fact real.

We then shift our focus towards two other areas of modern usage, taking a look at that aspect of politeness which in German is reflected by the personal pronouns du and Sie, and also exploring whether German is a sexist language, as has often been claimed.

Following this, we briefly review the 1998 spelling reform, focussing particularly on its aims and the extent to which these have actually been reached. This discussion will provide us with another opportunity to explore the general public’s attitudes to (perceived) language change.

We conclude the course unit with a discussion of the choices German-speakers make to indicate their social affiliations and how the forms of the language are shaped by the social conditions under which it is used, when turning our attention to the German language in Austria and, particularly, Switzerland.

Teaching and learning methods

Three hours per week of lectures, seminars and project workshops

Language of teaching: English

eLearning: Extensive resources are available on Blackboard. These include copies of PowerPoint slides from lectures and seminars, journal papers and book chapters, links to appropriate external resources, and other supplementary materials to help students deepen their understanding of the topics covered, provide opportunities for practical work and support them in their project report writing, revision and preparation for the exam.

Learning outcomes

On successful completion of this course unit, students will be able to:

  • Show an appreciation of the range of varieties within any language and in German in particular
  • Discuss the difficulties of defining ‘the German language’
  • Define and critically discuss Eggers’ concepts of Zeitstil, Personalstil and Gattungsstil
  • Read and interpret statistical data generated through the quantitative analysis of texts
  • Discuss the most important trends in present-day German syntax, morphology and lexis
  • Critically discuss the current movement towards linguistic purism in Germany
  • Explore the question of sexism in the German language today
  • Describe the major criteria for choosing between du and Sie and discuss recent developments in the way German speakers make this choice
  • Outline the guiding principles behind the 1998 spelling reform and comment critically on its success in achieving the stated aims
  • Evaluate the relationship between Hochdeutsch and Schwyzerdütsch in German-speaking Switzerland 

Assessment methods

  • Other - 60%
  • Written exam - 40%

Assessment Further Information

  1. Coursework: one group project of 4,000 words (60%)
  2. 1-hour written examination at the end of Semester 1 (40%)

Deadline for assessed coursework: Monday of Week 12, Semester 1

Language of assessment: English


Recommended reading

Set text: Russ, Charles V.J. 1994. The German language today: a linguistic introduction. London: Routledge.

Further reading: Besch, Werner. 1998. Duzen, Siezen, Titulieren. Zur Anrede im Deutschen heute und gestern. 2nd edn. Göttingen: Vandenhoeck und Ruprecht; Braun, Peter. 1998. Tendenzen in der deutschen Gegenwartssprache: Sprachvarietäten. 4th edn. Stuttgart: Kohlhammer; Clyne, Michael. 1995. The German language in a changing Europe. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press; Eggers, Hans. 1973. Deutsche Sprache im 20. Jahrhundert. Munich: Piper; Gardt, Andreas & Bernd Hüppauf (eds.). 2004. Globalization and the future of German. Berlin: Mouton de Gruyter; Hellinger, Marlis. 1995. Language and gender. In Patrick Stevenson (ed.), The German language and the real world, 281-316. Oxford: Clarendon Press; Hoberg, Rudolf (ed.). 2002. Deutsch – Englisch – Europäisch. Impulse für eine neue Sprachpolitik. Mannheim: Dudenverlag; Hogan-Brun, Gabrielle (ed.). 2000. National varieties of German outside Germany. Berne: Lang; Johnson, Sally. 2005. Spelling trouble? Language, ideology and the reform of German orthography. Clevedon: Multilingual Matters; Rash, Felicity. 1998. The German language in Switzerland: multilingualism, diglossia and variation. Berne: Lang; Stevenson, Patrick. 1997. The German-speaking world: a practical introduction to sociolinguistic issues. London: Routledge; Stickel, Gerhard (ed.). 2001. Neues und Fremdes im deutschen Wortschatz: aktueller lexikalischer Wandel. Berlin: de Gruyter; www.ids-mannheim.de/service/reform/

Feedback methods

Nature and timing of feedback:

  • Comments made during class discussion regarding the relevance and coherence of student contributions
  • Individual feedback on all project plans submitted by the Tuesday of Week 10
  • Return of marked project reports (annotated and with detailed feedback sheets) within 15 working days of the submission deadline, with an opportunity for face-to-face discussion with the convenor for those students who request this
  • Individual feedback on exam technique and subject competence to those students who send up to two answers to previous years’ exam questions to the convenor no later than three working days before the examination
  • Individual feedback on exam performance to students who arrange to discuss their script with the convenor

Study hours

  • Assessment written exam - 1 hours
  • Lectures - 11 hours
  • Seminars - 20 hours
  • Independent study hours - 168 hours

Teaching staff

Wiebke Brockhaus-Grand - Unit coordinator

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