sprechen Sie (Neuhoch)deutsch?

1) How different is modern German from the language circa the eighteenth century? It looks to me like they were speaking New High German, which is apparently more or less the same as Standard German nowadays, but my own facility with the language ends with one proverb and one alarming speech about having a grenade (don’t ask), so it’s all Greek German to me. My guess would be that it differs in much the same way as eighteenth-century English does, i.e. more in phrasing and word choice than anything else, but I’d like to know for sure.

2) Once I’ve sorted that out, I will need someone to do small amounts (i.e. a few sentences) of translation work for me, either into the modern language or into New High German, if that’s noticeably different. If you have fluency with either of these, or know someone who does, please drop me a line.

(You would be justified in asking why I should contemplate translating into an archaic dialect of German when I haven’t been writing these novels in equally period English. The answer is, because I can. Assuming I can find a translator, of course.)

0 Responses to “sprechen Sie (Neuhoch)deutsch?”

  1. unforth

    Well, my uncle has near fluency (as in, his accent’s not perfect and according to his German friend he sometimes sounds a little like a bumpkin) in modern German, but I’ll say he should be a low choice, just cause he’s busy (he is, in fact, in Germany right now) – though he’d probably be flattered to do translation that was going to be in a book. 😉

    And that’s all I know on the topic. 😉

  2. sartorias

    I think you are largely right, judging from the Leibniz and Lessing on my shelves, but I don’t think my German is trusty enough to do translations. I tend to be more passive, reading, but seldom have a chance to use the language.

    • Marie Brennan

      I am in general awe of anybody who can just sort of sit down and read in another language. I have breadth, a great deal of it — Spanish, Latin, Japanese, Irish Gaelic, and Old Norse, not counting the very brief flirtations with Navajo and Finnish — but the only one where I came close to that competency was (of all things) Old Norse.

  3. lowellboyslash

    The Great Vowel Shift definitely happens after my major epoch of study, but yes, I believe it’s prior to the eighteenth century, so the German of that time would be closer to NHG than MHG or OHG.

    I used to have a decent reading command, but I’m not sure how useful I would be as a translator.

    • Marie Brennan

      If it’s more or less modern, then a translator will not be hard to find. It’s only if I’m looking for something actually archaic that my life becomes really difficult. 🙂

  4. kateelliott

    I’ve sent email to my sister, re: your question. She’ll know (academic). I don’t know if she would have time to do translations, tho.

    • Marie Brennan

      If she can verify for me the similarity to modern German, that’ll be plenty; at that point, my pool of possible translators is quite large.


  5. pathseeker42

    From a friend of mine – hope it helps:


    Well, she is right…18th and 19th century German is much like 20th cent. with about the same degree of variation as one might expect in English of the same period.

    MY German, that is the dialect I speak most fluently dates from the 16th century or before, so it would equate to a modern English speaker listening to Shakespeare, understandable but puzzleing construction…

    The one thing to bear in mind with German is that there are MANY more regional dialects and spelling variations then are found in English, and that these will mark the time and place of a speaker.

    My advice is to first find out the PLACE/Time and then approach a real German scholar for guidance beyound that.


    His email is mjloidolt@yahoo.com if you should want to talk with him directly

  6. kateelliott

    And the answer:

    There is linguistically no difference between 18th century and modern German. Just as you or I could pick up an essay by Swift or Pope, or Wordsworth, and read them with no problem, so too for the German writers. Of course, there would be topical references that we would miss or not understand, and the occasional odd word usage that we would have to look (OED to the rescue) but other than that, no problem. Oh, for the formal and informal address they might do like the French and use the second person plural for the formal instead of the current third person plural.

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