Are German and Greek languages ​​similar

Oh, that must come from Latin

Lessing's etymological observations on the similarity of the Greek and German languages ​​were edited and made accessible for the first time in an elaborate edition

From Dafni Tokas

Discussed books / references

For centuries it seemed as if the manuscript was lost, in the middle of Berlin in the State Library it only recently appeared again. Mark-Georg Dehrmann and Jutta Weber have Gotthold Ephraim Lessing's notes On the similarity of the Greek and German language, started on December 1, 1759, in an edition published in 2016, now intensely dedicated. In it Lessing sketches etymological relationships between Greek and German words using a few examples, most of which he deduces himself, and supplements this with excerpts and other information. Thankfully, there is a legible transcription for every facsimile, because Lessing did not have a beautiful handwriting. But the work was not intended for the public, but rather provides an insight into the scattered considerations and the nevertheless very precise way of working Lessing. Numerous explanations of sources and Wilhelm Körtes manuscript follow in the appendix; Finally, the authors make valuable, at the same time reader-friendly and elaborate comments on the origin of the manuscript, on Lessing's working method and on how it is embedded in contemporary philological and etymological research. There is also a bibliographic index showing Lessing's sources, significant variants of the copy from around 1840 are shown and Lessing's notes are brought into an excellent connection with the rest of his work and contemporary scholarship.

Anyone who is interested in languages ​​and who has a talent for learning languages ​​will have noticed at some point that they are similar to one another and that some must be based on a greater relationship, others a more distant one. Anyone who speaks several languages ​​- perhaps like Lessing in the 18th century - has often consciously or unconsciously engaged in etymological brooding and has come across interesting phonetic or lexical parallels between different languages. These, however, did not arise in absolute historical simultaneity, but developed in terms of linguistic history one after the other; parts of one language emerge dynamically from parts of another, and dialects, for example, arise in the course of a similar dynamic. This may not be a novelty for some, but it may be for the majority of the German population as a result of the German school system.

With the abolition of Greek lessons in schools and the only voluntary option to attend Latin lessons during school time, the current school system - not only in Germany, but worldwide - is gradually eliminating awareness of the origins and the linguistic-historical subtleties of the language and its language specific phonetics. This makes it all the more important that philologists work to deal with forgotten writings and references to the history of the German language. It is precisely not only scientific technical terms that were artificially borrowed from the Greek language, but above all natural developments in the history of language that have shaped the German language and in which Greek played a decisive role. Not just simple, everyday words such as “I”, “from” and a number of numerals are included. The history of the Greek language can be found in a large number of German expressions, just like their Indo-European predecessors can be found in the history of the Greek language. The fact that the German language, as it is often claimed, is more suitable for poetry than any other, because it is so onomatopoeic, can be refuted by an endless number of etymological examples - such as “tear”, “sound”, “rub “,“ Bite ”,“ yawn ”,“ babble ”,“ stab ”, everything was just stolen.

Etymological considerations and evidence are therefore not boring philological nitpicking, but rather testify to the interdependence of different cultures and histories. If you take a really critical look at modern European languages, such as German, the word “foreign word” becomes superfluous in the broadest sense - every word comes from a different language, a different world or a different cultural context than we know it today. That doesn't mean that you can see the patriotic dogma of the Greek father in the film My Big Fat Greek Wedding must take over and should shout out loud “Everything comes from the Greek!” at every opportunity. However, it actually applies to a lot. But of course Greek also has its origins, as all languages ​​are interwoven here and there, sometimes very obvious, sometimes unfathomable. Lessing's notebook makes such thinking about language palatable again, because many of the similarities that he sees are surprising. While trying to follow him in his phonetic associations, one gets lost in the details of two languages ​​and is almost sad when Lessing no longer provides any further examples.

Lessing's notes are neither to be interpreted as a reference work - they are too sparse for that and the examples too arbitrary - nor as a systematic etymological overview of the history of German language. The editors also highlight errors or peculiarities in Lessing's statements and assumptions and offer the reader essential information about peculiarities of his linguistic reflection, which may seem strange to today's reader and non-philologist. Lessing tries nothing less than to bridge the “gap between cultures that Winckelmann has levered” with his search for similarities. Work and ethos flow into one another, his “word brooding”, as he himself ironically called it, was ultimately a search for truth - which Jutta Weber and Mark-Georg Dehrmann now find their valuable explanation with an appendix that is at least as exciting and philologically well-founded . In addition, one gains an illuminating insight into the work of the philologists and into the possible considerations that have to be made if one wants to understand the etymology of a word in a meaningful way. However, it remains to be feared that the book will only fall into the hands of philologists anyway. That would be a shame at a time when an entire continent is less and less aware of its - not just linguistic - origins.