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Martin Luther’s contribution to the development of the German literary lang...

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Martin Luther’s contribution to the development of the German literary language

Lecture by Prof. Dr. Hans-Joachim Solms

The lecture will be held in German.

Today, it can be considered an established fact that the German language would not exist in its current form without the powerfully eloquent influence of Martin Luther. However, his impact on the common speech was not, for him, an end in itself. Rather, Luther regarded his turning towards the vernacular as a logical consequence of his new theology, for which the language of the common people was indispensable. It therefore comes as no surprise that, wherever Luther’s concepts of Reformation were taken up, a new vernacular translation of the Bible was also established (among others by William Tyndale in English, Mikael Agricola in Finnish, Olaus Petri and Laurentius Andrae in Swedish, Christian II of Denmark in Danish and Primož Trubar in Slovenian). Yet this linguistic accessibility alone does not explain the immediate and enormous effect of the Reformation in Germany. Its success was substantially down to the eloquence of the Reformer, which he demonstrated most powerfully in his translation of the Bible. So it was that Luther’s Bible translation substantially paved the way for a unified German language. The path to that end would not be linear, but crooked and fractured in many and varied ways. It is no coincidence that so also was the path to the implementation of the Reformation and ultimately even to the development of a German nation in the 19th century.

Martin Luthers Beitrag bei der Herausbildung der deutschen Schriftsprache

Es darf heute als gesichert gelten, dass es die deutsche Sprache in ihrer heutigen Form ohne das sprachmächtige Wirken Martin Luthers so nicht gäbe. Dabei war ihm sein volkssprachliches Wirken jedoch nicht Selbstzweck. Vielmehr sah Luther in seiner Hinwendung zur Volkssprache die nur folgerichtige Konsequenz seiner neuen Theologie, die unabdingbar der Volkssprachlichkeit bedurfte. So überrascht es nicht, dass überall dort, wo von Luther ausgehend der reformatorische Gedanke aufgenommen wurde, dann auch unmittelbar eine volkssprachliche Bibelübersetzung neu initiiert wurde (u.a. bei William Tyndale fürs Englische, bei Mikael Agricola fürs Finnische, bei Olaus Petri und Laurentius Andreae fürs Schwedische, bei Christian II von Dänemark fürs Dänische, bei Primož Trubar fürs Slowenische). Doch die Volkssprachlichkeit allein erklärt nicht die unmittelbare und enorme Wirksamkeit der Reformation in Deutschland. Ihr Erfolg dankte sich wesentlich der Sprachkraft des Reformators, die er am wirkungsmächtigsten in seiner Bibelübersetzung unter Beweis stellte. So war es die Luthersche Bibelübersetzung, die den Weg zu einer deutschen Einheitssprache wesentlich geebnet hat. Der Weg dahin war nicht gradlinig, sondern vielfältig gebrochen. Nicht zufällig war es auch der Weg der Durchsetzung der Reformation und letztlich sogar auch der Herausbildung einer deutschen Nation im 19. Jahrhundert.


PROF. DR. HANS-JOACHIM SOLMS is Professor of History of the German Language and Older German Literature at the Martin-Luther-Universität Halle-Wittenberg and, since 2007, director of the affiliated German Language and Culture institute in Lutherstadt Wittenberg. Since 2010, he has also been an associate Professor of the University of Luxembourg. Among other distinctions, he holds an honorary doctorate from the State Linguistic University of Yerevan (Armenia) and is a member of various bodies such as the Council for German Orthography. Since 2016, he has been researching the influence of Luther's language on Eastern European languages in a project for the German Federal Commissioner for Culture and Media.


All the events marking the Lutherjahr by the Goethe-Institut are in collaboration and partnership with the German consulate general, the German Speaking Congregation, the Church of Scotland, the University of Glasgow and the University of Edinburgh.

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