Another sights in Germany

Language in 18th C. Frankfurt

The citizen of Frankfurt could feel the heterogeneity of his hometown, the conflict between domesticity and internationalism, in the language he spoke.  Frankfurt German was in the 18th century, and to some extent still is, one of Germany’s many robust dialects with its own unashamed peculiarities of pronunciation and vocabulary, some of which the author Goethe himself, for example,  retained to the last (in writing Faust, he rhymed Tage with Sprache in 1829, and just as in 1774-5 he had rhymed genugwith Besuch). The dialect had the reputation of combining the circumstantial formality appropriate to an old Republic — the correct form of address to the town council included no less than 11 honorific adjectives — with a pictorial, often combative, bluntness (merchants were “pepper sacks” or “barrel squires”) and a liking for proverbial wisdom and often disrespectfully applied quotations from the Bible.  While there was no pressure on an educated citizen of Frankfurt to distance himself from a local form of his native language, as they would have been in similar circumstances in contemporary France or England, each a nation with a single culturally dominant capital city, he was, however, directly exposed to a wide range of other tongues.  In the middle of the 18th century Latin was still in international scholarly medium (Dr. Johnson used it in Paris in preference to French), and a knowledge of French was for everyone else as essential an accomplishment for business, diplomatic, and social purposes as English is today.  Frankfurt’s Huguenot population and its geographical position made France perhaps more than normally important: during the Seven Years’ War it was for four years under French occupation.  Peculiar to Frankfurt, however, were strong connections with the south (the first modern foreign language to which the Goethe family children were introduced was not French but Italian) and its openness to the north (the English language came up the Rhine with English business) and the presence of a large community (about 2,500) of a Yiddish speaking Jews — a congratulatory poem in Yiddish was read out at the wedding of Goethe’s uncle, Johann Jost Textor, in 1756.

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