Johann Christoph Adelung

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Johann Christoph Adelung, painting by Anton Graff from 1803

Johann Christoph Adelung (born August 8, 1732 in Spantekow ; † September 10, 1806 in Dresden ) was a German librarian , lexicographer and Germanist .


Birthplace in Spantekow

Johann Christoph Adelung was born in Spantekow near Anklam in 1732 as the son of pastor Johann Paul Adelung († 1759). His mother Regina Sophie, née Loeper († 1782) was the daughter of the pastor in nearby Daberkow . His siblings included Wilhelm Friedrich Adelung (* 1741; † 1810), who was a legal advisor in Stettin and was a collector of Pomeranian history, and Christiane Sophie Adelung (* around 1730), who later became the wife of Johann Friedrich Sprengel (* 1726; † 1808/1810) and mother of the Halle doctor and botanist Kurt Sprengel (* 1766; † 1833).

After attending the city school in Anklam and the (old and new language) grammar school in Klosterbergen , he studied Protestant theology at the University of Halle from 1752 , a. a. as a pupil of Siegmund Jakob Baumgarten . Adelung was a co-founder of the local Masonic Lodge Philadelphia to the three golden arms in 1756 , of which he became first secretary; consequently, he must have been accepted into Freemasonry earlier .

In 1758 Adelung became professor (teacher) at the Evangelical Ratsgymnasium in Erfurt . In 1762 he was appointed to the Saxe-Gotha Council, but did not take up a position in Gotha. From 1765 he lived in Leipzig , where he worked as a translator, proofreader and editor. From 1769 he edited the Leipzig newspapers here, and also worked on the Jenaer Allgemeine Literatur-Zeitung and the General German Library .

In Leipzig, Adelung published his grammatical-critical dictionary of High German dialect from 1774 . With this he became known in the learned world. He became a member of the German Society in Mannheim in 1784 , the German Society in Leipzig in 1785 , a foreign member of the Royal Prussian Academy of Sciences in 1787 and a member of the German Society in Königsberg in 1793 .

In his history of human folly , published in seven volumes from 1785–1789 , he made fun of superstition and obscurantism in an enlightening way . He presented astrology, for example, using the example of the Renaissance scholar Lucas Gauricus : some of his prognoses had come about “by accident”, which “after the event was magnified by dear simplicity” and contributed to his fame.

In 1787 Adelung was appointed senior librarian of the Electoral Library in Dresden, but often left the representation to the second librarian Karl Wilhelm Daßdorf . The daily opening of the library and the successful continuation of the work of Johann Michael Francke (1717–1775) in the new domicile, the Japanese Palace , are attributed to nobility.

In 1793, Adelung also took over the duties of a librarian in the private library of Elector Friedrich August III.

Adelung died on September 10, 1806 in Dresden and was buried in the Inner Neustädter Friedhof . His handwritten estate came to the Dresden public library in 1828, and his map collection followed later.

Adelung is best known for his German dictionary, but has also worked in numerous other areas and published translations, his own literary texts, historical, scientific, educational and journalistic works.

Dictionary of High German Dialect

Adelung's most important work is his grammatical-critical dictionary of the High German dialect (1774–1786, 2nd edition 1793–1801), which for him is the Meißner chancellery language in the narrower sense , which is preferred. The subtitle is also essential: with a constant comparison of the other dialects, especially the Upper German , whereby his work offers the most extensive synchronous inventory of the German language to date . The comparative synonyms added to the lemmas are often commented on in a relatively detailed manner, and he also goes into the different meanings in the language areas. There are quite a lot of orthography-related reference articles and many technical or special language lemmas (20–30% in the first edition). He often shares his views on orthography, some lemmas on groups of letters seem to have been included primarily for this reason. Over time, Adelung became more skeptical of the spelling reforms, and finally, in the preface to the second edition, he fought his own earlier attitude and sometimes wrote words differently (for example, -iren instead of -ieren in verbs). There are pronunciation marks , even more in the second edition for foreign words that have not yet been naturalized ( engineer 'Inschenör'). Scattered throughout the work is a highly streamlined vocabulary on 18th-century German. He goes into this in more detail, especially with the lemmas on particles and prefixes. With regard to etymology, today's principles are alien to him; he knew nothing of the Germanic and High German phonetic shifts , knew no New High German diphthonging and no monophthonging ; Regular sound changes, ablaut and the now reconstructed Indo-European word formation suffixes are also unknown to him. However, correct etymologies can sometimes be found. A complete etymological commentary - if available - consists of three parts: First, there are information about "similar" word forms from other language stages, then an overview of the etymology of his predecessors, which he knows well, and finally his own etymology. They seem to document Herder's treatise on the origin of language (1772) in single words.

Adelung's dictionary had a major influence on German lexicography, but the exact extent is relatively little known. With regard to the exact subject of the dictionary (What is Standard German? What did Adelung actually work on lexicographically?), There is a “pluralistic lack of orientation” in research. At least the Upper German can be added to the dictionary subject despite negative comments. The same applies to the question of whether his work was normative or descriptive (or both). Especially because of the extensive comparisons, the dictionary had a normative influence on the development of the German language. According to Kühn and Püschel, “it can still be doubted that he sets the language standard, because in the 50s of the 18th century. there was already a much-read, poetic national literature that largely followed a uniform language standard ”.

In addition, the adelung s spelling goes back to the author , which was used in parts of the German-speaking world from the middle of the 19th century, and from the Second Orthographic Conference in 1901 to the spelling reform of 1996 in the entire German-speaking area with the exception of Switzerland for the » ß « was binding, but has since been replaced by the Heysean s spelling .

Fonts (selection)

A detailed bibliography of Adelung's writings is given by Strohbach, 1984, pp. 8–35.

German studies
  • Grammatical-critical dictionary of the high German dialect. 1st edition Leipzig 1774–1786, 5 volumes; 2nd edition Leipzig 1793–1801, 4 volumes, supplement volume 1818;
  • German language teaching for schools. Berlin 1781.
  • Cumbersome teaching building for the German language. Leipzig 1782, 2 volumes (digitized edition under: urn : nbn: de: s2w-568 ).
  • Magazine for the German language. Leipzig 1782–1784, 2 volumes.
  • Small dictionary for pronunciation, orthography, inflection and derivation. Leipzig 1788, 2nd edition 1790.
  • About the German style. Berlin 1785–86, 3 volumes; 4th edition 1800, 2 volumes.
  • The oldest history of the Germans, their language and literature up to the Great Migration. Leipzig 1806.
  • Complete instructions on German orthography. Leipzig 1788, 5th edition 1835.
  • Monuments of Frederick the Great, now reigning King in Prussia. Gotha 1757–1763, 14 volumes.
  • History of shipping and attempts to discover the Northeastern Way to Japan and China by different nations. Designed to describe the earth and natural history of these areas. Hall 1768.
  • Glossarium manuale ad scriptores mediae et infimae latinitatis. Halle 1772–84, 6 volumes, an excerpt from the glossary ad scriptores mediae et infimae latinitatis with many own additions.
  • Attempt a history of the culture of the human race. Leipzig 1782, full text .
  • Continuation and additions to Christian Gottlieb Jöcher's general scholarly lexicon, in which writers of all classes are described according to their most distinguished living conditions and writings. Continuation by Heinrich Wilhelm Rotermund :
    • First volume: A – B. Johann Friedrich Gleditsch, Leipzig 1784;
    • Second volume C – I. Johann Friedrich Gleditsch, Leipzig 1787.
    • Volume 5, Bremen: with Johann Georg Heyse, 1816; Digitized via Google books
  • History of human folly, or biographies of famous black artists, gold makers, etc. a. 7 parts, Leipzig 1785-89.
  • Directorium diplomaticum. Meißen 1802, Saxon History.
  • Mithridates, or general language studies. Berlin 1806, Volume 1, continued and completed by Johann Severin Vater.


  • Andreas Erb: Adelung, Johann Christoph (1732–1806). In: Dirk Alvermann , Nils Jörn (Hrsg.): Biographisches Lexikon für Pommern. Volume 2 (= publications of the Historical Commission for Pomerania. Series V, Volume 48.2). Böhlau Verlag, Cologne Weimar Vienna 2015, ISBN 978-3-412-22541-4 , pp. 11-14.
  • Peter Kühn, Ulrike Püschel: The German lexicography from the 17th century to the Brothers Grimm exclusively. In: Franz Josef Hausmann, Oskar Reichmann, Herbert Ernst Wiegand , Ladislav Zgusta (eds.): Dictionaries: An international handbook on lexicography. (Volume 3; 1989-1991) Volume 2 (1990). de Gruyter, Berlin / New York 1990 (Handbooks on Linguistics and Communication Studies; 5.2), pp. 2049–2077.
  • Werner Bahner (Ed.): Language and cultural development in the field of view of the German Late Enlightenment. The contribution of Johann Christoph Adelung (= treatises of the Saxon Academy of Sciences. Philological-historical class. Vol. 70, No. 4). Akademie-Verlag, Berlin (GDR) 1984.
  • Margit Strohbach: Johann Christoph Adelung. A contribution to his Germanic work with a bibliography of his complete works (= Studia Linguistica Germanica. 21): Walter de Gruyter, Berlin / New York 1984.
  • Helmut Henne: Introduction and bibliography on Johann Christoph Adelung, Grammatical-Critical Dictionary of High German Dialect (1793–1801) . In: Helmut Henne (ed.): German dictionaries of the 17th and 18th centuries. Introduction and bibliography. Georg Olms, Hildesheim / New York 1975, 109–142. (Reprint of the introduction in the reprint of the grammatical-critical dictionary; Olms, Hildesheim / New York 1970, I – XXXII.).
  • Otto Basler:  Adelung, Johann Christoph. In: New German Biography (NDB). Volume 1, Duncker & Humblot, Berlin 1953, ISBN 3-428-00182-6 , pp. 63-65 ( digitized version ).
  • Kurt Gassen: Johann Christoph Adelung. In: Pomeranian Life Pictures . III. Saunier, Stettin 1939, pp. 114–128.
  • Karl-Ernst Sickel: Johann Christoph Adelung. His personality and his view of history. (Diss., Univ. Leipzig 1933.) Gerhardt, Leipzig 1933.
  • Scherer:  Adelung, Johann Christoph . In: Allgemeine Deutsche Biographie (ADB). Volume 1, Duncker & Humblot, Leipzig 1875, pp. 80-84.
  • Oskar Ludwig Bernhard Wolff : Johann Christoph Adelung. In: Encyclopedia of German National Literature or biographical-critical lexicon of German poets and prose writers since the earliest times; along with samples from their works. Volume 1, Leipzig 1835, pp. 19-22 ( digitized in the Google book search).
  • Johann Gottlieb August Klänke: Adelung, (Johann Christoph). In: Most recent learned Dresden…. Leipzig 1796, pp. 1-4 ( digitized version ).

Web links

Commons : Johann Christoph Adelung  - Album with pictures, videos and audio files
Wikisource: Johann Christoph Adelung  - Sources and full texts

Individual evidence

  1. Hanns-Peter Neumann: Journey into the realm of unreason: Enlightened amusement with Johann Christoph Adelung. In: Günter Frank, Anja Hallacker, Sebastian Lalla (eds.): Narrative reason. Akademie Verlag, Berlin 2006, p. 63 ( PDF ( memento from December 20, 2015 in the Internet Archive ); limited preview in the Google book search).
  2. ^ Members of the previous academies. Johann Christoph Adelung. Berlin-Brandenburg Academy of Sciences and Humanities , accessed on February 12, 2015 .
  3. Kocku von Stuckrad : History of Astrology . CH Beck, Munich 2003, p. 275 f.
  4. ^ Sheets for literary entertainment. No. 153, June 2, 1833, p. 629
  5. ^ Friedrich Adolf Ebert : History and description of the royal public library in Dresden. Leipzig 1822, p. 224, note 148 and p. 102
  6. The information is taken from Lit. Strohbach 1984, 3–7. For her part, Strohbach refers to Sickel 1933.
  7. ^ Karl Bader: Lexicon of German Librarians . Harrassowitz, Leipzig 1925, p. 1 .
  8. a b Werner Besch: Sprachgeschichte: a handbook on the history of the German language and its research. 2nd revised edition, Walter de Gruyter, 1998, ISBN 3-11-011257-4 , pp. 662–667 ( limited preview in the Google book search).
  9. Strohbach, 1984, pp. 213-219.
  10. Lit. Kühn, Püschel; 1990, p. 2055.