Ludwig Tobler

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Ludwig Tobler (1827–1895)

Johann Ludwig Tobler (born June 1, 1827 in Hirzel , † August 19, 1895 in Zurich ) was a Swiss linguist , folklorist and philosopher of language . Together with Friedrich Staub , he founded the Swiss Idioticon .


Tobler, from an old Zurich family, was the son of the theologian and poet Salomon Tobler and the Margaretha-born Diezinger, brother of the Romanist Adolf Tobler and the historian Wilhelm Tobler , son-in-law of the linguist and literary scholar Heinrich Hattemer , father of the pianist Mina Tobler and cousin of Leipzig publisher Salomon Hirzel .

He was born in a small farming village, where his father worked as a pastor, and in 1839 he went to Zurich high school, where he was a student a. a. of the Germanist Ludwig Ettmüller was. From 1845–49 he studied theology at the young University of Zurich and was ordained VDM (verbi Divini minister) in 1849. As a speaker he decided to choose the teaching profession and studied 1849–50 in Berlin , then 1850–51 (in addition to a position as private tutor) in Leipzig philology and philosophy; here he received his doctorate in 1851 with an unpublished work on the philosopher Baruch de Spinoza .

1852–59 Tobler was a teacher at the district school in Aarau and in 1859/60 at the Progymnasium in Biel , where he met his future wife Henriette Hattemer (1838–1917). In 1860 he became a teacher at the grammar school in Bern . In 1864 he qualified as a professor for general linguistics at the University of Bern and in 1866 became associate professor there for general linguistics and German philology. In 1871 Tobler, infected by a French internee from the Franco-Prussian War , fell ill with smallpox , lost one eye and almost all of his voice; a chronic hoarseness subsequently restricted his teaching.

In 1873 the Tobler couple moved to Zurich, where they founded the private girls' school Im Morgenthal in what was then the suburb of Hottingen (which was bought by three Wetli sisters in 1892, passed to a son-in-law of Tobler in 1912 and existed under the name "Athenaeum" until 1980). In the same year, Tobler succeeded in receiving an associate professorship for Old Germanic languages ​​and literature at the University of Zurich, which was converted into a full professorship in 1893. In 1874 Tobler, who was a close friend of Friedrich Staub , became an editor at the Schweizerischer Idiotikon . As early as 1862 he was involved in the founding of the Association for the Swiss German Dictionary , which - newly founded in 1950 - publishes the Swiss Idioticon to this day.

In the obituary written by Jakob Baechtold and Albert Bachmann , Ludwig Tobler is described as a “thoroughly philosophical nature”, whereby “the gravity of existence ... added something shyly introverted, even bitter and brusque, to his serious nature could if one did not know the rare nature of this inaccessible man ». As an academic teacher he was "strict in his requirements" and "had no talent for making himself comfortable with young people"; as a scientist he was "conscientious and thorough" and of "extensive erudition." His "actual field of work and research was the philosophy of language", which "at a time when the physiological side of language life and phonological problems dominated the linguistic discussion, necessarily led to Tobler assuming a somewhat isolated position among linguists" . Conversely, Tobler was “probably the first to introduce New High German grammar as a special subject in university lessons”.


Tobler had a wide range of interests. His research activities included old Germanic languages ​​and older literature, Swiss dialects, philosophy and psychology of language, aphasia, word formation, syntax, theory of meaning, folk poetry and popular belief, while teaching still included old Germanic mythology, old and Middle English, Middle High German metrics, new high German grammar and newer literature added.

These interests were also reflected in the work on the Swiss Idioticon, where Tobler prefers words with a complex meaning structure such as gëben, have / heben, gehījen, chommen, chönnen, words with a strong cultural-historical aspect such as Ettiken, Vich, Volk, Friden, Gott, Gotten, Götti, Chue, Cheib, Chopf, Chatz, Chrǖz as well as particles like un-, ent-, er, ver, ge, ab, ūf, um, an, īn, ūs, vor, für, gan, and , ër, ës dealt with. «Tobler knew how to unravel the most intricate relationships of meaning, to lay bare the connecting threads and to spread all the wealth in front of us in an exemplary, clear arrangement. [His articles are] nothing but works of art in their own right and true adornments of the idiot. " In general, Tobler made a significant contribution to the concept of the work; so he wrote in 1863 in his Inimigable Thoughts on the method of the Swiss dictionary:

«In addition to this care to be devoted to the indication of sound and form, greater weight should be placed on the whole on collecting, specifying and properly developing the meanings of all individual words and their phraseological connections; this will be the most valuable content of the dictionary, for science as well as for the wider public, for the present and the future. But we also include a number of previously neglected syntactic phenomena in congruence, rule, word order, peculiar use of pronouns and prepositions, and finally the predominance of certain instincts in word formation (particularly popular derivative syllables and compounds).

Tobler was also active as a poet; he wrote the texts for the cantatas Helgi and Kara and Schwur im Rütli, which premiered in 1864, by Eduard Munzinger (1831–1899).

Part of his estate is in the manuscript department of the Zurich Central Library , another part in the archive of the Swiss Idiotikon.


  • Collaboration on the Swiss Idioticon, volumes I to III.

Monographs and anthologies

  • About the word composition along with an appendix about the reinforcing compositions. A contribution to philosophical and comparative linguistics. Berlin 1868.
  • (Ed. :) Swiss folk songs. With introduction and comments. 2 volumes, Frauenfeld 1884 and 1886 (reprint Hildesheim / New York 1975).
  • Small writings on folklore and linguistics by Ludwig Tobler. Edited by J. Baechtold and A. Bachmann. Frauenfeld 1897 (with a complete list of Tobler's printed works, pp. 305-320).

A selection of more important essays not included in the “Small Fonts”

  • About the relative use of German "and" with a comparison of related language phenomena. In: Journal for Comparative Linguistic Research 7 (1858), pp. 353–379.
  • The anomalies of multi-stemmed comparation and tempo formation. In: Journal for Comparative Linguistic Research 14 (1865), pp. 241-138.
  • About the meaning of the German verbs. In: Journal for Comparative Linguistic Research 9 (1860), pp. 108–275.
  • About the gerund. In: Journal for Comparative Linguistic Research 16 (1867), pp. 241–266.
  • About the so-called Verba intensiva in German. In: Germania 16 (1871), pp. 1-37.
  • About the omission and substitution of the pronoun relativum. In: Germania 1 (1872), pp. 257-294.
  • About the apparent confusion between nominative and accusative. In: Journal for German Philology 4 (1873), pp. 375–400.
  • The aspirates and tenues in Swiss dialect. In: Journal for Comparative Linguistic Research 22 (1874), pp. 112-133.
  • Conjunction with multiple meanings. A contribution to the theory of sentence structure. In: Contributions to the history of German language and literature 5 (1878), pp. 358–388.


Web links

Wikisource: Ludwig Tobler  - Sources and full texts

Individual evidence

  1. ^ [Introduction], in: Small writings on folklore and linguistics by Ludwig Tobler. Edited by J. Baechtold and A. Bachmann. Huber, Frauenfeld 1897, pp. VII – XVI, here pp. X – XII and XV.
  2. ^ [Introduction], in: Small writings on folklore and linguistics by Ludwig Tobler. Edited by J. Baechtold and A. Bachmann. Huber, Frauenfeld 1897, pp. VII – XVI, here p. XIV.
  3. Manuscript in the archive of the Swiss Idiotikon; published in excerpts in Walter Haas : The dictionary of the Swiss German language. Attempt through a national institution. Edited by the editors of the Swiss German dictionary. Huber, Frauenfeld 1981, p. 37 f.