Middle High German language

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Middle High German

Spoken in

Central and Upper German language area
speaker no more
Language codes
ISO 639 -1


ISO 639 -2

gmh (for Middle High German from 1050 to 1500)

ISO 639-3

gmh (for Middle High German from 1050 to 1500)

The Middle High German language (abbreviation Mhd. ) Is the historical linguistic level of German that was spoken in various varieties between 1050 and 1350 in Upper and Central Germany . This time span roughly corresponds to the High Middle Ages .

However, describes the lexeme medium- any geographically defined language regions - as for example in Central German case - but it chronologically titled the average proficiency level of the Germans who between Old and New High German is to be settled.

In a narrower sense, Middle High German describes the language of court literature at the time of the Hohenstaufen . A standardized spelling was created for this language in the 19th century , the normalized "Middle High German", in which many new editions of the old texts have been written since then. When speaking of features of Middle High German, this language form is usually meant.

Middle High German as the older language level of German

Oldest known gravestone with German inscription, Frauenburg in Styria, around 1280: HIE. LEIT. ULRI CH. DI SES. HO USES. REH TTER. HE BE

Middle High German, as the older language level of German, is available in a large number of regional language varieties .

The Middle High German was preceded by Old High German (Ahd., About 750 to 1050, early Middle Ages ). It differs from this in particular through the weakening of the secondary and final syllables. There was no written continuity from Old High German to Middle High German. Since Latin was written almost exclusively in the 10th and 11th centuries , the writing of German with Middle High German only started again. This explains the quite different spellings, especially in the earlier Middle High German scripts of the 12th century.

For the period from around 1350 to 1650 (around the late Middle Ages to the early modern period ) one speaks of Early New High German (Frnhd., Fnhd.). But this demarcation has to be made differently in the various language regions, because where the New High German language features were not anchored in the dialects, older language forms were retained for a longer period of time. In German-speaking Switzerland , for example, early New High German did not establish itself until the late 15th century.

In addition to the New High German language, the Middle High German also gave rise to the Yiddish language.

Chronological order

All texts in a High German idiom from the period from around 1050 to 1350 are referred to as Middle High German . The beginning of Middle High German is very uniformly established in historical linguistics around the year 1050 , since from this time on some linguistic changes compared to the Old High German varieties are recognizable, especially in the phoneme system, but also in the grammar.

The end of the Middle High German epoch is controversial, since the researchers of the 19th century used this term to describe all texts up to the time of Martin Luther. Such a delimitation can be found roughly in older specialist literature. This classification is mainly due to the Brothers Grimm . Today the term Middle High German is still used for texts that were written up to around 1350 , and then it is called Early New High German.

The following structure of the Middle High German epoch is based mainly on criteria related to literary history, i.e. external to language and content. However, there is also a variation and development in grammar, word meaning and writing style that justify this classification.

  • Early Middle High German (1050–1170)
  • Classical Middle High German (1170-1250)
  • Late Middle High German (1250-1350)

Most of the representations mainly deal with classical Middle High German, which was the language of Hartmann von Aue , Wolfram von Eschenbach , Gottfried von Strasbourg and Walther von der Vogelweide .

Spatial structure

Middle High German was not in itself a uniform written language; rather, there were different forms of writing and writing traditions in the various High German regions. The regional structure of Middle High German often coincides with the recent dialectal regions and pronunciation isoglosses , but these dialect boundaries have also shifted since the Middle Ages. For example, the expansion of Low German , whose written relics are not seen as part of Middle High German literature, went significantly further south than is the case today.

The region in which the Middle High German texts were created can usually be recognized by different sound forms and vocabulary, but also by different grammatical forms, and based on this, German studies divide Middle High German into the following varieties. This structure is based on the work of Hermann Paul (1846–1921) and is still not completely satisfactory today. Above all, it has not been definitively investigated which text is to be assigned to which region, as many texts were written by different authors. (The following table is quoted from Wilhelm Schmidt: Geschichte der deutschen Sprache. 10th edition. 2007, p. 276.):

Upper German

  • Alemannic
    • South or High Alemannic (today Switzerland and South Baden)
    • Lower Alemannic or Upper Rhine (Alsace, south of Baden-Württemberg, Vorarlberg)
    • North Alemannic or Swabian (in Württemberg and in Bavarian Swabia)
  • Bavarian
    • Northern Bavarian (as far as the Nuremberg area, Upper Palatinate, southern Vogtland)
    • Middle Bavarian (Lower and Upper Bavaria, Lower and Upper Austria, Vienna and Salzburg)
    • South Bavarian (Tyrol, Carinthia, Styria)
  • East Franconian (Bavarian Franconia, South Thuringia, South West Saxony, part of Baden-Württemberg)
  • South Rhine-Franconian (northern Baden, parts of northern Württemberg)

Middle German

  • West Central German
    • Middle Franconian (Rhineland from Düsseldorf to Trier, northwestern part of Hesse, northwest of Lorraine including Ripuarian (around Cologne) and Moselle-Franconian (around Trier)).
    • Rheinfränkisch (southern part of the Rhineland, part of Lorraine, Hesse, part of the Bavarian Franconia, part of Württemberg and Baden, Rheinpfalz and northern edge of Alsace)
  • East Central German
    • Thuringian
    • Upper Saxon with North Bohemian *
    • Silesian with Lusatian *
    • High Prussian (southern part of Warmia) *

The last three regional varieties of Middle High German marked with (*) were only formed during this time in areas that were previously Slavic-speaking (see colonial dialects ).

Middle High German as the language of Hohenstaufen court literature

The rule of the Hohenstaufen created the prerequisites for a supraregional poetic and literary language to develop in court literature from around 1150 to 1250 . This language was based on Swabian and East Franconian dialects. With the decline of the Hohenstaufen dynasty, this relatively uniform national language form also disappeared.

This language is usually meant when speaking of features of Middle High German. However, it is not the case that New High German developed from Middle High German in the narrower sense. It is therefore limited to an older level of New High German. Even at that time there were dialects which had typical sound features of New High German. Carinthian documents, in which the New High German diphthong occurs, have been handed down from the 12th century . Conversely, dialects with typical phonetic characteristics of Middle High German in the narrower sense are still spoken today. Many Alemannic dialects have preserved the Middle High German monophthongs and diphthongs.

The question of a high-level language

The Middle High German of the Hohenstaufen courtly poetry was not a standard language in today's sense, because there was no standardization of spelling or vocabulary . But it had supra-regional validity. This can be seen from the fact that it was also used by poets who came from other dialect areas, for example by Heinrich von Veldeke or Albrecht von Halberstadt , that individual poets erased more and more regionalisms from their works in the course of their lives and that due to linguistic Features often very imprecise the origin of the poet, while dialect features would allow a very precise localization of the linguistic origin.


The scope of Middle High German of the Hohenstaufen courtly literature was limited to courtly literature, which had its great heyday during the time of the Hohenstaufen and was addressed to the nobility. Usual language text genres in which supra-regional comprehensibility was less important than the broadest possible intelligibility across all social classes, regional forms of language used (legal texts, non-fiction, chronicles, religious literature, etc.). A broad tradition of such types of text did not begin until the 13th century, as previously such texts were mostly written in Latin.

The works of Hohenstaufen courtly poetry are among the best-known Middle High German, for example the Nibelungenlied , the German Lucidarius , the Parzival Wolframs von Eschenbach , the Tristan Gottfried of Strasbourg , the poems of Walther von der Vogelweide and the genre Minnesang .

The normalized Middle High German

For the text editions of the important Middle High German poems, for dictionaries and grammars , the normalized Middle High German, which essentially goes back to Karl Lachmann , is used today, which basically uses the forms of Staufer courtly literature, but does not reflect the often diverse spellings of the linguistic reality of the time.


The stress of a word is always on the first main tone syllable. Vowels with a circumflex (ˆ) - in other orthography with a macron (¯) - are spoken long, vowels without a circumflex are spoken short. Successive vowels are emphasized separately. The ligatures æ and œ are pronounced like ä (IPA: [ɛː]) and ö ([øː]).

The s is pronounced sharply when s is followed by a consonant , except for sch and sc and late Middle High German with an initial s before l, n, m, p, t, w ; there the s is not spoken sharply. A z in the wording or after a consonant is pronounced like the New High German z as [t͡s]. A z or zz in the middle and at the end of the word is pronounced like ß or [s] (often written as ȥ or ʒ for better differentiation ). The v is pronounced as [f] on the wording.

The letter h is spoken in word and syllable as [h] (example: hase , Hûs , seen ), in final and the compounds lh , rh , hs , ht contrast than [⁠ x ⁠] ( high , approaching , fuhs ); it never serves as a stretch mark .


The following overview shows the vocal system of (Normal) Middle High German:

Short vowels: a, ë, e, i, o, u, ä, ö, ü
Long vowels: â, ê, î, ô, û, æ, œ, iu (long ü )
Diphthongs : ei, ie, ou, öu, uo, üe

It should be noted that ei as [ ɛɪ ] is to speak (not [ ] as in NHG, but how ej or ai . See ay in English day ); ie is not a long [⁠ i ⁠] , but [ ].

The most important differences between Middle High German and New High German concern vocalism:

  • The Middle High German long vowels [ iː yː uː ] correspond to the New High German diphthongs [ aɪ ɔʏ aʊ ] (New High German diphthongs ). Examples: mîn - my , liut - people , hûs - house
  • The Middle High German opening diphthongs [ iə yə uə ] correspond to the New High German long vowels [ iː yː uː ] (New High German monophthonging ). Examples: liep - dear , tired - tired , bruoder - brother
  • The Middle High German diphthongs [ ɛɪ øu ɔʊ ] correspond to the more open New High German diphthongs [ aɪ ɔʏ aʊ ] (New High German diphthong change). Examples: bein - leg , böume - trees , boum - tree
  • Most Middle High German short vowels in open syllables correspond to New High German extended long vowels ( extension in open tone syllable ). Examples time - are , say - say , nemen - take . In New High German, however, this stretching did not usually occur before -t or before -mel and -mer . Examples ridden - ridden , site - custom , himel - heaven , hamer - hammer .


The grammar of Middle High German is hardly different from that of New High German. The main differences are:

  • All Middle High German o-tribes transfer to other classes in New High German.
  • Middle High German had no mixed declension.
  • Middle High German knows archaic du-forms in many times.


Declination of strong nouns
number case 1st Class 2nd Class 3rd grade 4th grade
Masculine neuter Feminine Feminine Masculine neuter Feminine
Singular Nominative accusative tac word give zît guest blat force
dative days words give zite Guests leaf force or krefte
Genitive day word guest blates
Plural Nominative accusative days word give zît gesture bleter created
Genitive words give zite
dative meet words to quote gestures blutter created
Declination of weak nouns
number case Masculine Feminine neuter
Singular Nominative delivery boy tongue hërze
accusative offered tongues
Dative, genitive heart


Conjugation of strong verbs using the example of biegen
number person Present preterite
indicative conjunctive indicative conjunctive
Singular I biuge bend bouc bends
you biugest bend bends bend
he / siu / ez biuget bend bouc bends
Plural we to bend to bend bow to bend
ir bends bends buget bows
she bend t to bend bow to bend
participle bending bent
2nd person singular imperative: biuc!
Conjugation of weak verbs using the example of lëben
number person Present preterite
indicative conjunctive Indicative / subjunctive
Singular I love love lëb (e) te
you lëbest lëbest lëb (e) test
he / siu / ez lëbet love lëb (e) te
Plural we Life Life lëb (e) th
ir lëbet lëbet lëb (e) tet
she love t Life lëb (e) th
participle living yellow (e) t
2nd person singular imperative: lëbe!
Conjugation of the preteritopresentia
New High German Singular Plural infinitive preterite participle
1st / 3rd person 2nd person 1st / 3rd person
knowledge wheat shows wizzen know / know / know / wëste gewist / gewëst
good / use touc - good, bad tohte - killed -
indulge gan ganst gunnen, günnen gunde / gonde - günde favored / favored
can / know can kanst can, can customer / customer - customer -
need may may may, may village - village -
dare tar tarst turren, turren torste - foolish -
should sol / sal should suln, suln solde / solte - solde / solde -
capital mac maht like, like, stomach, like mahte / mohte - mowed / wanted -
allowed to muoz must coin muos (t) e - mües (t) e -
Conjugation of special verbs
Tense mode number person sîn (to be) tuon (to do) waves (want) hân (have)
Present indicative Singular I am tuon will (e) hân
you are do wil (e) / wilt have
he / siu / ez is do will (e) Has
Plural we pear / sîn / sint tuon waves hân
ir birt / bint / sît / sint do wel (le) t Has
she sint does wel (le) nt, waves hânt
conjunctive Singular I tuo wave have
you s is do wellest have
he / siu / ez tuo wave have
Plural we sîn tuon waves to have
ir sît do undulates have
she sîn tuon waves to have
preterite indicative Singular I what was tët (e) wanted / wanted hâte / hate / hæte / hête / hete / het / hiete
you tæte
he / siu / ez tët (e)
Plural we kill
ir kills
she kill
  • The forms of gân / gên “go” and stân / stên “stand” correspond to those of tuon in the present tense . In the past tense, gie (nc) stands for gân / gên .
  • lân "to let" is conjugated in the present tense like hân . In the past tense is lie (z) .
  • tuon has the following forms in the past subjunctive: tæte, tætest etc.

Other features

  • No general capitalization of nouns (in Middle High German only names were capitalized).
  • Final hardening is shown graphically (Middle High German tac - days corresponds to New High German day - days ).
  • Palatalization : Middle High German differentiated between two different s-sounds: on the one hand, the [s], which originated in the second High German sound shift, which goes back to Germanic t and was written with z / zz (ȥ / ȥȥ or ʒ / ʒʒ), for example in ezzen, daz Groz , this was equally pronounced as neuhochdeutsches [s] According and also corresponds to a NHG [s], on the other hand on germanisches s returning unvoiced alveolar-palatal fricative [⁠ ɕ ⁠] , for example, in sunne, stone, kiss, Kirse , slîchen , this corresponds to a volume partly NHG [s] or [z], partly a New High German [⁠ ʃ ⁠] .

Text sample

Beginning of the Nibelungenlied * translation

In old mæren miracles there is vil with us
by heroes lobebæren, of great work,
of joys, honeysuckles, of weeping and complaints,
of brave warriors strîten muget ír nu miracle hear say.

Eʒ wuohs in Burgonden a vil noble magedîn, that
in all of them there is no nice mohte sîn,
Kriemhilt means: you were a scœne wîp.
umbe muosen degene vil left the lîp.

In old tales we were told many wondrous things
about glorious heroes, great suffering,
joys, celebrations, weeping and complaints,
you should now hear miracles about the struggle of bold warriors.

A very fine girl grew up in Burgundy, who
could not be more beautiful in all countries, called
Kriemhild: She became a beautiful woman.
Because of this, many fighters lost their lives.

* in standardized Middle High German

See also



Newer dictionaries (partly still in progress):

Older dictionaries and reference works:

  • Matthias Lexer: Middle High German pocket dictionary. (1882, 1958 supplemented by an addendum) S. Hirzel, 37th edition. Stuttgart 1986, ISBN 3-7776-0423-2 .
  • Adolf Socin: Middle High German name book based on Upper Rhine sources of the 12th and 13th centuries. Basel 1903; Reprint Darmstadt 1966.

Some older Middle High German dictionaries are available online:

  • Thomas Bein: German Medieval Studies . 2nd, edited and expanded edition, Erich Schmidt-Verlag GmbH & Co., Berlin 2005, ISBN 3-503-07960-2 .
  • Rolf Bergmann , Peter Pauly, Claudine Moulin : Old and Middle High German. Workbook on the grammar of the older German language levels and on the history of the German language. Edited v. Claudine Moulin. 6th edition. Vandenhoeck and Ruprecht, Göttingen 2004, ISBN 3-525-20836-7 .
  • Gerhard Eis : Historical sound and form theory of Middle High German. Heidelberg 1950 (= linguistic study books. ).
  • Michael Graf: Middle High German study grammar. A pilgrimage. Niemeyer, Tübingen 2003.
  • Thordis Hennings: Introduction to Middle High German. 2nd Edition. de Gruyter, Berlin 2003, ISBN 3-11-017818-4 .
  • Hermann Reichert : Nibelungenlied textbook. Linguistic commentary, Middle High German grammar, dictionary. Matches the text of the St. Gallen version ("B"). Praesens-Verlag, Vienna 2007, ISBN 978-3-7069-0445-2 . Introduction to Middle High German based on the Nibelungenlied.
  • Kurt Otto Seidel, Renate Schophaus: Introduction to Middle High German. Wiesbaden 1979 (= study books on linguistics and literary studies , 8).
  • Hilkert Weddige: Middle High German. An introduction. 6th edition. Beck, Munich 2004, ISBN 3-406-45744-4 .
  • Wilhelm Schmidt : History of the German Language - A Textbook for German Studies , 10th Edition, Hirzel, Stuttgart 2007, ISBN 3-7776-1432-7 .
  • Herbert Bögl: Outline of the Middle High German metric - With an exercise part. 1st edition. Olms, Hildesheim 2006, ISBN 3-487-13142-0 .

Web links

Wiktionary: Middle High German  - explanations of meanings, word origins, synonyms, translations
Wiktionary: Middle High German  - explanations of meanings, word origins, synonyms, translations
Wikibooks: Middle High German  - learning and teaching materials
Wikisource: Middle High German  - Sources and full texts

Dictionaries and linguistic projects


Individual evidence

  1. a b SIL International : Documentation for ISO 639 identifier: gmh
  2. ^ Library of Congress : Codes for the Representation of Names of Languages
  3. ^ Hilkert Weddige: Middle High German . An introduction. 3., newly revised. Edition. CH Beck, Munich 1999, ISBN 3-406-45744-4 , p. 7 .
  4. Frédéric Hartweg, Klaus-Peter Wegera: Early New High German. An introduction to the German language of the late Middle Ages and early modern times. Niemeyer, Tübingen 1989 (= Germanistic workbooks. Volume 33); 2nd edition ibid 2005, ISBN 3-484-25133-6 .
  5. ^ Stefan Sonderegger : German. In: Historical Lexicon of Switzerland . (Section 2.3: Early New High German and Older New High German in Switzerland )
  6. ^ Joseph Wright: A Middle High German Prime with Grammar, Notes, and Glossary. Third edition. Re-written and enlarged. Oxford, 1917, p. "B": " Middle High German (MHG.) Embraces the High German language from about the year 1100 to 1500. "
  7. M. O'C. Walshe: A Concise German Etymological Dictionary , 1951, p. Vii: “ From 1050 onwards the language found is referred to as Middle High German (MHG). This may be said to extend till about 1500, but after 1350 or so it is usually qualified as Late MGH. "
  8. König, Werner: dtv atlas for the German language. Deutscher Taschenbuch-Verlag, Munich 1978, p. 77 ff.
  9. König, Werner: dtv atlas for the German language. Deutscher Taschenbuch-Verlag, Munich 1978, p. 78.
  10. Martin Schubert (Ed.): Middle High German: Contributions to tradition, language and literature. Walter de Gruyter, 2011, p 456. Quote: "But beware of anlautendem s before l, n, m, p, t, w: It is in these compounds as in NHG as sibilant sch pronounce, including SCHP and deleted , but by no means 'Low German' or 'Old Hamburg'. "
  11. ^ De Boor and Wisniewski: Middle High German Grammar. Walter de Gruyter, p. 32. Quotation: “A similar tendency of the s to pass over into the sch sound, which, however, only began in late mhd. comes to full effect, is shown in the sound connections st, sp (initial), sl, sm, sn, sw . In the classic Mhd. is it still always sl üȥȥel, sn ël, st one against NHG. Schl üssel, schn ell, S (ch) t one . "
  12. ^ Hilkert Weddige: Middle High German. An introduction . 7th, revised edition. CH Beck, Munich 2007, ISBN 978-3-406-45744-9 , p. 13 .
  13. quoted from: Helmut de Boor (Ed.): Das Nibelungenlied - bilingual . 5th edition. Reprint / licensed edition, Parkland Verlag, Cologne 2003, ISBN 3-88059-985-8 , p. 26.