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GE7: German: A Linguistic Introduction

This paper is available for the academic year 2023-24.

German today is spoken by around ninety million people, and our oldest records of the language go back to the sixth and seventh centuries CE. This paper focuses both on contemporary structures and varieties of German, and on historical change from earliest times to the present.

German shares an inheritance with other closely related languages, including English, Dutch and the Scandinavian languages, but has modified this inheritance in distinctive ways. The historical strand of the paper examines data from earlier periods of German to enable students to build up a picture of how its sounds, grammatical forms and lexicon have changed over time. In the contemporary strand of the paper, linguistic data from spoken and written, standard, non-standard and dialect texts is analysed to yield a formal description of modern German, and to examine how the language is changing today.

The paper has both descriptive and theoretical goals: students will learn how to use formal linguistic terminology to describe the phonology, morphology and syntax of German, and how to use theoretical models to interpret varied and changing features. The exam includes some practical exercises in linguistic analysis as well as essay topics of a more theoretical nature.

For students from other triposes who wish to take this paper, a good reading knowledge of German is required (at least AS-level or equivalent).


For the historical section of the paper, the following texts will be covered:

Set Texts for Translation and Commentary Question in Section B

Old High German

  • Ludwigslied; Notker, Aus Boethius, 1 (Item prologus teutonice); in: Wilhelm Braune, Althochdeutsches Lesebuch, Tübingen: Niemeyer 1994, pp. 61-2 and 136-8.

Middle High German

  • Nibelungenlied, strophes 814-55, in: Howard Jones and Martin H. Jones, The Oxford Guide to Middle High German, Oxford: Oxford University Press 2019, pp. 345–53.

Early New High German

Martin Luther. Ein Sendbrieff / von Dolmetschen / vnd Fürbitte der Heiligen (1530). The extract published in W.A. Coupe, A Sixteenth-Century German Reader (Oxford 1972), pp. 26–31. 

Preparatory reading: 


  • Salmons, Joseph. 2012. A History of German. Oxford: OUP.
  • Schmidt, Wilhelm. 2013 (11th ed.). Geschichte der deutschen Sprache. Stuttgart and Leipzig: Hirzel.
  • von Polenz, Peter. 2009 (10th ed.) Geschichte der deutschen Sprache. Berlin & New York: de Gruyter. 
  • Wells, C.J. 1985. German. A linguistic history to 1945. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
  • Young, Christopher and Thomas Gloning. 2004. A History of the German Language through Texts. London & New York: Routledge. 


  • Barbour, Stephen and Patrick Stevenson. 1990. Variation in German. Cambridge: CUP.
  • Boase-Beier, Jen and Ken Lodge. 2002. The German Language: A Linguistic Introduction. Oxford: Blackwell
  • Fagan, Sarah M.B. 2009. German: A Linguistic Introduction. Cambridge: CUP.
  • Fox, Anthony. 2005 (2nd ed.). The Structure of German. Oxford: Clarendon.
  • König, Werner. 2011 (17th ed.). dtv-Atlas zur deutschen Sprache. Munich: dtv.
  • Meibauer, Jörg et al. 2015 (3rd ed.). Einführung in die germanistische Linguistik. Stuttgart: Metzler
Teaching and learning: 

The historical strand will be taught in the Michaelmas term, the contemporary strand in Lent. The Easter term will be devoted to revision classes.

For the GE7 Moodle site, please see here (Raven password).


The examination will be divided into two sections. Section A is devoted to contemporary German; Section B contains questions on the historical linguistics of German from the earliest times. Each section includes an optional practical exercise: identification of a dialect passage or discussion of a set of words, in Section A; translation of short extracts from set texts, plus commentary on underlined words and phrases, in Section B. Candidates must answer three questions, at least one from each section. A specimen examination paper can be seen here.

This paper is also available for examination by Long Essay.

Course Contacts: 
Dr Sheila Watts
Dr. Abhimanyu Sharma