This press release is available in German.
Jena (FSU) People whose Thuringian dialect is clearly detectable don't need to hide any more behind speakers of a flawless High German. If they are looked down upon because of their regional accent in the future, they can just respond that words like 'Lurch' (amphibian), 'Molch' (newt) or 'Olm' (olm) derive from the Thuringian vernacular.
Dr. Sabine Ziegler, research assistant at the Jena branch of the Saxonian Academy of Sciences in Leipzig, reveals: the Natural Scientist Lorenz Oken simply used terms from the local dialect for naming amphibians and semi-aquatic amphibians during his time in Jena. The importance of the Thuringian vernacular is often underestimated. This might change soon. From December onwards a project at the chair of Indo-European Studies at Jena University will look into it: The Thuringian Etymological Dictionary ("Das Thüringer Etymologische Wörterbuch") is supported and funded with 240.000 Euro by the German Research Foundation (DFG) – initially for three years.
"The Thuringian Middle-German dialect is of particular importance, as the state is situated in the heart of Germany and therefore between Northern German and Southern German vernaculars," Dr. Ziegler explains. And moreover: "There are parts of Upper German as well as Low German regional dialects traceable. Together with the so-called 'Kanzleisächsich' (administrative Saxon), the Thuringian dialect is considered as the founder of the written High German." Sabine Ziegler and her colleagues Dr. Sergio Neri and Laura Sturm find the dialect words from the semantic field 'house and farm' most promising – regarding the Etymology as well as the history of the objects and the words as well as the semantic development.
The word field 'house and farm' with its rural roots is of such importance, because ancient words survived in it – it is similar to biotopes. "That is because dialects are more frequently spoken in rural areas. Therefore many words still surviving in rural regions would have become extinct elsewhere or would have been substituted by other, new words," the Jena Indo-European expert says. It was "unbelievable, how many medieval and even older words have survived in the dialects."
If you are wondering, why such living linguistic fossils from the Hinterland of Thuringia should be of any interest at all, think again: From the Thuringian word "Nuffen" you get straight away to the left-hand traffic on the British Isles. In the North of West Thuringia the word "Nuffen" denominates the left horse in a team of horses – describing the saddle horse that used to be the left one in most parts of Europe. "Researching the meaning of this word you end up with Napoleon and his laws of the right-hand traffic on the public roads," Dr. Ziegler says. "And as Napoleon never conquered England, the left-hand traffic still prevails there," she adds.
The researchers are planning to publish their findings much more extensively than in a simple etymological dictionary. It is supposed to contain more examples, many idiomatic phrases and give a lot of room to the history of words. It is planned to have six or seven pages with explanations per word. Hence it is targeted not only at academic expert colleagues, but at a wide range of interested readers.
Dr. Sabine Ziegler
Research Assistant of Indo-European Studies at the Friedrich Schiller University Jena Zwätzengasse 12
Phone: +0049 / (0)3641 / 944087
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