Object 2: Collection of the German Dictionary Duden

May 27, 2021


This object is a photo of the multiple versions of the most used dictionary, Duden, for German language. I used the dictionary when I was learning German to correct my grammar. The Duden dictionaries show all German words that are used, their correct spellings and meanings. The Duden stores all knowledge about the currently accepted and official language. The object contributes to the exhibition as this knowledge about language shows a particular historical pattern: words are added (e.g., 3000 words were added between 2017 and 2020 (Heine 2017)) and others are removed.

An example of a word removal was the Nazi word “Volksverräter” (meaning “traitor of the nation”), which was introduced in 1941. It was a term used under the ruling of Hitler and was used for sentencing people to death if they were critical of the national socialism. After the war it was instantly removed from the 14th edition of the GDR Duden in 1951, while it remained in the Duden of the FRG until 1967. The new word formed and abolished reflects events (Heine 2017).

Furthermore, new words such as “Covid-19” and the English phrase “Social distancing” (Heine 2017) were introduced into the Duden during the coronavirus, reflecting the serious threat to the society, the challenges and methods used to prevent further spread of the virus during the pandemic.

Overall, words are removed and added to the Duden dictionary over time reflecting social and political changes that in turn affect language. Knowledge about the German language is reflected in the Duden, but not all knowledge from the past will stay. This contrasts natural science, where knowledge builds on historical results as indicated with the x-ray diffraction picture. It seems that the knowledge, as reflected in the Duden, on language does not accumulate over time.

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