Capital letters in German

Geranio55

New Member
Spanish - Colombia
In the German language all nouns have to begin with a capital letter. What is the reason for this? Has it a function? When did it start and why?
Regards, Geranio
 
  • Toadie

    Senior Member
    English
    You just do it because that's how it is... I don't think there's really much concrete evidence of any kind of reason, but it does have some benefits.

    For example:
    Wenn hinter Fliegen fliegen Fliegen, fliegen Fliegen nach Fliegen.
    (When flies fly behind flies, flies fly after flies.)
    Yeah, kind of a pointless sentence, but there's no question as to what is a verb and what isn't.
     

    Sidjanga

    Senior Member
    German;southern tendencies
    As far as I know, it started many centuries ago with words like Gott and Mensch and titles (more or less similar to the words you capitalise in nowadays English) and from there was finally generalised to all nouns.

    Nevertheless, the Gebrüder Grimm for example (in the 19th century) wrote still everything in lower case, even at the beginning of a sentence.
    Basically it's a question of taste, attitudes and conventions, and since the Danes (in the 1940ies or 50ies ?) abolished their capitalisation of nouns, nowadays German is the only language with this particularity (or that is at least what I read in Wikipedia some weeks back).

    But as Toadie says, there are definitely some advantages to this convention.
    A French friend of mine once told me that it is a lot easier for her to read German texts (than e.g. English ones), because, as she put it, this way the sentences are "optically structured".
     

    Whodunit

    Senior Member
    Deutschland ~ Deutsch/Sächsisch
    That's an interesting question, but I'm afraid there's no satisfying answer. This is what Wikipedia tells us:

    Die Großschreibung im Deutschen entstand im Barock. Von Deutschland hat sie sich ins Dänische ausgebreitet und durch die Union mit Norwegen (1521–1814) auch dort Fuß gefasst.
    Bereits Jacob Grimm äußerte sich 1854: „den gleichverwerflichen misbrauch groszer buchstaben für das substantivum, der unserer pedantischen unart gipfel heißsen kann, habe ich [...] abgeschüttelt.” Read on ...

    If you want us to translate it, please tell us. :)
     

    Hutschi

    Senior Member
    It is easier to read German texts, but it takes somewhat more effort to write them.
    This is true. But if you want that the others understand you properly it is worth the effort. The orthography rules usually support comprehensibility.

    There was a long development.
    At first (after some other steps) the Roman (Latin) Alphabet existed.
    They wrote (at least partly) without spaces between the words.
    Depending on the writing methods, new letter forms were developed (for example Uncials).
    Letters at the beginning of a document or a chapter were illuminated.
    Partly they used letters from other alphabets to do this.

    Later the "Karolingische Minuskeln" were developed. If you look at them, you have the lower case letters in principle. They were used for daily writing.

    The Latin letters were used for illuminating.

    So you had all elements for uppercase and lowercase writing.

    Basically it is a mixture of two different alphabets, an older one for the uppercase and a younger one for the lowercase letters.

    What was Illuminated first: the most importand:
    Start of New Chapter, God, and some others.
    Later the names and nouns followed.

    This was done in many languages.

    Why nouns: It seemed to be, that these were the "essential" things. If you read the nouns, you will understand the most of the sentence.

    And you can avoid parts of the homonyms.

    All this makes it much easier to read, and also easier to write (after the learning phase), because you do not need to declare in extra phrases what you meant.

    (I also wanted to write that it is easier to read but more complicate to write. But after some thinking about it, I recognized that it is also easier to write.)

    Compare:
    "Wie geht es Ihnen?" vs. "Wie geht es ihnen?"
     
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    Kuestenwache

    Senior Member
    German-Germany
    Apart from that every language in Europe has rules for capital writing and I think the German rules are pretty easy to lern compared to some others. E.g. in English, I understand why to write names with a capital, but why geographical names and languages? The adjective "German" is written with a capital letter but the noun "teacher" is not. This leads to the following:
    "German teacher" can mean "deutscher Lehrer" (for any subject) or "Deutschlehrer" (with any nationality). You see how the German grammar can improve the intelligibility of a text.
     

    Whodunit

    Senior Member
    Deutschland ~ Deutsch/Sächsisch
    Apart from that every language in Europe has rules for capital writing and I think the German rules are pretty easy to lern compared to some others. E.g. in English, I understand why to write names with a capital, but why geographical names and languages? The adjective "German" is written with a capital letter but the noun "teacher" is not. This leads to the following:
    "German teacher" can mean "deutscher Lehrer" (for any subject) or "Deutschlehrer" (with any nationality). You see how the German grammar can improve the intelligibility of a text.
    I like your example. But sometimes, our orthography regarding capitalization is not consistent either: "Schweizer/Hamburger/Brandenburger Behörden", but "schweizerische/hamburgische/brandenburgische Landschaft". The rule is easy: -isch is spelled with a minuscule, while -er requires a majuscule, if it comes to nationalities or place names.

    Nevertheless, this is quite confusing, particularly because "ein deutscher Lehrer" is spelled in lower case. :D
     

    Kuestenwache

    Senior Member
    German-Germany
    I think thats because Brandenburger is some sort of Genitive and "deutscher (Lehrer)" is the declinated adjective "deutsch".
     

    trance0

    Senior Member
    Slovene
    All this makes it much easier to read, and also easier to write (after the learning phase), because you do not need to declare in extra phrases what you meant.

    (I also wanted to write that it is easier to read but more complicate to write. But after some thinking about it, I recognized that it is also easier to write.)

    Compare:
    "Wie geht es Ihnen?" vs. "Wie geht es ihnen?"
    Interesting point, I believe you are right. Your last two sentences prove this.
     

    Savra

    Senior Member
    Deutsch
    Es gab schon einige Studien zu diesem Thema mit dem Ergebnis, daß die Großschreibung das Lesen vereinfacht und dem Leser weniger Fehler unterlaufen. Lesen ist einer der komplexesten Abläufe in unserem Gehirn, und Großschreibung verhindert beispielsweise ansonsten nötige Regressionen, also den Rückgriff auf zuvor gelesenes, um es in den neuen Kontext einordnen zu können.

    Interessanterweise strukturiert die Großschreibung die Gedanken, da nur die Wörter großgeschrieben werden, die ein Objekt, ein Lebewesen, eine Situation, ein Verhalten, eine Eigenschaft oder Begriffe benennen, also Dinge, die man entweder anfassen kann, mit denen etwas geschieht oder um die es in dem Satz geht.

    Leider treibt die Rechtschreibreform die Großschreibung teilweise ad absurdum und verleiht vergleichsweise unwichtigen Wörtern und Nebensächlichkeiten die Markierung, die sie nicht verdient haben (um ein Beträchtliches gewachsen, des Weiteren). So macht die Großschreibung das Lesen nicht einfacher, sondern erschwert es – aber die Lesbarkeit zu erschweren, war ja auserwähltes Ziel der Reform, auch wenn man es anders nannte: damit der Schreiber einfacher schreiben kann. Dieses Ziel wurde zwar auch nicht erreicht, aber das ist wieder ein anderes Thema.
     
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    Hutschi

    Senior Member
    Haha, that's exactly why I still write "Sie" in capital letters without writing "du" in upper case. "Sie" can be confused with "sie", but "du" doesn't have anything to be confused with. :)
    In case of "du" it is allowed again to use an uppercase (in "Anreden"= in letters and so on.)

    It is an easy way to say that I appreciate the other, if I use uppercase beginning.

    The lowercase "du" in such cases was never accepted fully after the reform of 1996 when it was prescripted and the new rule was revised 2004/2006.

    Now you can use both versions. I highly prefer uppercase.

    In letters I wrote wrong "Du" during this period from 1996 until 2004/2006. It made a difference.

    Otherwise I had had to write:

    Bitte beachte, dass ich eigentlich "Du" schreiben will, um auszudrücken, dass ich Dich schätze, aber wegen der Reform "du" schreibe. Bitte betrachte es nicht als Missachtung. (Very complicate, indeed.) I want to show respect in a familiar environment - at least in my generation.

    The revisions were made to repair the most confusing changes.
     
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    mustang72

    Senior Member
    Swiss German
    Nowadays and especially in forums people tend to write without capitalization. Ever time I see a post like that it is very difficult to read. For almost every sentence I need to go back and read it again.

    I have the same problem in English and it's actually even worse because verbs and nouns very often are written the same.
     

    trance0

    Senior Member
    Slovene
    Mustang72, I too have the same problems reading posts that have all nouns in a lower case. This is probably because I am used to reading German texts written with nouns capitalized. I have less problems in other languages(Slovene, Serbo-Croatian, English), because there my brain is used to reading them with only some of the nouns capitalized from the very early stages of my life on. I do have to say that this German way is easier for reading, especially for longer texts, because it enables me to be a bit more lazy while reading. ;)
     

    Whodunit

    Senior Member
    Deutschland ~ Deutsch/Sächsisch
    Actually, I don't have any problems in reading German written in lower-case letters. Since I don't read every single letter, I don't care about the looks of a word. It doesn't hinder me from reading fluently to see "Fluß" (or fluß) and "Du", because the meaning is the same.

    Sometimes, of course, there might arise an ambiguity between a capitalized or lower-case word: Weg/weg, Hab und Gut /hab' und gut, sein Können/sein können, ..., but that's not a big deal. :)
     

    Hutschi

    Senior Member
    I have problems when all is in lowercase, because I do not read each single letter but the word-appearances, the word pictures.

    Of course I can correct the writings in my mind, but this costs time, and if there are additional mistakes, it reduces the stability against errors.

    Information is more than meaning. It is also beauty. If beauty is missing, it reduces the information.
     
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