Friedrich Maurer (linguist)

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to: navigation, search
Friedrich Maurer
Born (1898-01-05)January 5, 1898
Died November 7, 1984(1984-11-07) (aged 86)
Academic background
Influences Otto Behaghel
Academic work
Main interests Germanistics
Notable works Nordgermanen und Alemannen, Deutsche Wortgeschichte
Maurer's classification of German dialects

Friedrich Maurer (5 January 1898 – 7 November 1984) was a German linguist and medievalist.


Maurer studied classical philology and comparative linguistics at the University of Frankfurt, starting 1916. The same year, he was drafted and in 1917 he was gravely injured while fighting at the Western Front of World War I,[1] causing him to spend the following period recovering in a military hospital at Heidelberg. After the war had ended, Maurer commenced full-time studies of Germanistics at Heidelberg University (1918) and Giessen (1919), where he also took courses in classical philology and Indo-European studies. Both at Heidelberg and at Giessen, Maurer was a member of the local chapters of the Wingolf.

Maurer obtained a doctorate under the supervision of Otto Behaghel in 1922, who was to have a lasting influence on Maurer's work. He then obtained a habilitation in German philology in 1925, becoming professor extraordinarius in 1929, still at Giessen, and subsequently professor ordinarius at Erlangen (1931).

Having previously been a member of Stahlhelm, Maurer joined the SA after the Nazi Machtergreifung but left the organisation in 1935.[2] He joined the Nazi Party in 1937,[2] as well as the NS Teachers League, the NS-Dozentenbund and the NS-Altherrenbund. In the same year, he became a full professor at Freiburg, where he was to chair the Institute for German Philology until retiring in 1966. From 1938/1939, Maurer worked with the Ahnenerbe.[3]

After World War II, the allied military government of Germany called on Maurer, who then founded scientific institutes at the partially destroyed University of Freiburg and the University of Erlangen. In 1958 and 1959, Maurer chaired the League of German Scholars and co-founded the Institute for the German Language (Institut für Deutsche Sprache, IDS) at Mannheim.

In 1979, Maurer fell gravely ill and had to cease his work.[1] He died in 1984.


Like his thesis supervisor Otto Behaghel, Maurer directed much attention to the study of dialects (dialectology and dialect geography), as well as the comparative linguistics of German. He published numerous works on medieval literature and poetry, which were notable for the connections they contained between literature studies, cultural history, prehistoric archaeology and sociology. With Friedrich Stroh, Maurer published the Deutsche Wortgeschichte ("History of German words") in 1943.

Maurer's 1942 linguistic work Nordgermanen und Alemanen ("Northern Germans and Alemanni") is considered his most important. In this work, Maurer puts forth a theory of the development of the Germanic languages, strongly imbued with nationalist ideology, hypothesizing a strong union of the Germanic peoples in antiquity; the theory is still controversial to this day. He sought to construct a conception of the West Germanic languages as precursors to modern German. Against the common tripartite division of Germanic into North, East and West Germanic languages, he posited a five-fold division into North Germanic (Scandinavia), North Sea Germanic (Saxon, Frisian, etc.), Rhein-Weser Germanic (Cherusci, Chatti, later Franks), Elbe Germanic (Suebi, Marcomanni, Lombards, later Alemanni) and Oder-Weichsel Germanic (Vandals, Burgundians, Goths). This theory was mainly supported by Tacitus and Pliny the Elder, and especially the latter's observation in the Natural History that there are Germanorum genera quinque, i.e. "five kinds of Germans".[4] In the third edition of 1952, Maurer adds archaeological evidence to support his classification, most notably citing Rafael von Uslar's article of the same year, "Archäologische Fundgruppen und germanische Stammesgebiete vornehmlich aus der Zeit um Christi Geburt." Maurer equates the five groups of findings discussed in that article with five linguistic groups, causing a debate which to this date has not reached a final conclusion; no written evidence of the Germanic languages prior to the seventh century AD exists to prove or disprove Maurer's thesis.



  1. ^ a b Otto zu Stolberg-Wernigerode, ed. (1990). "Maurer, Friedrich". Neue Deutsche Biographie. Duncker & Humblot. 
  2. ^ a b Hutton, Christopher (2002). Linguistics and the Third Reich: Mother-tongue Fascism, Race and the Science of Language. Routledge. p. 325. 
  3. ^ Hempel-Küter, Christa (2000). Germanistik zwischen 1925 und 1955: Studien zur Welt der Wissenschaft am Beispiel von Hans Pyritz (in German). Akademie Verlag. p. 297. 
  4. ^ Pliny, Nat. Hist IV, 99.

Further reading[edit]

Friedrich Maurer (1942), Nordgermanen und Alemannen: Studien zur germanischen und frühdeutschen Sprachgeschichte, Stammes- und Volkskunde, Strasbourg: Hünenburg.