New College of the Humanities

The Forming of German Identity

In the course of time nations are forged together, and sometimes they fall apart again, but a society's identity is first formed at a deeper level than that of political obedience. A dominant common language seems to be an early condition of a people's character. Only through language can a people come to rule and express themselves in ways less changeable than administrations.

'Through language a society enters history', wrote Jacob Grimm (d. 1863), collector of German folk-tales and pioneer of German lexicography. Writing before his own people had fully set up a nation-state, he invites us to discover German identity in a remoter past, unjustly neglected today, when Germans were growing rich in the arts of communication despite their fragmented and makeshift government.

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