Letters, sounds and shapes: Reflections on the sounds of german in early modern linguistic awareness


Nicola McLelland
Department of German
University of Nottingham
Nottingham NG7 2RD
Email: nicola.mclelland@nottingham.ac.uk


This article presents an overview of the early modern German (and to some extent Dutch) understanding of the sounds of language: the phonetic and phonological facts as they were understood in the later sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. It is noted that scholars were sometimes more aware of what strike us as fine, non-distinctive phonetic details than they were of what today are assumed to be obvious key distinctions (e.g. voicing). The article then goes on to argue that the discourse around speech sounds and their symbols is no less interesting for the ways in which meanings were often attributed to sounds and their symbols, meanings which were then incorporated into wider discourses: pedagogical, metaphysical or cultural-patriotic.