Kaisers-lautern or Kaiser-slau[gh]tern?

Cohen, Gerald Leonard gcohen at UMR.EDU
Sun Jun 18 19:31:43 UTC 2006

>From Joel S. Berson, Sun 6/18/2006 2:11 PM:
Is it Kaisers-lautern ["au" as in allow, as I was taught in junior
high], or Kaiser-slautern [as in slaughter] as the ABC announcer at
the World Cup has been vocalizing?  And what does "lautern" mean?


It's Kaisers-lautern, with -au- pronounced as in English "allow."  As for the origin of the name,  under my signoff is a Google-search item that looks plausible.

Gerald Cohen



15 Dec 2004
From: Josh Mittleman 

Greetings from the Academy of Saint Gabriel!

You asked a followup question to our report 2945 on your name and

The one aspect of your very interesting response that I take some
issue with relates to the construction of the surname Rabeslautern...
My wife is a native of Kaiserslautern and she informs me, and this
information has been confirmed by other 'natives', that in the local
dialect 'lautern' means a stream, a creek or a way (in the sense of a
path, possibly a path alongside a stream or creek).  The local story
is that Kaiser Barbarossa used to come to Lautern to fish in the
lautern, hence the renaming as the Kaiser's lautern or
Kaiserslautern.  Therefore the meaning of Kaiserslautern, in
accordance with local folklore and the local dialect, is the Kaiser's
stream.  As the words also mean 'way', I have chosen to substitute
Rabe for Kaiser in a manner which I believe is lingisticly

The place that became <Kaiserslautern> was undoubtedly previously
known simply as <Lautern> (or, more precisely, by an earlier version
of that same word).  As we noted in our report, it was called <villa
Lutra> c. 820-30 and <curtis Luthara> in 985.  The modern name first
appears as <Kaysers Luter> in 1322 [8, 9, 10].  The original placename
was identical to the name of a nearby river, the Lauter, which
originally flowed nearby but was diverted and drained over the years
[14, 15].  The river-name is derived from an adjective meaning
'limpid, pure, clear'; this is not an unusual type of name for a
stream [16, 17].  In other words, it is clear that the origin of the
place name is 'Kaiser's [place called] Lauter', not 'Kaiser's stream'.

A combination of a word for 'raven' with a generic term for a stream,
like <Rabesbach> based on <bach> (OHG <bah> 'brook'), is entirely
plausible; but <Lut(h)ra>, a substantivized adjective 'the limpid
one', is much less likely to be modified; and in fact we were unable
to find an example of an early placename using <-lauter> as the second
element.  The <lauter> adjective itself appears as the modifier in the
common place-name <Lauterbach> 'bright or clear brook', among others.

In order to use a modern dialect <lauter> 'stream' to justify a period
place-name corresponding to a modern <Rabeslautern>, one would have to
show that this dialect usage was medieval or earlier.  Unfortunately,
modern usage is no guarantee, and our information on Old and Middle
High German dialects does not extend to such fine detail.  We can only
note that standard dictionaries of Middle High German don't mention
such a usage and that we've not seen any evidence for it in our
sources of information on German place-names.

I was assisted in preparing this letter by Gunnvor Silfraharr and
Talan Gwynek.  If you have further questions, please don't hesitate to
write again.

   for the Academy
   15 Dec 2004


The American Dialect Society - http://www.americandialect.org

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