re- [Danish]

Hartmut Haberland hartmut at RUC.DK
Wed Aug 27 18:12:46 UTC 2003

Stefan Knoob wrote:

> German has "Wiedergänger", although that is quite archaic, I seem to
> remember it from 19th century novels. Don't know about the Danish, but in
> German it does not simply mean "ghost" but that specific kind of ghost
> of a
> lost soul that comes to haunt the living.
> I don't know how old and widespread it is, but it seems to me that the
> whole
> concept is found in discourses about the supernatural across European
> cultures, and was probably in fashion during the Romantic period's
> preoccupation with the spooky.

Well, ODS (Ordbog over det danske sprog), the authoritative Danish
historical dictionary, claims that genganger is Early Modern Danish
(ældre nydansk, 1500-1700), and the first item attested in the
dictionary is from Holberg's Peder Paars (1719-20). Certainly
The Grimms' Wörterbuch (for German) is not quite as clear on this point
here, but all of the examples attested in it (both for Wi(e)dergänger
and the verb wi(e)dergehen) are from C19 or even later. They also seem
to point towards Northern dialects (also wäärgan, wergân: East Frisian
forms of wi(e)dergehen).

> Would be interesting where it actually comes
> from: although a spread from French literature to Danish/German seems
> certainly more likely than the other way round, given the literature
> dissemination patterns throughout the early modern period, it might
> actually
> originate in another European language.

The assumption that spread always goes from bigger to smaller languages
has a certain plausibility, since bilingualism often is more widespread
among speakers of smaller languages, so they read/hear more of big
languages than vice versa.. But it also works the other way round: since
speakers of smaller languages use bigger languages actively
(write/speak) more often than vice versa, they have more of a chance to
influence the bigger languages. (That this second route of spread often
is neglected,  is probably a sort of secondary effect of Chomskyan
nativespeakerism: production by nonnatives is assumed to be faulty and
stigmatized by definition, hence negligeable as a source of language

And of course, it is all not just quantitative, cf. my non-quantitative
definition of  'small language' as 'language rarely or practically never
used as a lingua franca'.

Hartmut Haberland

>> From: Paul J Hopper <ph1u at ANDREW.CMU.EDU>
>> Reply-To: Paul J Hopper <ph1u at ANDREW.CMU.EDU>
>> Subject: Re: re- [Danish]
>> Date: Mon, 25 Aug 2003 11:47:15 -0400
>> I've often wondered if the "ghost" meaning of Danish genganger is a
>> calque
>> on the French revenant. Just curious.
>> Paul
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