Nähesprache & Distanzsprache

Incorporating German theory in Anglo-American historical linguistic research: the Nähesprache / Distanzsprache-model.

At the excellent first HiSON Summerschool for Historical Lingustics (Lesbos 16-24 August 2007), Stephan Elspaß alerted me to an interesting model for orality and ‘writtenness’ by Peter Koch & Wulf Oesterreicher. In their article "Sprache der Nähe—Sprache der Distanz" (1985, Romanisistisches Jahrbuch vol. 36, pp. 15-43) they characterise Nähesprache (or ‘language of proximity’) as conceptually oral and Distanzsprache (or ‘language of distance’) as conceptually literate.

In their article they also provide a neat graphic representation of the formal and communicative characteristics of Nähesprache and Distanzsprache, as well as their relationship to written and spoken discourse. This is a simplified version of their representation (PDF should open in new window).


This can be interesting for those of us who have to concern themselves with the questions of ‘written’ versus ‘spoken’ language in our research. An obvious example is the use of private letters as data. The model can be used to reconstruct the historische Nähesprache of the writer by analysing the formal and communicative features of the letter, thereby coming to a better description of the worth or reliability of the data.

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