Take the 2-minute tour ×
German Language Stack Exchange is a question and answer site for speakers of German wanting to discuss the finer points of the language and translation. It's 100% free, no registration required.

To my knowledge, German is the only language which capitalize the first letter of each of its nouns. Why is there such a rule?


Meines Wissens ist Deutsch die einzige Sprache, in der der erste Buchstabe eines Nomens groß geschrieben wird. Woher kommt diese Regel?

share|improve this question
1  
Be aware that this doesn't only affect nouns, but also pronouns, names and sometimes even adjectives, adverbs, prepositions and... well, more or less any word... but just in very vew, special cases. –  Florian Peschka May 25 '11 at 8:41
    
@ApoY2k: Yeah for example the capitalization of Sie or the pronoun Ihr when one is being polite to someone else. But I was interested in the rules about the nouns. –  Eldros May 25 '11 at 8:43
    
I cant see a link to edit your post. "Zu meine Wissens" is not correct German. You may want to consider alternatives like "Meines Wissens ist Deutsch ..." or "Soweit ich weiss ist Deutsch...". Also, some corrections to the rest of the sentence: "Soweit ich weiss, ist Deutsch die einzige Sprache, in der der erste Buchstabe des Nomens gross geschrieben sein muss." I'm a bit shaky with the "Neue Deutsche Rechtschreibung", since I left the country before it took hold, so some of the ss may need to be ß, but the rest of the corrections stand. –  teylyn May 25 '11 at 8:51
    
english used to capitalise nouns too.... –  user894 Sep 21 '11 at 4:47
    
It was the practice in English for a while too, in the 16th, 17th, and early 18th centuries. –  Ornello Apr 2 at 14:52

4 Answers 4

up vote 26 down vote accepted

Capitalization of nouns was introduced in Late Middleages (14th century). The first letter(s) of single words (especially religious terms like "GOtt", but not just nouns) were set in majuscules in order to emphasize these words.

Today's capitalization of all nouns was officially introduced in 17th century German. The literary critic und translator Walter Benjamin:

“Das Barock hat in die deutsche Rechtschreibung die Majuskel eingebürgert.”

Though even centuries later capitalization has not been endorsed by everybody. Jacob Grimm commented in 1854:

“den gleichverwerflichen misbrauch groszer buchstaben für das substantivum, der unserer pedantischen unart gipfel heißsen kann, habe ich […] abgeschüttelt.”

See also:

share|improve this answer
5  
I found this article, maybe it can be interesting/useful (it's in German): Die auch für das Deutsche neue Großschreibung war ein Produkt demonstrativer Gottesfurcht –  Alenanno May 25 '11 at 8:36
4  
Nice tidbit about Jacob Grimm. –  Eldros May 25 '11 at 8:44
3  
@Tomalak "Das Deutsche ist im lateinischen Alphabet zusammen mit dem Luxemburgischen die einzige Sprache, welche eine generelle Substantiv-Großschreibung kennt," de.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gro%C3%9Fschreibung –  splattne May 25 '11 at 10:21
2  
@Tomalak Nachtrag: und LOLCAT: speaklolcat.com ;) –  splattne May 25 '11 at 10:27
2  
Am I the only one that has real difficulties reading that last quote? o.O Good that we do capitalize those words… –  poke May 27 '11 at 11:16

Kürzlich habe ich auf Belles Lettres in einem Video-Tutorial* gehört, dass es damit zu tun hat, dass im Deutschen die Wortreihenfolge viel freier ist als in vielen anderen Sprachen. Dadurch hilft die Großschreibung von Substantiven der Orientierung beim Lesen.

Welches genau kann ich leider nicht sagen, sonst würde ich es verlinken.

share|improve this answer

Capitalisation of some (not all!) words makes sentences easier to read quickly, for much the same reason that ascenders (as e.g. in t, l, h, k) and descenders (as e.g. in g, p, q, y) do the same. Capitalising all nouns leads to a nice percentage of capitalised words and therefore aids reading.

I am not claiming that this is the reason we are doing this, but it's certainly a disincentive to changing it.

There was a time when capitalisation was pretty much random in most European languages. Then systematic rules developed out of the chaos. Capitalising all nouns would be more tricky or less consistent in English than it is in German, where adjectives or nouns preceding a noun are typically spelled together with the noun in a single word that can then be capitalised.

share|improve this answer

You are correct in observing that German is probably the only language to still capitalise common nouns. (Note the emphasis)

First of all, this is because capitalisation can only happen in scripts such as Cyrillic, Greek or Latin which distinguish between capital and lower-case letters. Why they do that can probably be traced back to Charlemagne who let lowercase letters be invented — but that's a story on its own (and for a different Stack Exchange). Point being that the vast majority of languages out there use an entirely different script and thus cannot capitalise anything.

Sometime during the Middle Ages to Renaissance, capitalisation of some nouns, later more, became popular across many European languages. At some point in time, most of them would capitalise at least some common nouns.

In the following centuries, it became fashionable to drop capitalisation again. I think Danish was the final language to drop common noun capitalisation in 1948.

But of course, the discussion of English capitalisation rules (English, Queen Elizabeth, Wednesday, cf French anglais, la reine Elizabeth, mercredi and German englisch, Königin Elisabeth, Mittwoch) also warrants discussion.

share|improve this answer
    
" Charlemagne who let lowercase letters be invented" - en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Carolingian_minuscule –  Mawg Apr 17 at 8:43

Your Answer

 
discard

By posting your answer, you agree to the privacy policy and terms of service.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.