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Studying German Language and Literature in Germany

Students of German Studies deal with German language and literature.
An article by Gabriele Meister

Studying German Language and Literature in Germany
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German Language and Literature

That is what it’s about

From the Hildebrandslied from the 9th century to best-sellers, from advertising texts to literary filming - the spectrum of German is wide and includes the sub-disciplines of linguistics, older German literature and modern German literature. The latter are summarized under “Literary Studies”. For example, how storytelling works, what features lyrical language has or what a play is about are approached. Linguistics focuses on systematic aspects of language such as word formation and syntax, but also examines language as a communication medium. In German literature, digital research methods are playing an increasingly important role, for example, when analysing enormous amounts of text for specific linguistic patterns. Nevertheless: In the vast majority of professions of Germanists, such methods are not that important. They work among others in publishers, communication departments and cultural institutions.

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This is how the course runs

In the first semesters introductory lectures teach the basics of the three main disciplines. In older German literature, students examine spiritual and secular literature from the Middle Ages. Modern German literature begins in the late 16th century and extends to today's literary blogs. The students deal with the themes and writing strategies of different authors in their respective historical contexts or compare texts with film adaptations. In many universities this subject includes elements of comparative literature. Linguistics deals with grammatical forms and their functions, with dialects and sociolects, and with the use of metaphors like "refugee tsunami" or "asylum tourism" in public discourses. During the bachelor, one chooses one of the three main disciplines as a focus, in some universities this is occurs right from the beginning.

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Typical questions raised within the subject

  • Do we read and write differently in a digital world?
  • When can literature change the world?
  • Which image of society is characterized by the novels of Thomas Mann?
  • Why do young people develop their own language?
  • Can literature be displayed in a museum?
  • How does migration change literature?
  • How can adjectives be classified?

The subject suits you,...

...if you want to know "how language influences people and how identities evolve, for example, through the narrative of a people or the speech of a politician," says Mark-Georg Dehrmann, professor of German Studies at Humboldt-Universität Berlin and Member of the Executive Board of the Gesellschaft für Hochschulgermanistik. Anyone who has German as their mother tongue and thinks that studying German is therefore easier than studying a foreign language like English or Romance languages is wrong. After all, the theoretical part is even higher because the language-practical courses are excluded. Some students find it difficult to immerse themselves in the world of a novel and, on the other hand, to deal with the textual structure and the literary sources in a distant manner. Also, not all students understand the analytical approach of linguistics right away. Maybe surprising: One should be able to speak English, because also in German studies the research literature is often in English. Some universities require proof of English and another foreign language, some also require Latin.

Is there a numerus clausus?

Anyone who wants to study German studies has a good chance of finding a place, if not necessarily at their desired location. Around a third of universities have a numerus clausus, although often only between grade 2 and 3.

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