“Konrad Alexander Friedrich Duden (3 January 1829 – 1 August 1911) was a Gymnasium (high school) teacher who became a philologist. He founded the well-known German language dictionary bearing his name Duden.” (Source Wikipedia)
I was surprised to see how short the English Wikipedia article about Konrad Duden was. I wanted to know what made him make a dictionary, and it didn’t say.
Luckily, the German Wikipedia page says a lot more. You can even listen to it instead of reading the text, although the reading is an AI voice.
I found his reason to start a dictionary very interesting. As a teacher he realised how much some of his students struggled with German spelling because they were brought up with either Franconian, Thuringian or Saxon dialects.
So he started a standard dictionary. His first dictionary, the “Complete Orthographic Dictionary of the German Language” (Vollständiges Orthographisches Wörterbuch der deutschen Sprache), was published in 1880 and contained 27.000 keywords. In 1902 it became the standard dictionary for Germany. Over the years the phrase “Schlag im Duden nach!” (Look it up in the Duden!) became as common as ‘Google it!’ is nowadays.
New editions came and also specialist editions, for example a dictionary just for foreign words which had been included in the German language (Fremdwörterbuch). In 2020 the 28th edition was published with 148.000 keywords, including 3000 new words since the 27th edition!
Of course, Duden is also online and offers a wealth of information.
- Read about the history of the Duden
- Find out about the many books they sell: shop.duden.de
- And, most importantly, use the online dictionary: Wörterbuch
No, it won’t give you the translation of a German word, but it does tell you whether a noun is masculine, feminine or neuter, how to pronounce it, how it’s used in the four cases and different scenarios or if there are any synonyms.
For those who like to learn random new words there is a ‘Wort des Tages’ (word of the day) on the Duden homepage and Twitter. If you live in Germany, you can even hear the word via Alexa. (Sadly, nowhere else yet)
I’ll leave you with a little video (in German) about ‘how does a word get into the Duden?’
I wonder what Konrad Duden would make of all those new words?