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026_Omission of the Auxiliary Verb in German


026_Omission of the Auxiliary Verb in German


This article, written in 1903 in the Proceedings of the American Philological Association, discusses the history of the auxiliary verb in the German language.


Keyes, Charles Reuben




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Charles Reuben Keyes

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Extracted from the Proceedings of the American Philological Association Vol. xxxiv, 1903 21. Omission of the Auxiliary Verb in German by Mr. Charles R. Keyes of the University of Southern California The Old High German and the Middle German never seem to omit the auxiliary verb. It may be expressed only once with two or more perfect or pluperfect tenses in the same construction and understood with the other or others, but even some examples are none too common, and they belong moreover, to Germanic syntex in general. German does not begin to separate itself from the other Germanic languages in the more or less frequent entire suppression of the auxiliary until about the end of the fifteenth century. It is not easy to tell just when the practice of omission begins. The irregular use of the ge as the sign of the past particle, its common occurrence as a prefix of the present and preterit tenses, and the frequent omission of e in the preterit singular of the week verb complicate matters somewhat and make identification of examples doubtful in many cases. Still any considerable practice of omission could of course be readily observed. Several examples apparently beyond suspicion occur in Diebold Schilling's Beschreibung der Burgundischen Kriege, Bern, about 1480. No
undoubted ones have thus far been noticed in the writings of Brant or Murner. The construction is foreign to the spirit of the Volksbuch Till Eulenspiegel, 1515. Two examples occur, but in the one case the auxiliary is replaced in the next edition of 1519, and the others look like a similar oversight or error. Luther is the first writer, apparently, who offers examples in considerable numbers. These are rare or uncommon in his earlier works, and may be said in general to be more numerous in his later ones. The construction, having once come into use, soon became very common so that the German grammarians of the eighth decade of the sixteenth century regarded the omission of the auxiliary verb as a common feature of the language. Das Volksbuch vom Doktor Faust teems with examples, and in the popular book Der Schildburger abenteuerliche Geschichten finiteless predication of this kind already the rule. Coming to the seventeenth century, we find the liberty to omit the finite verb in the perfect tenses of the dependent clause so constantly made use of as to clearly affect style. It might also be said that the auxiliary is omitted to excess. This condition continues to approximately 1775, though Lessing has already begun using much discretion. With Herder, Goethe, and Schiller the tide of finiteless predication begins to recede noticeably, and although examples are still common, yet the rule is to find the auxiliary in place. Since Goethe's time the tide has apparently begun to recede gradually. Heine, Grillparzer, Gurzkow, Hauff, Riehl, and others still omit the auxiliary often, but more recently examples of such omission are more difficult to find, particularly with the more careful writers. Instances are not common in Wilhelm Scherer's Geschichte der deutschen Literatur, and the examples noted in several of the works of Sadermann and Hauptmann could be counted on one's ten fingers. No account is made as yet to account for the origin of the omitted auxiliary construction, the theories that most readily suggest themselves having proven on further investigation untenable. This paper was discussed by Professors Gayley, Matzke and others.