Friedrich Nietzsche, The Gay Science.  Die fröhliche Wissenschaft.

First published in 1882.

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The Tone of the German Language.

We know whence the German originated which for several centuries has been the universal literary language of Germany.  The Germans, with their reverence for everything that came from the court, intentionally took the chancery style as their pattern in all that they had to write, especially in their letters, records, wills, &c.  To write in the chancery style, that was to write in court and government style, that was regarded as something select, compared with the language of the city in which a person lived.  People gradually drew this inference, and spoke also as they wrote, they thus became still more select in the forms of their words, in the choice of their terms and modes of expression, and finally also in their tones : they affected a court tone when they spoke, and the affectation at last became natural.  Perhaps nothing quite similar has ever happened elsewhere : the predominance of the literary style over the talk, and the formality and affectation of an entire people becoming the basis of a common and no longer dialectical language.  I believe that the sound of the German language in the Middle Ages, and especially after the Middle Ages, was extremely rustic and vulgar ; it has ennobled itself somewhat during the last centuries, principally because it was found necessary to imitate so many French, Italian, and Spanish sounds, and particularly on the part of the German (and Austrian) nobility, who could not at all content themselves with their mother tongue.  But notwithstanding this practice, German must have sounded intolerably vulgar to Montaigne, and even to Racine : even at present, in the mouths of travellers among the Italian populace, it still sounds very coarse, sylvan, and hoarse, as if it had originated in smoky rooms and outlandish districts.  Now I notice that at present a similar striving after selectness of tone is spreading among the former admirers of the chancery style, and that the Germans are beginning to accommodate themselves to a peculiar " witchery of sound," which might in the long run become an actual danger to the German language, for one may seek in vain for more execrable sounds in Europe.  Something mocking, cold, indifferent and careless in the voice : that is what at present sounds " noble " to the Germans and I hear the approval of this nobleness in the voices of young officials, teachers, women, and trades people; indeed, even the little girls already imitate this German of the officers.  For the officer, and in fact the Prussian officer is the inventor of these tones : this same officer, who as soldier and professional man possesses that admirable tact for modesty which the Germans as a whole might well imitate (German professors and musicians included!)  But as soon as he speaks and moves he is the most immodest and inelegant figure in old Europe no doubt unconsciously to himself!  And unconsciously also to the good Germans, who gaze at him as the man of the foremost and most select society, and willingly let him " give them his tone."  And indeed he gives it to them!  in the first place it is the sergeant majors and non commissioned officers that imitate his tone and coarsen it.  One should note the roars of command, with which the German cities are absolutely surrounded at present, when there is ^drilling at all the gates: what presump tion, furious imperiousness, and mocking coldness speaks in this uproar!  Could the Germans actually be a musical people?  It is certain that the Germans martialise themselves at present in the tone of their language : it is probable that, being exercised to speak martially, they will finally write martially also.  For habituation to definite tones extends deeply into the character : people soon have the words and modes of expression, and finally also the thoughts which just suit these tones!  Perhaps they already write in the officers style; perhaps I only read too little of what is at present written in Germany to know this.  But one thing I know all the surer : the German public declarations which also reach places abroad, are not inspired by German music, but just by that new tone of tasteless arrogance.  Almost in every speech of the foremost German statesman, and even when he makes himself heard through his imperial mouth piece, there is an accent which the ear of a foreigner repudiates with aversion : but the Germans endure it, they endure themselves.  
 

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