Simanaitis Says

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TODAY WE PICK UP with Part 2, bringing the Brothers Grimm into the tale of Friedrich von Schlegel’s philology (not to say his other activities with Felix Mendelssohn’s auntie). The brothers, especially Jacob, played an important role in introducing the Fricative Shift as part of what’s now called Grimm’s Law of philology. 

So What’s the Fricative Shift Anyway? Wikipedia describes a fricative as “a consonant produced by forcing air through a narrow channel made by placing two articulators close together.”

Think of the “P” sound pronounced puh, “F” as in fuh, and, come to think of it, the Vietnamese Pho pronounced fuh as well. A fricative shift describes the transition between two of them; for instance, the P→F noted in Part 1 yesterday (Greek pous to German Fuss to English foot.) 

Wikipedia notes, “The correspondence between Latin p and Germanic f was first noted by Friedrich von Schlegel in 1806. In 1818, Rasmus Rask extended the correspondences to other Indo-European languages such as Sanskrit and Greek, and to the full range of consonants involved.”

Grimm’s Law. Wikipedia says Jacob Grimm put forth the rule in his book Deutsche Grammatik and extended it to include standard German: “Grimm’s law was the first discovery of a systematic sound change, and it led to the creation of historical phonology as a separate discipline of historical linguistics.”

Image from Lebensdiges Museum Online.

And, as you might guess, Jacob had a brother; his name was Wilhelm. 

The Brothers Grimm. We know these two as storytellers of folk tales, but, wait, there’s more. 

Jacob Ludwig Karl, 1785–1863, (right) and Wilhelm Carl, 1786–1859, (left) Grimm, German academics, philologists, cultural researchers, lexicographers, and authors. (Note, the fashion of liberal Germans to transform from Karls to Carls is an interesting shift of its own.)

Wikipedia notes “They are among the best-known storytellers of folk tales, popularizing stories such as ‘Cinderella‘ (‘Aschenputtel’), ‘The Frog Prince‘ (‘Der Froschkönig’), ‘Hansel and Gretel‘ (‘Hänsel und Gretel’), ‘Little Red Riding Hood‘ (‘Rotkäppchen’), ‘Rapunzel,’ ‘Rumpelstiltskin‘ (‘Rumpelstilzchen’), ‘Sleeping Beauty‘ (‘Dornröschen’), and ‘Snow White‘ (‘Schneewittchen’).”

The Grimms, Wikipedia says, contributed to romantic nationalism, “with their folklore collection built on the conviction that a national identity could be found in popular culture and with the common folk (Volk).”

Wikipedia continues, “In the first collection, though, they included Charles Perrault‘s tales, published in Paris in 1697 and written for the literary salons of an aristocratic French audience. Scholar Lydie Jean says that Perrault created a myth that his tales came from the common people and reflected existing folklore to justify including them—even though many of them were original.”

Abject Poverty…. Evidently both the Grimms and Perrault were caught up in the romantic aspects of nationalism. Also, Wikipedia cites the Grimms’ overcoming “great poverty,” “being painfully aware that students of lower social classes were not treated equally,” and “in deep financial difficulty.” Yet, it also describes “private tutors,” a benevolent grandfather, classical Friedrichgymnasium paid for by an aunt, attendance at the University of Marburg, Jacob being Court Librarian to the King of Westphalia, and the brothers’ dual appointments at the University of Göttingen and later at the University of Berlin.

Geez. Gimme a break. 

The Göttingen Seven. In 1837, the brothers were among five other liberal professors protesting about King Ernest Augustus, the new ruler of the Kingdom of Hanover. (They refused to swear an oath to the king and got canned. Jacob Grimm was one of three given three days to leave the country.)

The Göttingen Seven. Top row: Wilhelm Grimm, Jacob Grimm. Middle Row: Wilhelm Eduard Albrecht, Friedrich Christoph Dahlmann, Georg Gottfried Gervinus. Bottom Row: Wilhelm Eduard Weber, Heinrich Georg August Ewald. Image from Wikipedia. 

Earnest Augustus was a real piece of work: “About one month after he succeeded to the throne,” Wikipedia notes, “King Ernest addressed the matter of the Constitution. He stated that he was not bound by it, as his consent had not been asked to it….”

It’s like saying, “A Massive Fraud of this type and magnitude allows for the termination of all rules, regulations, and articles, even those found in the Constitution.”


Allgäu to El Centro. But I stray from the Fricative Shift, Grimm’s Law, and Wife Dottie’s Kin. Dorothy Mae Kemp’s ancestors were from Kempten, Bavaria. It’s said the Kempffs and Klumpffs dropped f’s as they shifted westward from the Allgäu to Illinois, to Oklahoma, and then to California. Now there’s a fricative shift. ds 

© Dennis Simanaitis,, 2023

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