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Lieber Gott, mach mich fromm ...: Zum Wort und Konzept “fromm” im Wandel der Zeit
Umeå University, Faculty of Arts, Modern Languages.
2004 (German)Doctoral thesis, monograph (Other academic)
Abstract [en]

Based on current research in historical and cognitive linguistics this thesis examines the German semantic field <fromm> (<pious>), partly contrasting it with its Swedish correspondent <from>. Starting at the time of Old High German the analysis follows the historical development of word and concept, exploring how attitudes to the Christian religion are verbalised in different ages. One important assumption is that ideas and attitudes are accessible to us through the lexicalised items of a language.

The thesis is part of the interlingual research project “Ethical concepts and mental cultures”, which, by applying a pluralistic method, examines various ethical fields, and assumes as central the oppositions a/o (action directed to others vs. to oneself), right/wrong (virtues vs. vices) and too much/too little vs. the ideal mean.

This study shows that true piety, in order to be classified as a virtue, has to include both trust and critical thinking in equal proportions and that if either of the two outweighs the other the virtue will become a vice. Furthermore, it is shown that a shift in meaning has taken place from ‘profitable’ or ‘advantageous’ in Old High German, through ‘excellent’, ‘righteous’, ‘virtuous’ into ‘religious’, with Luther’s usage as the critical factor in giving the word its religious meaning. As a result of Secularisation and Individualisation negative connotations have developed in modern German usage which do not seem to exist to the same extent in modern Swedish. This is confirmed by two corpus studies, evaluating the usage of fromm/from in German and Swedish newspaper texts, according to which fromm tends to be transferred to profane contexts, meaning for example ‘hypocritical’, ‘uncritically credulous’ and ‘uncritically obedient’ more frequently than its Swedish equivalent.

Based on results from socio-psychological research the study also identifies some strategies that speakers employ in order to mark distance or adherence to a group of believers or non-believers, for example metaphors (i.a. GOOD IS UP ÷ BAD IS DOWN) or stereotypes, which are often used to ridicule, criticise or insult a member of another group in order to strengthen the speaker’s own social identity.

Place, publisher, year, edition, pages
Umeå: Moderna språk , 2004. , 197 p.
Skrifter från moderna språk, ISSN 1650-304X ; 14
Keyword [en]
German language, semantic analysis, historical semantics, semantic change, ethical concept, cognitive semantics, metaphorical concept, stereotypes, expressivity, contrastive corpus analysis, pluralistic method, semantic field, frequency
Keyword [sv]
National Category
Specific Languages
Research subject
URN: urn:nbn:se:umu:diva-286ISBN: 91-7305-656-1OAI: diva2:142956
Public defence
Available from: 2004-05-26 Created: 2004-05-26Bibliographically approved

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