Variation Across Newspapers in Early Modern German

Degrees of Syntactic Complexity


  • Ulrike Demske Universität Potsdam



Variation, syntactic complexity, adverbial clauses, register, newspapers, Early Modern German, standardization


The administrative language used in imperial and city chanceries illustrates formal language use in the Early Modern period, as most evident in its syntactic complexity. Since administrative language was considered prestigious by the literate people of the time, the syntactic features in question are increasingly found in other text types as well (Lötscher 1995, Schwitalla 2002). The present paper investigates early newspapers published in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries to evalute their degree of syntactic complexity and hence the extent of formal language used. Contrary to common belief (Admoni 1980, von Polenz 2013), it will be shown that early newspapers do not allow a uniform assessment in terms of their syntactic complexity, when they emerge as a new genre in the seventeenth century: some news segments display a fairly simple syntax, whereas others are of high syntactic complexity. By the end of the eighteenth century, the growing conventionalization of the new genre as well as the impact of standardization processes render newspapers much more balanced in terms of syntactic complexity. Unlike previous work on the syntactic complexity of newspaper language, the measurement of syntactic complexity takes into account not only sentence length and the relationship between independent and dependent clauses, but also the placement of adverbial clauses in relation to their associated clause.



2022-11-22 — Updated on 2022-11-22




Special Issue: Morphosyntactic Variation in Early Modern West Germanic