In lieu of an abstract, here is a brief excerpt of the content:

  • Huffing and Puffing
  • Cay Dollerup (bio)
Grimm Language: Grammar, Gender and Genuineness in the Fairy Tales. Orrin W. Robinson. John Benjamins. 190 pages; cloth, $149.00.

This book approaches the Brothers Grimm's Children's and Household Tales from a linguistic angle. It focuses on the tales as texts that are evidence of the ancient Germanic origin of the tales and on linguistic aspects dealing with grammar and gender-related issues. The author is confident that his study will contribute "quite a bit."

The first Grimm fairy tales came out in 1812, and all the Grimm Tales were published no less that seven times during the brothers' lifetime. Over the years, there were numerous editorial changes, and Orrin W. Robinson therefore rightly singles out one tale ("The Six Swans") for a longitudinal study in which he discusses the ways in which the tales were edited. This study is carried out by comparing the first edition from 1812 with the last one that Wilhelm Grimm saw to the press in 1857.

Robinson is in line with previous scholarship in concluding that this tale—as well as most others—became longer partly because details were added and partly in order to make plots and connections unambiguous. Some constructions were replaced by others that were easier to parse. Usage of individual words became more consistent within stories. Indirect speech was replaced with direct speech, and words of Romance origin were substituted by words of Germanic origin (e.g., "Königstochter" supplanted "Prinzessin").

Despite the brothers' claim in the preface of the 1812 volume that they had preserved the authenticity of the tales, only twenty-one are rendered in dialects, most of them from Westphalia. Surprisingly, there is none from Hesse where the brothers lived. Robinson discusses the dialect features and points out some inconsistencies. He unearths instances of inserted dialectal names and verse and notes that the rhyming words are sometimes problematic. The verse that Hansel and Gretel utter at the pancake house leads to a discussion of the South German dialectal derivation of the names in a story allegedly stemming from Hesse. It is concluded that dialect features were often blended into standard language to make it sound archaic.

Robinson delves into grammar and argues that the possessive dative construction found in German dialects was edited out. The "von" genitive was avoided in favour of genitive possessives.

Next the author presents Jacob Grimm's historical survey of forms of address. Not surprisingly he concludes that a "du"/"ihr" distinction places the majority of the tales in a pre-seventeenth-century system.

Referring to all seven versions of "The Six Swans," Robinson traces a replacement of the present subjunctive by the preterite subjunctive and offers the explanation that this is to avoid sounding "bookish" and "learned."

The following chapter addresses the use of nouns for girls and boys. Girls rarely have ordinary proper names, but their names tend to be descriptive ("Snow White") or functional ("The Goosemaid").

They are most often referred to as "Mädchen" (girl, but neuter), and a "king's daughter," etc. "Hans" is the proper name for boys who are otherwise given occupational names ("The Little Tailor"). The adjectives commonly associated with girls have to do with good looks ("beautiful") or virtues that connect with housework thus tending to assess moral traits whereas boys' size, sociability, and acuity ("clever") are stressed.

"Jungfrau" ("virgin") and "Jüngling" ("young man") are mostly characterised by beauty. Many "daughters" are seen in relation to older or younger siblings; "daughters" attract more attributes than other "girl-words," but some of them are negative ("lazy").

Although there are exceptions, "white" frequently stands for purity and perfection, while "black" often connects with negative features. Although "red" is not used with a girl-noun, it is argued that—referring to "blood"—it connects with lively heroines and sexed girls, who should, however, not seek marriage actively if they wish to remain on the path of virtue.

In chapter 9, Robinson turns to gendered mentality. Girls tend to be "pious" although the antonym "gottlos" ("godless") is found only with witches—not girls. Girls should be clean—and must also keep surroundings clean. "Proud" turns out...


Additional Information

Print ISSN
p. 24
Launched on MUSE
Open Access
Back To Top

This website uses cookies to ensure you get the best experience on our website. Without cookies your experience may not be seamless.