Gero Schliess reports on what the title accurately calls a “mammoth task”:
Precisely 70 years ago, the German Academy of Sciences in Berlin initiated the huge project of the Goethe dictionary – a lexicon precisely listing, describing and explaining every single word used by Goethe in his poems, dramas, letters, official writings and scientific essays.
In his speech on the occasion of the 70th anniversary of the initiative, project manager Michael Niedermeier of the Berlin-Brandenburg Academy of Sciences and Humanities (BBAW) said that back then, the time was ripe for this project.
Following the Nazi era, people were yearning for the imperturbable values epitomized by Goethe and his era. At the time, nobody could have imagined that the project would go on over several generations, including the reunification of Germany.
Goethe commanded the biggest ever documented individual lexicon of 93,000 words. The researchers have collected everything, ranging from verbs and nouns to prepositions and articles. Martin Luther, by comparison, “only” commanded 23,000 words.
It took more than 20 years just to list and evaluate these 93,000 words. But now, an end is in sight. In terms of lexical evaluation, the present team consisting of 17 academics has reached the letters S and T. It is hoped that the project will be completed in 2025. Originally, the researchers had the year 2040 in mind. However, the patience and the budget of the BBAW and of the academies in Heidelberg and Göttingen cooperating with it turned out to be limited after all.
Michael Niedermeier says the dictionary, whose website is here, is a “central instrument of exploring Classicism, and it will take decades and centuries until its full effect will be realized.” Hyperbolic, perhaps, but surely one is permitted a bit of proud hyperbole when discussing a project like this. Thanks, Trevor!