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Middle High German (abbreviated MHG, German: Mittelhochdeutsch, abbr. Mhd.) is the term for the form of German spoken in the High Middle Ages. It is conventionally dated between 1050 and 1350, developing from Old High German and into Early New High German. High German is defined as those varieties of German which were affected by the Second Sound Shift; the Middle Low German and Middle Dutch languages spoken to the North and North West, which did not participate in this sound change, are not part of MHG.

While there is no standard MHG, the prestige of the Hohenstaufen court gave rise in the late 12th century to a supra-regional literary language (mittelhochdeutsche Dichtersprache) based on Swabian, an Alemannic dialect. This historical interpretation is complicated by the tendency of modern editions of MHG texts to use normalised spellings based on this variety (usually called "Classical MHG"), which make the written language appear more consistent than is actually the case in the manuscripts. Scholars are uncertain as to whether the literary language reflected a supra-regional spoken language of the courts.

An important development in this period was the Ostsiedlung, the eastward expansion of German settlement beyond the Elbe-Saale line which marked the limit of Old High German. This process started in the 11th century, and all the East Central German dialects are a result of this expansion.

"Judeo-German", the precursor of the Yiddish language, sees attestation in the 12th–13th centuries, as a variety of Middle High German written in Hebrew characters.

Periodisation

German territorial expansion in the Middle High German period (adapted from Walter Kuhn)
  Germanic peoples before AD 700
  Ostsiedlung, 8th–11th centuries
  Expansion in the 12th century
  Expansion in the 13th century
  Expansion in the 14th century
  Expansion in the 14th century
German territorial expansion before 1400 from F. W. Putzger

The Middle High German period is generally dated from 1050 to 1350.[2]Hohenstaufen court gave rise in the late 12th century to a supra-regional literary language (mittelhochdeutsche Dichtersprache) based on Swabian, an Alemannic dialect. This historical interpretation is complicated by the tendency of modern editions of MHG texts to use normalised spellings based on this variety (usually called "Classical MHG"), which make the written language appear more consistent than is actually the case in the manuscripts. Scholars are uncertain as to whether the literary language reflected a supra-regional spoken language of the courts.

An important development in this period was the Ostsiedlung, the eastward expansion of German settlement beyond the Elbe-Saale line which marked the limit of Old High German. This process started in the 11th century, and all the East Central German dialects are a result of this expansion.

"Judeo-German", the precursor of the Yiddish language, sees attestation in the 12th–13th centuries, as a variety of Middle High German written in Hebrew characters.

The Middle High German period is generally dated from 1050 to 1350.[2][3][4][5] An older view puts the boundary with (Early) New High German around 1500.[5] [6]

There are several phonological criteria which separate MHG from the preceding Old High German period:[7]

Culturally, the two periods are distinguished by the transition from a predominantly clerical written culture, in which the dominant language was Latin, to one centred on the courts of the great nobles, with German gradually expanding its range of use.[3][11] The rise of the Hohenstaufen dynasty in Swabia makes the South West the dominant region in both political and cultural terms.[12]

Demographically, the MHG period is characterised by a massive rise in population,[13] terminated by the demographic catastrophe of the Black Death (1348).[14] Along with the rise in population comes a territorial expansion eastwards (Ostsiedlung), which saw German-speaking settlers colonise land previously under Slavic control.[15][16]

Linguistically, the transition to Early New High German is marked by four vowel changes which together produce the phonemic system of modern German, though not all dialects participated equally in these changes:[17]

  • Diphthongisation of the long high vowels /iː yː uː/ > /aɪ̯ ɔʏ̯ aʊ̯/: MHG hût > NHG Haut ("skin")
  • Monophthongisation of the high centering diphthongs /iə yə uə/ > /iː yː uː/: MHG huot > NHG Hut ("hat")
  • lengthening of stressed short vowels in open syllables: MHG sagen /zaɡən/ > NHG sagen /zaːɡən/ ("say")
  • The loss of unstressed vowels in many circumstances: MHG vrouwe > NHG Frau ("lady")

The centres of culture in the ENHG period are no longer the courts but the towns.[18]

Dialects

Middle High German dialect boundaries

The dialect map of Germany by the end of the Middle High German period was much the same as that at the start of the 20th century, though the boundary with Low German was further south than it now is:[19][20]

Central German (Mitteldeutsch)[21]