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Changes in German Vernacular Language (1884)

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Musjö, that one!”). French used to be even more prevalent in addressing women. A girl of lower-class standing, though, was addressed with the German “Jungfer” [spinster, both old and young], while one from the upper classes was called “Mamsell.” The latter would have only been called “Jungfrau” [virgin] in ecclesiastical terms. That is also how she would have been listed in the weekly newspaper on the occasion of her wedding. As a form of address, “Fräulein” [Miss] was exclusively reserved for the daughters of noble families. If they were already of an advanced age, they were called “gnädiges Fräulein” [Madam]. A woman was only called “Frau” [Mrs.] if that could be supplemented with the title of her husband. And this title was never skipped if one wished to be polite. If, however, the husband did not have a title, then the woman was called “Madam.” Yet the nobility was privileged even in this practice. Noblewomen claimed for themselves the title “gnädige Frau” [your Ladyship]. Over the course of the following decades, numerous changes occurred. The use of “Mamsell,” as well as “Jungfer,” decreased more and more, giving way to “Fräulein.” In earlier days, when adult women were addressed as “Fräulein,” girls would still be called “Mamsellchen.” This practice has also disappeared. A girl aged 12 is now called “kleines Fräulein” [little Miss]. The term “Madam” has been replaced by “Frau,” which is even used without a title but always with the husband’s name. French designations persisted for the longest time on the theater program in Kassel, where ladies were still called “Demoiselle” and “Madam” at a time when the rest of the world already called them something else. Today our maids also receive letters addressed “Fräulein.” The term “Jungfer” is attached to the Kammerjungfer [lady-in-waiting], “Mamsell” to the Probirmamsell [waitress or salesgirl]. “Madam” is used in the vernacular only in instances when neither the title nor the name is known. For example, in the market you can hear the call: “Why not buy some goods, Madam?” Probably the same predicament also prompted the most recent developments in this area. In Berlin’s social circles one is often in a position to converse with ladies without knowing either their exact title or name. So how should one address them? For that very purpose, people seized upon the address “gnädige Frau.” It covers everything and is also advantageous insofar as one avoids stumbling over class titles, which are often cumbersome. And because it is so convenient, one now uses “gnädige Frau” even when the title is known. Having originated in Berlin, this custom has spread and is probably common in all of Germany by now. From this point on, it is only a small step to call any unmarried woman “gnädiges Fräulein.” Obviously, the nobility has fared badly in this entire linguistic advance; it has been deprived of its privilege, as it were. [ . . . ]

[ . . . ] As a pronominal address for the person opposite, the old world knew only the word “Du” [you], accompanied by the corresponding verb conjugation for the second person singular. Advanced politeness has introduced various forms of address in the more modern languages. The word “Du” remains only for the familiar address. For the less familiar address, the French and English languages use the second person plural. In Germany, too, this was commonly practiced with “Ihr.” Even today it remains the prevalent form among our peasants, and two generations ago it was also widely used in cities. You could easily say “Ihr seid” [you are], etc., to any farmer coming in from the countryside or any low-ranking artisan.

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