The project Wortgeschichte digital (‘Digital Word History’) traces the development of the German vocabulary from approximately 1600 up to the present, thereby filling the gap between dictionaries of present day language and the Frühneuhochdeutsches Wörterbuch (the dictionary of Early New High German reaching from 1350 to 1600).
As Wortgeschichte digital is published online, its lemma selection can be far more flexible than in printed dictionaries. Therefore, rather than relying on word lists in alphabetical order, Wortgeschichte digital starts from semantic domains like, e.g., society, politics, economy, technology, communication, traffic, or everyday culture. In a first working phase of 3 to 4 years, the lexis of politics and society will be focused on. Subsequent working phases will be devoted to other specific domains. By successively describing important lexical fields, an encompassing picture of the more recent stages of German word history will be drawn. This way, the users will be provided with an up-to-date lexicographical description, rather than having to rely on Grimm’s Deutsches Wörterbuch, which is outdated to a large degree.
As to the methods of dictionary writing, Wortgeschichte digital breaks new ground. Instead of providing a list of lexical meanings and quotations in the traditional way, it presents a word’s history in a short text. By providing a narrative style of description, the lexicographical texts become more accessible to users than traditional dictionary entries. Moreover, the texts allow for discussions and contextualizations, which are essential for historical semantics. At the same time, the project makes full use of current digital tools of dictionary making and dictionary presentation. With its combination of traditional philology and digital innovations, Wortgeschichte digital addresses both the academic community of historical lexicology as well as a broader audience, which is interested in word history and relies on the internet as a central source of information.
As the first historical dictionary of German which is purely digital, Wortgeschichte digital has nearly no models to refer to. Therefore, a new technical basis and adequate methods of dictionary making have to be developed during an initial phase (“Aufbauphase”) scheduled until 2023. (For current results of the project, see the entries on https://www.zdl.org/wb/wortgeschichten/).
Wortgeschichte digital is part of the "Zentrum für digitale Lexikographie der deutschen Sprache" (ZDL), inaugurated in 2019. The centre aims at coordinating the digital lexicography of the German language, including corpus research and IT-infrastructure. The ZDL is a project of the Berlin-Brandenburg and the Goettingen Academy of Sciences and Humanities in Lower Saxony, together with the Academies of Mainz and Saxony; the Institut für deutsche Sprache (IDS) in Mannheim is a cooperating partner of the project.