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The Language of National Socialism

Nancy Kerr and Jonathan Edwards

Relationship Between Language
and Politics
● “Don’t you see that the whole aim of Newspeak is to
narrow the range of thought? In the end we shall make
thoughtcrime literally impossible, because there will be
no words in which to express it.” – George Orwell,
• This quote exemplifies a link between language, perception,
and potential action. In this particular case the state aims to
govern people’s actions by controlling the language which
thereby controls the people’s thoughts.
● The Nazis were aware of this significance and created a
communicative environment which perpetuated their
political power and facilitated their goals
1. Changes in structural and stylistic features
2. Effective linguistic methods of imposing their ideology and
silencing their opponents
1) Changes in Structure & Stylistic
Heightened attention to / use of
existing features:
● The perception of Jews as Christian enemies led
to extensive anti-Jewish vocabulary woven into
the German language during nearly two millennia
of Anti-Semitism in Europe.

● Nazis expanded on a preexisting vocabulary of

contempt for Jews and increased its use. They
used this vocabulary to create a false, hateful, and
dehumanized image of Jews.
Modifications and Changes in
Structure and Style
● Lexical innovation
• Creation of designations for new organizations / institutions /
policies such as Blitzkrieg and also abbreviations such as
Gestapo (Geheime Staatspolizei) and SS, which sometimes
became intimidating symbols

• Creations of new compound words with a particularly high

frequency of the compounding elements Volk, Blut, and Rasse
(12) (13)

• “Germanization” – process in which archaic German words

were reintroduced or new German words were coined to
replace foreign words
Modifications and Changes in
Structure and Style (cont.)
● Redefinition and Re-association of Existing Terms
• Examples:
● Abstammungsnachweis (pedigree)  changes from referring to animal
husbandry to defining human racial origins
● Blutschande  changes from referring to familial incest to one denoting sexual
relations between Aryans and non-Aryans
• Words that had previously carried negative connotations became positively
charged, such as fanatisch and brutal
• Extensive use of euphemisms – opaque and distorted camouflage or code
words were given new meanings to render their new purpose ambiguous
while also retaining their original meanings as well
• Euphemisms used extensively in official and unofficial texts: when the
horrific connotations of a particular euphemism became too well known it
was requested that a new word be used instead which would ultimately
acquire the same connotations
● Evakuierung (evacuation) substituted for Auswanderung (emigration) to mean
“forced transportation of Jews to ghettos and concentration camps” even
though both retained their original usage throughout.
Creation of Powerful Metaphors
and Imagery
“Truth is always relative to a conceptual system that is defined in large part by
metaphor” and “the people who get to impose their metaphors on the culture get to
define what we consider to be true – absolutely and objectively true.” – Townson
● Subjects:
• Struggle and contest – contains images of war and competitive sports such as
● German people compared with boxers wiping blood from their eyes so they can
resolutely go into the next round
• Anthropology and medicine – Self-exaltation and defamation of opponents through
such oppositions as the “health” of the Germanic and the “sickness” of the non-
• Religion – extensive use of Christian imagery and references to the Bible
● Hitler presented as a “savior” figure
● The people were all “of Adolf Hitler and through Adolf Hitler.” – Herman Goering
● Hitler is the “incarnation of the thought of the race.” – Völkischer Beobachter (the Nazi
Party newspaper)
• Technical images – using vocabulary of metal-working where people are the objects
rather than the subjects of the activity and also people being referred to as material –
has a dehumanizing effect
Absence of Argument and Dialectic
● Methods of propaganda (pamphlets, speeches, etc.) often consisted
of blocks of slogans, memorable phrases, and/or claims placed
next to each other but which were independent of sentence
structure and without logical connectors – (a predominance of
nouns with comparatively very few verbs) – the result was appeal
to emotions rather than to logic
● The Nazi worldview as absolute and final led their discourse to
have no room for argument or deviations within its framework
● The liturgical nature of Nazi discourse where the role of the
masses was restricted to pre-ordained responses required no use of
personal intellect and therefore prevented deviation
2) Effective linguistic
methods of imposing their
ideology and silencing their
Creation of Identifying Groups
● In-groups and out-groups for friend and foe

● This division was linguistically achieved through

naming and definitions – creating one acceptable
discourse and the abolishment of rival or
opposing discourse
Media Regulations
● Methods
• Censorship
• Banning and destruction of texts
• Incarceration of authors or intimidation
• Control of publication outlet and distribution networks
• Voluntary self-censorship rewards
● Enactment
• Cancelled basic rights (press & assembly)
• Assumed responsibility for national radio
• Seized publishing facilities
• Ban on formation of new periodicals
• Instructions on acceptable phrasings and topics
• Reserving key terms for special usages by forbidding use in other contexts
• Führer: could only be used in reference to Hitler. The title for a U-boat captain
(U-Bootführer) was changed to (U-Bootkommandant)
• Forbidding positive terms for reference to the enemy
• The Press had to refer to Britain’s Central Office of Information as The
Ministry of Lies and Advertising (end)
● Compounds
• Blut
• Blutschutz (protection of [German] blood)

• Rasse
• Rassenschande (violation [sexually] of the race [German])

• Volk
• Volksbazillen (bacteria) – referring to the Jewish people, an
idea based on Anti-Semitic “scientific” principles (back)
● Volk und Rasse
• “In the context of Nazi Germany, Volk is almost always
translated as ‘race’ because of the clear intent behind Nazi
policy and Hitler’s own obsession with racial purity and
• Rasse and Volk were not interchangable in Nazi Germany
• völkish translates accurately as “ethnic”
• “race” was so empirically defined, even the most zealous Nazis could
not accurately describe it.

• Nazi writers labeled Jews “racial comrades” (Rassengenossen)

• Nazi writers labeled Aryans as “ethnic comrades”
• Neither Hitler nor the other major Nazis spoke of a racial state
(Rassenstaat). Instead they used such terms as Volkskörper (body
politic), Volksgemeinschaft (ethnic community) and Volksseele (ethnic
soul) (back)
“The intentions behind the attempted regulation
of language are clear: by seeking to impose a
standardized discourse, the fascists wished to
impose a standard worldview, stifle opposition,
and commit the population to their policies – in
other words, the regulation of language serves to
regulate thought and behavior.” – Townson
● Klemperer, Victor, and Roderick H. Watt. An Annotated Edition of
Victor Klemperer's LTI, Notizbuch eines Philologen. Studies
in German Thought and History. Vol. 17. Lewiston: Edwin
Mellen Press, 1997.
● Koonz, Claudia. The Nazi Conscience. Cambridge, Mass.:
Belknap Press, 2003.
● Michael, Robert, and Karin Doerr. Nazi-Deutsch/Nazi German :
An English Lexicon of the Language of the Third Reich.
Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 2002.
● Orwell, George. 1984. New York: Penguin Book, Inc., 1977. 52.
● Pringle, Heather Anne. The Master Plan : Himmler's Scholars and
the Holocaust. 1st ed. New York: Hyperion, 2006.
● Townson, Michael. Mother-tongue and fatherland : Language and
politics in German. Manchester ; New York; New York:
Manchester University Press; Distributed in the USA and
Canada by St. Martin's Press, 1992.