Seewald-Heeg, Uta – abstract

Uta Seewald-Heeg (with Julia Schinköthe), Director, Erlebniswelt Deutsche Sprache, Köthen, Germany

German Language Adventure World in Köthen Castle

The New Fruitbearing Society has set up a museum of German language, the German Language Adventure World, in Köthen castle in Saxony-Anhalt. The permanent exhibition invites people to explore the history of the German language as well as to discover numerous interesting language phenomena.

Visitors can explore the functioning and the structure of the German language. Various linguistic topics fascinating both linguists and non-linguists can be experienced interactively. Multi-media animations, projections, films, quizzes, games, puzzles and sound offer a variety of approaches for both adults and children.

Like the members of the Accademia della Crusca, the members of the Fruitbearing Society, founded in 1617, gave themselves pseudonyms used in conversation, in letters as well as in their publications. Visitors can thumb through the register of members decorated extensively by copper engravings and emblems and browse through an archive of digitized precious books.

During their visit groups of pupils may use comprehensive worksheets adapted to the linguistic skills of pupils of different age. As in 2017 it will be 500 years since Martin Luther published his 95 theses, the New Fruitbearing Society together with two other project partners built a so-called Luther-suitcase dedicated to subjects relevant for the life and linguistic work of Martin Luther, especially his translation of the Bible into German.

The suitcase contains material which is both entertaining and educational, such as hand puppets, work sheets, films, and tablets with quizzes. The use of the material showed that even pupils with low interest in linguistic phenomena like to spend time to solve the quizzes installed on the tablets or accessible on the touch screens of the exhibition.

A very popular exhibit of the Adventure World German Language is the word formation engine described by Georg Philipp Harsdörffer, a member of the Fruitbearing Society. He called his engine “Fünffacher Denckring der Teutschen Sprache”. Five round slices labelled with letters and syllables distinguished by their position at the beginning, the end or in the middle of a word, can be rotated in order to build new words. The number of possible strings that can be composed by this machine is almost 85 million and outruns by far the number of words used in German and any other natural language. The digital version of Harsdörffer’s “Denckring” turned out to be more easily usable where a random generator builds words. The unfamiliar word formation results inspire the visitors to imagine potential meanings of the generated words.

Especially young visitors may also like to enter two single German words like “Wasser” (water) and “Flasche” (bottle) on the user interface of the word formation engine. This then combines the words and looks up all the potential combinations in online dictionaries. As German is very rich in derivation and composition, this exhibit is very inspiring with respect to the creative use of German word formation.