Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, gemalt 1828 von Joseph Karl Stieler
Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, painted by Joseph Karl Stieler in 1828 (detail)

The Goethe Dictionary (Goethe-Wörterbuch, GWb) is a single-author defining dictionary and is one of the largest Academy Projects in the area of historical semantics and textual lexicography.

Based on around 3.2 million text-quotations, 93,000 headwords record and interpret the entire vocabulary transmitted in the works of Goethe, drawing on all available documentary sources. Thanks to the quantity, and the unusually broad range, of the texts (poetry, writings on aesthetics and science, diaries, letters, official documents and records of conversations), the Goethe Dictionary also functions as a historical dictionary of subjects and concepts, as well as a period-specific dictionary for the era between the late Enlightenment and the Romantic period, which is often known as the ‘era of Goethe’. The project records the linguistic profile of a period that was characterised both by high cultural attainments and notable changes, and does so with a level of depth and detail that has rarely been achieved in a dictionary, combining analysis of words with commentary and the investigation of particular subjects. It has become a central research tool in the study of this period, which was perhaps the most decisive moment in the formation of modern German.


The Goethe Dictionary is a joint undertaking by the Academies of Sciences of Berlin-Brandenburg, Heidelberg and Göttingen. It is been prepared in three research projects (Berlin/Leipzig: 50%, Tübingen and Hamburg: 25% each) by a permanent editorial staff of scholars of linguistics and literary studies. The GWb is brought out by the publishing house W. Kohlhammer, and the 5th volume will soon be completed (Spring 2011). It will bring the dictionary up to the letter M; work is currently underway on the headwords of the alphabetic sequence O-P.


Alongside the lexicographical work, the sections of the dictionary that have already appeared are prepared for online publication and made freely available online for research purposes. At present the alphabetic series from A-I is accessible in this way.


The Academy research project “The Goethe Dictionary” is part of the Academies' Programme , a research funding programme co-financed by the German federal government and individual federal states. Coordinated by the Union of the German Academies of Sciences and Humanities , the Programme intends to retrieve and explore our cultural heritage, to make it accessible and highlight its relevance to the present, as well as to preserve it for the future.

Dr. habil. Undine Kramer
Tel.: +49 (0)30 20370 415 
Jägerstraße 22/23
10117 Berlin
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