Guidelines for normalisation in the transcriptions of Edvard Munch’s German texts

Sibylle Söring and Christian Janss

The transcription guidelines for Munch’s German texts follow the General guidelines for normalisation in the transcriptions of Edvard Munch’s texts. The main principle is a diplomatic transcription whenever possible, and a sympathetic transcription in cases where the text is difficult to discern. As with Munch's French texts, the German texts are marked by extremely inconsistent and often unclear handwriting, and by numerous orthographic, grammatical and syntactical mistakes. Given that the texts are nevertheless understandable, it has been our aim to preserve Munch's unique and idiosyncratic style in the transcriptions, and to limit the sympathetic transcription to a minimum.

With this as the foundation, the guidelines are then set along approximately the same lines as those followed by the publishers of Munch-Schiefler-Briefwechsel (Munch 1987–1990) in the sense that Munch’s German language and orthography are preserved as they appear in the originals, without corrections: “Edvard Munchs deutsche Sprachform und Rechtschreibung sind original und ohne Korrekturen belassen” (sst. s. 25). Exceptions and examples are reviewed below.

s and sharp s (ss, ß, sz and zs)

Example 1

-sz. MM N 3341, p. 2, line 5

Example 2

-zs. MM N 3341, p. 3, line 11

Example 3

-z + long s. MM T 2703, folio 8r, line 8

Munch writes the sharp s, which today is indicated with the letter ß, in different ways, both in keeping with the convention as ss (where the last s is either Latin or the Gothic long s)1 and as sz (which in Munch's time was still used in printed texts if the character ß was not found among the fonts, for example in telegrams; sz is moreover still used sometimes in Austria), or incorrectly as zs. Based on a diplomatic transcription, ss, sz and the incorrect zs are all retained, whereas there is no distinction made between ss with the Latin -s ending and the Gothic -s ending.

A distinction is not made between Latin and Gothic s (any instances of Gothic letters are normalised).

Munch’s frequent and mistaken use of z instead of s (“alz”, “alzo”) are retained, as they do not create problems for comprehension.

Missing diacritical marks

The Umlaut Tilde

A peculiar feature of Edvard Munch’s German texts is the lack of diacritical marks for the umlaut tilde, i.e. a, o and u, which should have been written ä, ö and ü respectively. The publishers of Munch-Schiefler-Briefwechsel have, as the only deviation from the principle of reproducing the author’s grammar, orthography and punctuation in the original manuscript without editing, chose to supplement the diacritical marks in most cases where they were lacking, based on the desire to increase the reader’s ability to comprehend the text:

It is characteristic of Munch that he so to speak never indicates the umlaut. Since reproducing this lack in Munch's text would result in unnecessary difficulties with regard to legibility in this publication, the umlaut is indicated correctly everywhere.2 (Cf. volume I, p. 34 and volume II, p. 25) has nevertheless chosen to follow the diplomatic principle here as well, as it is not considered legitimate to give priority to one of Munch's orthographic mistakes over another. A correction of such a mistake – or even of all such mistakes – would represent a radical encroachment on his text, and is unnecessary when the meaning in the unedited text is comprehensible in a great majority of cases. In addition, a non-diplomatic approach of this kind would imply a significant risk of misinterpretation. In most cases it is not possible to determine unequivocally whether the missing umlaut tildes are a result of carelessness or a conscious indecisiveness; that is, whether Munch is attempting to conceal his uncertain knowledge of grammar. Finally, extensive emendations and conjectures would result in concealing Munch's developments in the German language throughout half a century. In this respect as well, has given priority to reproducing Munch's idiosyncratic and unique language over an assumed improvement in readability of the texts.

The letters a, o and u which should have read ä, ö and ü are therefore reproduced diplomatically.

The letter i

The letter i without a diacritical mark is always transcribed as i.

Definite articles

Eksempel 4

Example of an ambiguous definite article: “der Gravuren” or “die Gravuren”. MM N 2508, folio 1v, line 1.

When the definite articles (der, die, das, dem, den) are illegible or impossible to decipher, they are transcribed correctly. Munch often merely makes a stroke or loop instead of the final letters in a definite article. Since mistakes of this type are not consistent, but the writing often varies in one and the same missive as well as over time, we have chosen to transcribe sympathetically in such cases.

Words that end in e, r or n

As with definite articles, the plural endings of nouns and personal pronouns, as well as genitive endings (“Ihres Briefes”) are often difficult to read if not wholly illegible. In such cases the transcription is made sympathetically, in that the word is reproduced in its correct form.

Phonetic rather than orthographic style of writing

As opposed to Munch's Norwegian and French texts, there are hardly any phonetic spellings in his German texts. This is most likely due to the fact that all of the sounds in a German word are normally pronounced. As opposed to Norwegian, where the g-sound is silent in adjectives that end in -ig, or in French, where the r-sound in verbs that end in -er, -es or -ez are also silent. The only exception to this in the German letters is the ending -ig in adjectives such as wichtig or würdig. These are often pronounced as -ichin many parts of Germany, and Munch transfers this oral trait to writing as he consistently writes “wichtich” and “würdich”.

Incidences of German in a Norwegian text

Individual German words and German names in Norwegian texts are treated as Norwegian when it comes to normalisation in transcription. See the General guidelines for normalisation in the transcriptions of Edvard Munch’s texts.

German quotations in Norwegian language letters are treated as German and thus follow the guidelines outlined in this document.

Incidences of Norwegian in a German text

Individual Norwegian words and names in German language texts are treated as German when it comes to normalisation in the transcription. For example “Skoien” or “Sköien” is not corrected to read Skøien.


1 In Norwegian this s is called Gothic after handwritten Gothic script, which it stems from. In German it is called a Kurrent s or Sütterlin s, as it was used in both of these handwriting scripts. For more information cf., and

2 “Charakteristisch für Munch ist, daß er sozusagen nie den Umlaut markiert. Da dies zu unnötigen Problemen hinsichtlich der Lesbarkeit dieser Publikation führen würde, ist überall der Umlaut richtig gekennzeichnet worden.” Yet the publishers have not followed this principle unswervingly. In Vol. II, for example, it states: “starker” instead of stärker, “Gruzse” instead of Grüzse (p. 49, letter no. 664); “ungefahr” instead of ungefähr, “Gruzse” instead of Grüzse (p. 50, letter no. 665); “ausgewahlten” instead of ausgewählten (p. 55, letter no. 673); “Nervensch(w)achen” instead of Nervensch(w)ächen (p. 60, letter no. 677); “Wunschen” instead of Wünschen and finally “ware schon” instead of wäre schön (p. 84, letter no. 701).