Who are the Grimm Brothers?

Niki Foster

Jakob and Wilhelm Grimm, popularly known as the Grimm Brothers or Brothers Grimm, were German linguists and folklorists of the 19th century. They left a significant legacy to the field of linguistics in their work regarding the First Germanic Sound Shift, which established the concept of regular sound changes that became a basic tenet of modern comparative and historical linguistics. The work of the Grimm Brothers is also indispensable to Western European cultural studies. The folklore and fairy tales they collected are beloved by children all over the world and have inspired many books and films. Such works include: Snow White, Rapunzel, Rumpelstiltskin and Hansel and Gretel.

The Grimm Brothers wrote a version of "Little Red Riding Hood."
The Grimm Brothers wrote a version of "Little Red Riding Hood."

The Grimm Brothers were two of five brothers. Jakob and Wilhelm were born in 1785 and 1786, respectively, in Hanau in Hesse. During their lifetime, what is now known as Germany was merely an area of hundreds of small political entities, united by little more than geography and a common language. Through their linguistic work, the Grimm Brothers were instrumental in establishing a unified German culture, and they presented a standardized version of the German language in the Deutsches Woerterbuch, considered the definitive authority on German etymology, or word origins, to this day.

Jakob and Wilhelm Grimm collected dozens of folktales and fairytales.
Jakob and Wilhelm Grimm collected dozens of folktales and fairytales.

The Grimm Brothers were both educated at Friedrichs-Gymnasium in Kassel and later at the University of Marburg. They conducted field research for their linguistic study all over the German-speaking world, soliciting stories from their informants for the purpose of documenting their speech styles. Volumes of the stories thus collected were published in 1812 and 1814, and numerous editions appeared during the Grimm Brothers' lifetime. Two additional volumes of German folklore were published in 1816 and 1818. In 1819, the Grimm Brothers received honorary doctorates from the University of Marburg.

A few years later in 1830, the Grimm Brothers moved to Goettingen to become university professors. In 1837, they were among seven University of Goettingen professors to oppose the plan of King Ernest Augustus I of Hanover to abolish his state's constitution. As a result, the Grimm Brothers were fired, along with their colleagues, but public and academic opinion backed them, and the brothers received many job offers from universities throughout modern-day Germany. In 1841, they accepted positions at the University of Berlin.

Jakob Grimm left the University of Berlin in 1848, followed by Wilhelm in 1852, to pursue personal academic interests. Wilhelm Grimm died on 16 December 1859, and Jakob on 20 September 1863. However, their legacy of linguistic methodology, beloved stories, and German cultural unity survives through the present.

The Grimm brothers are known for crafting many popular fairytales.
The Grimm brothers are known for crafting many popular fairytales.

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Discussion Comments


You would think that the Grimm Brothers, Jakob and Wilhelm were joined at the hip. They went to the same school and university together.Together they did research in linguistics and unified the German dialects into one.

They taught at the same universities and collected many German folk tales that are famous and read by children all over.

The only time they went their separate ways was during the last ten or so years of their life. They must have been able to work well together in accomplishing the difficult task of unifying the German language through linguistics, using regular sound changes - not exactly sure what that means. Anyone know?


The Grimm Brothers biographies show that they contributed a lot to making all the versions of the German language into one language. In addition, the Grimm Brothers stories were a great addition to children's literature, Most of the fairy tales they wrote came from listening to the folk tales told over and over again by Germanic people.

Some of the folk tales that the Brothers Grimm used to write their fairy tales, such as Cinderella, Hansel and Gretel, and Little Red Riding Hood were quite scary and violent. The tales that they wrote were a little toned down. But the Disney versions of these stories that we know today are more mild.

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