lrc wordmark

International Conference on Historical Linguistics

Comanche and German on the Texas Frontier



Christopher Wickham


In 1851 an article appeared in the Geographisches Jahrbuch (Geographic Yearbook, Gotha) claiming to establish definitive connections, using language observations, among the Comanches, Shoshones, and Apaches. Titled “Über die Verwandtschaft der Schoschonen, Komantschen und Apatschen” (“On the Relationship among the Shoshones, Comanches, and Apaches”), the article, authored by Heinrich Berghaus, was based on lexical data gathered by a young German settler in Texas and included an original list of 366 Comanche words and their German translations. Probably because it was published only in German, Berghaus’s article has been almost completely ignored by U.S. scholarship, even though it offers valuable insights into Native American languages and stands as a monument to German language and its outreach in Texas .

The first substantial, published, Comanche dictionary was therefore a Comanche-German dictionary. This presentation provides a sketch of the background to Berghaus’s article and lexicon. It further assesses the nature and value of the article’s contents and offers an appraisal of its significance both for linguistic research with respect to Comanche and as a document that foregrounds language contact between German and Comanche in mid-19th century Texas.

  •   Map
  • Linguistics Research Center

    University of Texas at Austin
    PCL 5.556
    Mailcode S5490
    Austin, Texas 78712