Volk (German word)

This article is about English-language usage of a German word. For people with the surname, see Volk (surname). For other uses, see Volk (disambiguation).

In German, the word Volk may mean folk (simple people), people in the ethnic sense, and nation.

Volk is commonly used as the first, determining part (head) of compound nouns such as Volksentscheid (plebiscite, literally "decision of/by the people") or Völkerbund (League of Nations), or the car manufacturer Volkswagen (literally, "people's car").

19th century and early 20th century

Further information: German tribes and Stem duchy

A number of völkisch movements existed prior to World War I but more recently they are mainly connected to Nazi German ,.[1] Combining interest in folklore, racism, ecology, occultism and romanticism with ethnic nationalism, their ideologies were a strong influence on the Nazi party, which itself was inspired by Adolf Hitler's membership of the Deutsche Arbeiterpartei (German Workers' Party), even though Hitler in Mein Kampf himself denounced usage of the word völkisch as he considered it too vague as to carry any recognizable meaning due to former over-use, although he used it often, especially in connection with racial Germans or Volksdeutsche who we would today call "ethnic Germans" . Today, the term völkisch continues to be used in a non-racial context or else it is largely restricted to historical contexts describing a racist view held in the 19th century and early 20th century after Hitler's seizure of power in 1933, especially during the years of the Third Reich[2]

Nazi era

During the years of the Third Reich, the term Volk became heavily used in nationalistic political slogans, particularly in slogans such as Volk ohne Raum "(a) people or race without space" or Völkischer Beobachter ("popular or racial observer"), an NSDAP party newspaper. Also the political slogan Ein Volk, ein Reich, ein Führer ("One nation or race, one empire, one leader"); the compound word Herrenvolk, translated as "master race"; and the term Volksgemeinschaft, translated as "racial community".

Even though Hitler, in his book Mein Kampf often confusedly applied specific biological and zoological terms such as race, species, and others, the Nazi-era use of Volk could sometimes, depending on context, be interpreted as "race", "Germanic", or "Indo - European." In Nazi propaganda and the confusing writings of racist thinkers, the use of "Rasse" and "Volk" were often not distinguishable as 'race' and 'people' but had overlapping meanings. In the writings of leading Nazi racist thinkers, such as Alfred Rosenberg and Hans Guenther several Volk or peoples made up a Rasse or race, so these two terms did not always denote the same concept during the Nazi years. The Deutsche Volk or German people were considered part of the Nordic Rasse or Northern race which officially included the Scandinavians, the English, and the Dutch as well, and represented the ideal superior 'race', so Volk did not always equal German either. Nazi - era racist views rather simplistically differentiated Nordic, Western, Eastern, and Dinaric 'races' and gave them the phenotypes associated with these simplistic geographic regions. Nazi-era publications on pre-history only differed whether their Germanic race equalled the Indo-European race or the Germanic race itself was part of a family of Indo-European races, since indogermanisch was the common German term for Indo-European. Thus the term Volk, in the vision of Nazis, had a very broad set of meanings, and referred sometimes to the entirety of German nation and other times to the Nordic 'race'.[3]


Because Volk is the generic German word for "people" in the ethnic sense today as well as for "people entitled to vote" (Wahlvolk), its use does not necessarily denote any particular political views in post-1945 Germany. However, because of its past, the word is rarely used with Bevölkerung ("population") serving as a substitute. "Wir sind das Volk!" ("We are the people!") was a chant used by the Monday demonstrators during the peaceful demonstrations of 1989/1990 to end the DDR and bring down the Berlin Wall.

Cognates in other Germanic language

Folk has a cognate in almost every other Germanic language, all deriving from Proto-Germanic *fulka, some are listed below:

In all Germanic languages, the variant of "folk" means "people" or something related to the people.

The English word "folk" is derived from a Germanic noun, *fulka meaning "people" or "army" (i.e. a crowd as opposed to "a people" in a more abstract sense of clan or tribe). The English word folk has cognates in most of the other Germanic languages. Folk may be a Germanic root that is unique to the Germanic languages, although Latin vulgus, "the common people", has been suggested as a possible cognate.[4]

English word folk

The Modern English word folk, derives from Old English folc meaning "common people", "men", "tribe" or "multitude". The Old English noun itself came from Proto-Germanic *fulka which perhaps originally referred to a "host of warriors". Compare Old Norse folk meaning "people" but more so "army" or "detachment", German Gefolge ("retinue"), and Lithuanian pulkas meaning "crowd". The latter is considered to be an early Lithuanian loanword from Germanic origin, cf. Belarusian полк - połk meaning regiment and German Pulk for a group of people standing together.

The word became colloquialized (usually in the plural folks) in English in the sense "people", and was considered inelegant by the beginning of the 19th century. It re-entered academic English through the invention of the word folklore in 1846 by the antiquarian William J. Thoms (1803–85) as an Anglo-Saxonism. This word revived folk in a modern sense of "of the common people, whose culture is handed down orally", and opened up a flood of compound formations, e.g. folk art (1921), folk-hero (1899), folk-medicine (1898), folk-tale (1891), folk-song (1847), folk-dance (1912). Folk-music is from 1889; in reference to the branch of modern popular music (associated with Greenwich Village in New York City) here it dates from 1958.

See also

Look up volk in Wiktionary, the free dictionary.


  1. http://dict.tu-chemnitz.de/deutsch-englisch/v%f6lkisch.html
  2. Beer, M. and Seewann, G. (2004) Südostforschung im Schatten des Dritten Reiches: Institutionen - Inhalte – Personen. Munich: Oldenbourg.
  3. Literature and Film in the Third Reich - Page 351 Karl-Heinz Schoeps - 2004 In essence, Volk referred in that period to "the entirety of the German nation as a political, racial, cultural, and fated 'community by blood.'"2
  4. Calvert Watkins (ed.), The American Heritage Dictionary of Indo-European Roots, second edition (Houghton Mifflin, 2000) ISBN 0-618-08250-6


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