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Kunstformen der Natur (1904) by Ernst Haeckel
Kunstformen der Natur (1904) by Ernst Haeckel

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.



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 ("host"), 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 persons 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. It is also regional music

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.

Volk in German


In German the word Volk can have several different meanings, such as folk (simple people), people in the ethnic sense, and nation.

German 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

A number of völkisch movements existed prior to World War I. Combining interest in folklore, 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. Today, the term völkisch is largely restricted to historical contexts describing the closing 19th century and early 20th century up to Hitler's seize of power in 1933, especially during the years of the Weimar Republic.

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 without space" or Völkischer Beobachter ("popular observer"), an NSDAP party newspaper. Also the political slogan Ein Volk, ein Reich, ein Führer ("One people, one nation, one leader"); the compound word Herrenvolk, translated as "master race"; and the term Volksgemeinschaft.

Even though Hitler, in his book Mein Kampf often erroneously applied specific biological and zoological terms such as race, species, and others, the Nazi-era use of Volk could not, depending on context, be interpreted as "race", "Germanic", or "European." In Nazi propaganda, several peoples made up a race, so these two terms did not denote the same thing during the Nazi years. The German people was considered part of the Germanic race which latter officially included the Scandinavians, the English, and the Dutch as well (while Hitler himself also included the Celts), so Volk did not equal Germanic either. 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 is the common German term for Indo-European.


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.

See also


  • Henning Eichberg (2004), The People of Democracy. Understanding Self-Determination on the Basis of Body and Movement. (= Movement Studies. 5) Århus: Klim (Theory of folk, people, and civil society with Scandinavian background)
  • Emerich K. Francis (1965) Ethnos und Demos. Soziologische Beiträge zur Volkstheorie. Berlin: Duncker & Humblot (classical German-American sociology of folk, ethnos and demos)
  • Emerich K. Francis (1976) Interethnic Relations. An Essay in Sociological Theory. New York u.a.: Elsevier.
  • Raphael Samuel (1981) (ed.), People’s History and Socialist Theory. London: Routledge & Kegan Paul.

Unless indicated otherwise, the text in this article is either based on Wikipedia article "Folk" or another language Wikipedia page thereof used under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License; or on original research by Jahsonic and friends. See Art and Popular Culture's copyright notice.

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