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Review of  The Germanic Languages

Reviewer: Suin Shin
Book Title: The Germanic Languages
Book Author: Ekkehard König Johan van der Auwera
Publisher: Routledge (Taylor and Francis)
Linguistic Field(s): Language Documentation
Language Family(ies): Germanic
Issue Number: 14.1478

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Date: Fri, 16 May 2003 15:42:53 -0700
From: Suin Shin
Subject: Koenig and Auwera (2002). The Germanic Languages

Koenig, Ekkehard and Johan van der Auwera, ed. (2002).
The Germanic Languages. Routledge

Suin Shin, UC Berkeley

This overview of the Germanic Language family includes
descriptions of earlier stages of Germanic languages
(Gothic, Old Norse, Old Saxon, Old English) as well as modern
stages (German, English, Dutch, Scandinavian languages, Yiddish,
Creoles, ...). The presentation of each language is uniform
(introduction, phonology, morphology, syntax and lexicon) and
provides for the reader a nicely structured synopsis and the possibility
to compare languages conveniently. This 630-page book, a collection
of papers written by experts on each language, offers a valuable
resource of information on all Germanic languages. Due to the
compactness of the material and the anticipated general readership,
this book should not be treated as a substitute for grammars of each
language, but rather as a comprehensive reference book and
comparative work. In my overview, I will have to group some
chapters/ languages together, due to the high number of languages

Chapter 1 'The Germanic Languages' is a summary of all the
Germanic languages described below. It starts with a statistical
placement of Germanic languages. Apparently, there are only twelve
modern Germanic languages and maybe 40 to 50 creoles.Thus, the
Germanic languages form only a small subset of the 4,000 to 6,000
languages presently spoken in the world. But in terms of number of
speakers, there are roughly 450 million native speakers, which puts
the Germanic language group on rank 12 of all world languages.
Further, we are provided with historical information on the origin, the
division into East, North and West Germanic languages and migration
processes. The origin seems to be found in the southern Baltic region,
which was settled by speakers of Indo-European around 1000
BC. After this introduction, short historical descriptions of each
Germanic language follow.

Chapter 2 'Gothic and the Reconstruction of Proto-Germanic'
investigates Gothic, the language of two Germanic peoples: the
Visigoths and Ostrogoths. Historical linguists use Gothic to
reconstruct Proto-Germanic due to its comparatively early
appearance. It precedes other Germanic texts by three or four
centuries and thus provides us with the earliest documents of
Germanic, e.g.Wulfila's Bible translation from the 4th century.
A characteristic of Gothic is the heavy use of ablaut, the
morphophonemic alternation of the root vowel inherited from the
Indo-European. Also, in contrast to other Germanic languages,
Gothic has retained reduplication in the strong verb class VII.

In Chapter 3 'Old and Middle Scandinavian', we are presented
with the North Germanic languages spoken in Scandinavia from
around the 7th to 15th century. Old West Scandinavian or Old
Norse is the best attested variety of Old Scandinavian. Documents
of Old Norse are e.g. sagas or poems. Old Scandinavian is recorded
in two different scripts, a runic script and the Roman alphabet,
which was introduced shortly after the conversion to Christianity
in 1000 AD.

In Chapter 4 'Old and Middle Continental West Germanic', four
language areas are comprised: Dutch, High German, Low German
and Frisian. The focus is on older stages of Dutch and German;
that is, Middle Dutch and Old Saxon and Old High German, respectively.
Old High German was spoken in central and southern Germany
(south of the Benrath Line), whereas Low German was spoken
in the northern parts of Germany.

Chapter 5 'Old and Middle English' gives an overview of English
recorded in England between 600 and 1500 AD. Old English
refers to a group of dialects imported by immigrants from the
continent, beginning in the 4th century. Old English falls into
two main dialect groups, West Saxon and Anglian.

Chapters 6 -10 consider the languages Icelandic, Faroese,
Norwegian, Swedish and Danish. Faroese is derived from
the language of Norse settlers, and thus resembles Old Norse
and Icelandic in orthography. These two languages also had a
major influence on the morphology, syntax and lexicon of Faroese.
Norwegian is the only modern Germanic language which
has two officially recognized literary varieties due to its political
and cultural history: Bokmal ('book language') and Nynorsk
('New Norwegian').
Swedish is spoken by more than 8 million native speakers.
The variant spoken around Stockholm is considered to have
the strongest social status and it is spreading to other areas,
at least in formal contexts.
Danish is spoken by ca. 5 million speakers. The first texts,
mostly legal documents, in Danish are from the early 13th century,
but Danish has been used as a language of literature since the
15th century. Whereas East Danish has a three-gender system
for nouns, Middle Danish uses as two-gender system (common
and neuter), and West Danish has no gender contrast at all.

Chapter 11 is devoted to 'German'. German is the official language
or one of the official languages in Austria, Liechtenstein, Luxembourg,
Switzerland and Germany. The three main dialects are Low German,
Central German and Upper German. The classification is according
to the degree the dialects followed the High German Consonant Shift,
which led to the separation of High German from the other Germanic

Chapters 12-16 deal with the descriptions of Yiddish, Pennsylvania
German, Dutch, Afrikaans, and Frisian. Of all the Germanic languages,
Yiddish looks the least Germanic, since it uses a Hebrew alphabet
and is read from right to left. Its grammar and lexicon is largely
influenced from Hebrew and Aramaic, but also Slavic languages.
We can distinguish two Yiddish dialect groups: Western Yiddish
and Eastern Yiddish. Yiddish is a subject and object Pro-drop
language. Both phenomena can even occur in the same sentence.
Pennsylvania German is the language spoken by descendants of
German immigrants to Pennsylvania (18th century). The early
immigrants belonged to religious sects (Mennonites, Amish and
others), but later the Lutherans and Reformed outnumbered the
sect members. Pennsylvania German is derived essentially from
Middle High German and Early New High German dialects. Unlike
German, the nominal morphology contains a two-case system
(common and dative), but resulted in a single case system through
linguistic interference with English.
Dutch is the official language of the Netherlands, Belgium,
Surinam and the former Dutch Antilles. Dutch developed in an
area where three dialects coexisted: Frisian, Saxon and Low
Afrikaans is currently one of the two official languages in the
Republic of South Africa. It is characterized by the lack of gender
distinction, lack of conjugation of verbs, almost total lack of the
original past tense, double negation, and the strong tendency to
describe past events using the present tense.
Frisian can be devided into three main dialects: North, East and
West Frisian.North Frisian is spoken by approximately 10,000
people on the North Frisian islands and along the shores of the
North Sea in Schleswig-Holstein. East Frisian is spoken only in a
small area, mainly in Saterland, by 1,000 speakers. West Frisian
has 400, 000 speakers and is spoken in the Dutch province of

Chapter 17, on 'English', discusses the pluricentric character of English
(standard varieties) and devotes a large part of the description
to syntactical issues.

Chapter 18, on 'Germanic Creoles', provides a short introduction to
creolization and pidginization and a list and maps of the languages
in question. Creoles are distinguished in English-based, Atlantic,
Pacific, Dutch-based and German-based creoles according to
historical, geographic and linguistic factors.

This book provides the linguist and non-linguist with a highly
accessible resource to the issues surrounding descriptions and
comparisons of Germanic languages. The terminology used in the
book is straightforward and easily understood by the non-linguist.
It could be used as a textbook in an undergraduate or graduate class.

The organization of chapters and languages in this book is debatable:
instead of the separate treatment of stages of a languages, Old,
Middle and Modern English, for instance, could be discussed together
in one chapter. Also, the grouping together of Dutch, High German,
Low German and Frisian as 'Old and Middle Continental West
Germanic' (ch. 4), seems inconvenient in terms of shared features,
but makes sense in geographical terms.

Some details of information should be updated, e.g. on page 4, 188
and not 187 leaves of the Codex Argenteus are preserved
(cf. Garbe, 1972). Leaf no. 188 was found in the dome of Speyer
in 1970 (thus called the Speyer Leaf). It contains theretofore
unattested words, e.g. farwa 'appearance, guise, gestalt'.

The uniform structure for each chapter and language makes it easy
for the reader to look up information quickly or recognize similarities
and differences easily. The references are excellent for illustrating
the languages. Nevertheless, for more detailed information, the reader
should go back to grammars of the particular language.

In conclusion, this book will be highly useful as a text for an
introductory class of Germanic languages. The information
provided is well written, very informative, and highly accessible
to the reader.

Garbe, Burkhard. 1972. "Das Speyerer Codex-Argenteus Blatt".
In: Indogermanische Forschungen. Berlin; New York: Walter
de Gruyter


ABOUT THE REVIEWER Suin Shin is a doctoral candidate in Germanic Linguistics at UC Berkeley. Her research interests include the Germanic Languages, Korean, Grammaticalization, and Politeness Theory.

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