Language Evolution: The Windows Approach addresses the question: "How can we unravel the evolution of language, given that there is no direct evidence about it?"
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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
OVERVIEW 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 discussed.
SYNOPSIS 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 dialects.
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 Frankonian. 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 Friesland.
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.
EVALUATION 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.
REFERENCES Garbe, Burkhard. 1972. "Das Speyerer Codex-Argenteus Blatt". In: Indogermanische Forschungen. Berlin; New York: Walter de Gruyter
ABOUT THE REVIEWER:
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.