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Review of  The German Language


Reviewer: Suin Shin
Book Title: The German Language
Book Author: Jean Boase-Beier Ken Lodge
Publisher: Wiley-Blackwell
Linguistic Field(s): Language Documentation
Subject Language(s): German
Book Announcement: 14.2004

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Date: Tue, 22 Jul 2003 21:05:54 -0700
From: Suin Shin <shin77@uclink.berkeley.edu>
Subject: The German Language. A Linguistic Introduction

Boase-Beyer, Jean and Lodge, Ken (2003) The German Language:
A Linguistic Introduction. Blackwell Publishing
 
 
Reviewer: Suin Shin, UC Berkeley

OVERVIEW

This introduction to the German Language includes
descriptions of the different linguistic disciplines: syntax,
morphology, phonetics, phonology, and semantics. It is
as good an introduction to the German language as to
general linguistics. Everything is put into simple, but
adequate descriptions, which enables the reader without
much prior knowledge of linguistic jargon to get through
this book. All linguistic terms are clearly defined (in bold)
when introduced first. Each chapter starts with a definition
of the linguistic discipline in particular and is then followed
by definitions of basic terms of that discipline, e.g. what is
a morpheme, what is morphology, and is then completed
with German examples. All German examples are fully
glossed, so that even readers with no or little knowledge
of German can use this book. It also provides some
exercises at the end of each chapter.  
 
This 254-page book offers compact and easily accessible
information on the German language and linguistics in
general.
 
SYNOPSIS

In Chapter 1 'Introduction', Boase-Beyer and Lodge start
with a short description of the German language, putting it
into a chronological and geographic frame. They name the
closest relatives of German in the Germanic language family
and point out those that are separated by the Second Sound
Shift (a phonological change). They address general difficulties
with classifying a variety as language or dialect, since mutual
intelligibility is often not a decisive factor in this issue. They
also provide a brief exposition of their approach: focussing
on language itself and its structural characteristics. They intend
to present those features that are specific to German, and thus
give at least a partial linguistic definition of German. 'Grammar'
is defined here as the total native speaker knowledge.
 
Chapter 2 'Syntax' investigates the notion of universal
grammar and deals with phrase structure, case, position
field theory, and syntactic processes such as moving.
X-Bar Theory is mentioned here also, although not
explained in depth. One issue which is discussed in detail is
that of Subject, Verb, Object (SVO) or SOV order.
German has traditionally been considered problematic
because of the position of the verb, which is in second
position in a main clause and at the end in a subordinate
clause. By introducing Position Field Theory and
demonstrating the variant positions of the verb according
to clause type, Boase-Beyer and Lodge manage to handle
this topic quite well. 
 
In Chapter 3 'Morphology', we are presented with
morphemes, the smallest meaningful elements of grammar.
Boase-Beyer and Lodge cover word-formation
processes like inflection, derivation, compounding, and
conversion and also present issues in Morpho-Phonology
and Morpho-Syntax. For instance, in Morpho-Syntax, the
assigning of the correct gender happens according to a
percolating process, in which a feature can move from the
head of a word to the next level. In non-syntactic terms, this is
also known as Last-Member Principle, that is, the gender of
the last member of a compound is responsible for the gender.

Chapter 4 'Phonetics' provides a basic introduction to
phonetics. The description of speech production, place and
manner of articulation play a major role here. Concepts like
Vowel triangle and Voice Onset Time (VOT) are introduced
and described in detail. Transcriptions of both German
and English can be found here as well and can be practiced
in the exercise section.
 
Chapter 5 'Phonology' gives an overview of the field itself and
basic information on syllable structure and sound classes.
Phonological changes like assimilation, deletion, lenition are
demonstrated and analyzed.
 
Chapter 6 'Lexis' covers mostly semantic issues: Theta roles,
semantic fields, semantic relationships (antonymy, synonomy,...)
meaning of lexical items (sememes) and so on.

Chapter 7 'Stylistics', Boase-Beyer and Lodge point out that
stylistics in Germany is usually not confined to the study of
literary texts but deals with a variety of texts. They are thus
particularly interested in the issue of stylistic knowledge as part
of the native speaker's knowledge of German, and the relationship
between this and other types of linguistic knowledge. The notions
of metaphor, ambiguity, cohesion, repetition are subsumed under
stylistic principles.
 
Chapter 8 'Historical Background' deals with the descriptions
of morphological, phonological, syntactic and semantic changes.
The High German Consonant Shift, diphthongization,
monophthongization and Umlaut are illustrated in detail.
 
Chapter 9 'Contemporary Variation', discusses and devotes
a large part of the description to German dialects. Variation in
phonology, morphology and syntax are presented with
lots of examples.


EVALUATION
 
Supposedly due to the compactness of each chapter, some
phenomena which are specific to the German language have
been left out. For instance, extraposion and scrambling of
elements (German, next to Japanese, is one of the languages
that allow scrambling) is usually mentioned as typical
for German. Considering recent developments in the German
language, a change from verb-final to verb-second in
subordinate clauses with the weil-conjunction can be perceived
more and more often in spoken German. Also, Boase-Beyer
and Lodge chose not mention the following sound phenomenon
which is very specific to German: Final devoicing (word-final 
voiced stops are devoiced, see Wiese 1996). Another
phonological characteristic is g-Spirantization, which is only
briefly addressed in the "Contemporary Variation" chapter. 
Generally, a more detailed description of the Germanic dialects
and the connection to the Indo-European language family, e.g.,
especially the First Sound Shift (see Keller 1978, Koenig, 2002)
would have been valuable but can be excused due to the 
conciseness of this book. Even though examples for
grammaticalization (see Diewald 1997) are given in the book
(see e.g., modal verbs), the phenomenon itself is not addressed,
but it might be worth considering in the "Historical background"
chapter.
 
Other than that, the information provided is very well written,
very informative, and highly accessible to the reader.
The terminology used in the book is straightforward and
easily understood by the non-linguist. The authors of this
book also made an attempt to introduce recent and diverse
approaches to the German language, e.g. Sonority Theory,
Optimality Theory.
 
In conclusion,  this book would be an excellent choice as a
textbook in an undergraduate class in German Linguistics or
even as supplement material in a German language class.

 
REFERENCES
 
 
DIEWALD, Gabriele (1997) Grammatikalisierung. Eine Einfuehrung
in Sein und Werden grammatischer Formen. Niemeyer
 
KELLER, R.E. (1978) The German Language. Faber and Faber
 
KOENIG, Ekkehard & van der Auwera, Johan, eds. (2002)  The
Germanic Languages. Routledge
 
WIESE, R. (1996) The Phonology of German. Oxford University
Press
 
 

 





 
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.b

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