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: Tue, 22 Jul 2003 21:05:54 -0700 From: Suin Shin 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
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.
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.
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.
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