First published in Web Journal of Modern Language Linguistics in association with the publishers (to be announced). © 1996 Carol Chapman.
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This book is based on a first year course in German linguistics taught by the author at the University of St Andrews. It is intended to introduce university students of German as a foreign language to the study of linguistics with particular emphasis on its application to modern standard German. The method of analysis is traditional and descriptive although a supplementary chapter on generative linguistics is included at the end of the book in which the author voices his objections to the theory.
Chapter 1 deals with basic linguistic concepts such as phonetics, phonology, morphology, syntax, lexis, semantics and pragmatics. Unfortunately, despite the author's assertion that "core" linguistics consists of phonetics, phonology, grammar and lexis, only two pages are devoted to the study of phonology and less than two to phonetics. There is also a number of errors in the sections on phonetics and phonology, for instance the assertion on page 18 that [x] occurs after low back vowels and [ç] after high front vowels (my italics) and the failure to distinguish between phonemes and graphemes in his definition of the phoneme on pages 16-17. Inflectional morphology is touched on very briefly in the discussion on grammatical versus lexical morphemes (p. 19).
Chapters 2 and 3 deal with the functions of language and Saussurean Structuralism respectively and provide an interesting discussion of basic concepts such as Jakobsonian functions, the Sapir-Worf hypothesis, langue versus parole and the linguistic sign. The author provides a good overview of general issues although there is a lack of concrete examples (especially relating to German) which would aid students' understanding of the concepts.
Chapter 4 deals with parts of speech and begins with an interesting discussion of the relative merits of a semantic vs. syntactic vs. morphological classification. The remaining part of the chapter is more selective, concentrating only on nouns and adverbs.
The whole of Chapter 5 is devoted to one area of German syntax, the passive, in which the author compares and contrasts different analyses of the passive in considerable detail and concludes by rejecting the traditional notion of the passive as a voice in favour of an approach which treats the active/passive distinction as aspectual.
Chapter 6 introduces the student to sociolinguistic issues, concentrating on two main areas, feminist linguistics and the language of pro-nuclear arms rhetoric (Nukespeak), both subsumed under the heading "Language and Politics". The section on feminist linguistics is primarily a summary of the work carried out by Senta Trömel-Plötz (Gewalt durch Sprache: Die Vergewaltigung von Frauen in Gesprächen. Frankfurt : Fischer, 1984) and Luise M. Pusch (Deutsch als Männersprache. Frankfurt: Suhrkamp, 1984) and deals with the differences in language usage between women and men and how sexist attitudes are reflected in our use of language. The section on (German) Nukespeak is particularly interesting although I would have preferred to see it set in the wider context of research done in language and politics in Germany (e.g. the language of National Socialism or the official language of the former GDR).
Returning to descriptive linguistics, Chapter 7 outlines the major types of word formation, namely compounding, affixation and implicit derivation (without affixes) with an interesting section on the semantics of verbal prefixation. The sections on derivation and compounding are very informative. However, there is no evidence to support the author's assertion that the interfixes in compounds such as Arbeit-s- amt, Jahr-es-zeit and Frau-en-arzt are there for "ease of pronunciation" (p. 109).
In Chapter 8 the author applies the dialectical method to the area of tense in modern German. The chapter begins by defining the concepts of thesis, antithesis and synthesis and then goes on to examine Harald Weinrich's theory of tense within the framework of text linguistics (see Weinrich, H. 1985 . Tempus: Besprochene und erzählte Welt. 4. Auflage. Göttingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht). In the second half of the chapter the author outlines his "method of lexical exceptions" and demonstrates how, by identifying patterns of phonological regularity across certain strong verb paradigms, the German strong verb system is not as "irregular" as traditional grammars assert.
Finally, after a postscript, an afterword, a bibliography (including a special Cyrillic bibliography!) and appendices containing useful exercises to Chapters 4, 5, 7 and 8 the author includes a chapter, entitled "Critique of Generative Grammar", in which he criticizes the basic methodology of all generative linguistics. He outlines the basic principles of Transformational Grammar, the Principles and Parameters Theory, Generalized Phrase Structure Grammar and Lexical-Functional Grammar and concludes by attacking all generative theory for its tendency towards ad hoc postulation and circular argumentation. He asserts that "the only way to understand generative grammar is to understand why it is wrong" (p. 189) but, unfortunately, his presentation of the argument is too superficial and selective to allow the student to understand generative grammar sufficiently enough to be able to decide for himself/herself whether it is "wrong" or not.
Taking the book as a whole one is struck in particular by its selectivity, especially in view of the fact that it is intended as an introduction to linguistics for (first year) students. The author devotes a considerable amount of space to particular areas of interest, namely the passive, strong verbs and feminist linguistics, at the expense of core topics such as phonetics and phonology. (Indeed his interest in feminist linguistics is apparent in his systematic use of the feminine pronoun as the generic form, which some readers may find, at best, distracting and, at worst, offensive. Surely the more neutral he/she would be more appropriate?) He devotes a whole chapter to word formation yet hardly touches on inflectional morphology (except within the context of strong verbs) which is somewhat surprising since German is a highly inflecting language. In the chapters relating to syntax he engages in detailed and complex discussion on various analyses of the passive and of the German tense system yet does not deal with other major areas of syntax such as word order and the concept of valency.
My second general criticism is that the book lacks cohesion, which is further compounded by the author's organization of the chapters, namely the inclusion of Chapter 6 on language and politics between the chapters on the passive and word formation. It may have been preferable to divide the book into two sections, the first dealing with descriptive linguistics and the second with sociolinguistics, and to expand the second section to include more sociolinguistic topics. The chapter on generative grammar appears as an afterthought, following the bibliographies and appendices. Since it does not contain any German data and does not bear any relation to the rest of the book it could be dropped altogether. The author includes the chapter on generative grammar in order to explain to students why the approach is "wrong". Yet by condemning the approach from the outset students will not be motivated to try and understand generative theory and the final chapter will not be taken seriously. Indeed, the book is littered with anti-generative propaganda. Generative grammar is described as "misguided and indeed absurd" (p. 22), "a pseudo-science which impedes progress in real linguistics" (p. 217) and even "a joke" (p. 210). These comments are almost meaningless in the context of academic discourse. If the author feels that generative grammar cannot contribute to the study of German linguistics it would be perfectly legitimate for him to concentrate on a traditional descriptive approach without any reference to generative grammar at all.
As the book stands it cannot be recommended to students and certainly not to students looking for a general introduction to German linguistics. There is no doubt that a book of this type is needed and if there were to be a second edition I feel that it would benefit from a more general coverage of core linguistic topics and, at the same time, a tighter and more cohesive structure. Taking the chapters in isolation, however, it must be noted that the author does deal with some very interesting issues (e.g. the analysis of the German tense system in Chapter 8) and it certainly makes a refreshing change to find a scholar with such enthusiasm for traditional descriptive methods in a climate dominated by generative linguistics.