First published in Web Journal of Modern Language Linguistics. © 2000 Jonathan West.
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Harro Gross's well-tried and successful introduction to German linguistics has been edited and brought up to date by Klaus Fischer. For those unfamiliar with the original, it is aimed at university students taking a one-semester beginners' course, whose first or major second language is German. Like the first edition, the new edition consists of ten chapters: theoretical background and introduction (Wissenschaft und Praxis) (pp. 1-17), communication and semiotics (pp. 18-35), phonology (pp. 36-47), morphology (pp. 48-72), syntax (pp. 73-108), semantics (pp. 109-130), textlinguistics (discourse analysis) (pp. 131-155), pragmatics (pp. 156-166), sociolinguistics (pp. 167-190), and historical linguistics (pp. 191-204). The rest of the volume is taken up with a short disquisition on further topics which could be covered (pp. 205-206), hints for teachers and some solutions for the exercises (pp. 207-277), bibliographical practice (pp. 278-281), and an introductory bibliography (pp. 282-291) and indices (pp. 292-303).
The revision is some 25% larger than the original and has retained its readability. The original author Harro Gross is still alive and has remained in contact with his editor. Welcome differences include the decision to devote rather more space to Saussurean structuralism in Chapter 2. A link with the chapter on historical linguistics (of which more below) would have been possible here, in so far as the Saussurean paradigm would probably not have emerged without his Neogrammarian education in Leipzig - Saussure's laryngeal theory (Saussure 1879) is essentially structuralist, a perspective often obscured in discussions of the theory itself and in histories of linguistics alike. Another welcome addition is the phonemic analysis of the German vowel system in Chapter 3. The orthography reform also receives some space.
In the chapter on morphology, Fischer reviews and distils the recent discussion on word classes, and retains the sections on particularly German problems such as the subjunctive and the passive. Major changes are in the syntax chapter, where the dependency model is clearly described beside the NP-VP paradigm, and Chapter 6 (semantics), where prototype semantics and some of the allied psycholinguistic problems are now discussed. Here, as in his approach to the rest of the modern chapters, the editor shows his wide reading and commendably sure touch. He has a talent for distilling linguistic theories and explaining difficult concepts, even though one could sometimes quarrel over matters of detail, and his text is a model of clarity.
My one problem is the chapter on historical linguistics, as there was clearly insufficient space to deal with the matter in the detail required. Having said that, what is there could have been tidied up considerably. The Germanic formula for the word "wolf" (p. 191) is *wulfaz, the corresponding IE formula *wlkwós (imagine a syllabic "l", please) rather than the forms given. This was probably a bad example to choose (as Gmc *f from *kw remains unexplained - it is not simply a matter of either *k or *p in IE). The equation Latin quinque (the "i" is long) to German fünf is explained by IE *penkwe and assimilation as in Welsh pump, Old Irish cóic (the long vowel in Latin is explained by analogy with quintus, which gets its long vowel by virtue of the prehistoric contraction from *penkwetós). I would have great difficulty explaining how the IE tribes began their migrations (if this is how it happened) 4000-5000 years ago (p. 192), when by the second millennium B.C. we have good evidence that Greek, Hittite and Indic were firmly established as separate language groups in roughly their historical areas. Again, noone who has read any 16th or 17th-century texts could accept without qualification that the New High German period begins in the 16th/17th century (p. 194). There is unlikely to have been, contrary to the impression given (p. 195), a standardizing language of the Franks (see Keller 1964). The data for the Second Sound Shift (p. 195) is incomplete, as the position of WGmc *p, *t and *k in the word is ignored. It is about time we stopped teaching primary and secondary umlaut as if it were holy writ: as Keller (1978:160-164) convincingly shows, the fact that OHG scribes did not write the umlaut of [u] and so on has an orthographical, rather than a phonological explanation.
I do not wish to labour the point, as, despite this one blemish, this is really the best introduction to German linguistics available at the moment. If it is rewritten as a fourth edition or translated into English (which I hope it will be), the historical chapter is a prime candidate for sacrifice, either to lengthen the other chapters or to provide an introduction to psycholinguistics or the like. My personal choice would be extension of the existing chapters, as this would allow matters dealt with necessarily briefly to receive a more in-depth treatment. The exercises and didactic hints are another distinct advantage and make this textbook a strong candidate for adoption.
Keller, R. E., 1978. The German Language. London: Faber.
Saussure, F. de, 1879. Mémoire sur le système primitif des voyelles dans les langues indo-européennes. Leipzig: Teubner.