LINGUIST List 14.1738

Thu Jun 19 2003

Review: Historical Linguistics: Linn & McLelland (2002)

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  1. Marc Pierce, Standardization: Studies from the Germanic Languages

Message 1: Standardization: Studies from the Germanic Languages

Date: Thu, 19 Jun 2003 12:51:02 +0000
From: Marc Pierce <>
Subject: Standardization: Studies from the Germanic Languages

Linn, Andrew R. and Nicola McLelland eds. (2002). Standardization.
Studies from the Germanic Languages. John Benjamins Publishing
Company. Current Issues in Linguistic Theory 235.

Announced at

Marc Pierce, University of Michigan

As the editors point out in the introduction to this volume, there is
as yet no comprehensive investigation of the standardization of the
Germanic languages. This book, which grew out of a conference on the
standardization of the Germanic languages, held at the University of
Sheffield in January 2001, represents a first step in this
direction. (The editors also note in the foreword that such a
comprehensive study is in fact forthcoming, edited by two of the
contributors to the present volume, Ana Deumert and Wim
Vandenbussche.) The papers are grouped into three sections,
'Diffusing and shaping the standard', 'Standard and identity', and
'Non-standardization, de-standardization, and re-standardization'.

After a brief introduction, written by the editors ('Introduction',
vii-xii), the volume proper opens with Ana Deumert's contribution,
'Standardization and social networks: The emergence and diffusion of
standard Afrikaans' (1-25), which applies social network analysis to
the spread of standard languages. It is based on an examination of a
corpus of private documents collected between 1880 and 1922 -- an
important time for the history of Afrikaans, since it begins roughly
with the first steps towards the codification of Afrikaans and ends
roughly with the accordance of official status to Afrikaans in South
Africa. Deumert argues, in line with earlier social network studies
in historical sociolinguistics (e.g. L. Milroy 1980, J. Milroy and
L. Milroy 1985), that network members who had the closest connections
to the local communities, along with infrequent contact with
Afrikaaner nationalist circles, were the last to adopt Afrikaans (if
they adopted it at all). Deumert also notes, however, that ''the
conventional dichotomy of weak-tie vs. strong-tie networks ... appears
insufficient for understanding the diffusion process in the context of
language standardization'' (21), and further that ''network
relationships cannot explain the dynamics of the diffusion process''
(21). She suggests that a number of issues, including the roles of
coalition-based networks (networks connected by 'mutual endeavor'
rather than 'mutual confiding') and symbolic community ties, require
further investigation.

Wim Vandebussche then investigates 'Dutch orthography in lower,
middle, and upper class documents in 19th century Flanders' (27-42).
He argues that the 19th century has been unjustifiably neglected in
research on the history of Dutch, even though it was a crucially
important period for the development of Dutch in Flanders. Flemish
Dutch is of particular interest for the history of Dutch because it
was geographically separated from the Netherlands and was generally
neglected in favor of French. Despite these disadvantages, Dutch
achieved official status in Belgium in 1898, and is today ''the
official fully standardized language of all Flemings'' (28).
Vandebussche argues that the controversy over Dutch spelling in
Flanders in the 19th century can be boiled down to the question of
whether one should conform to the Northern Dutch spelling system or
should introduce specifically Flemish elements. Based on an extensive
investigation of a corpus of handwritten texts, Vandebussche suggests
that the standardization of spelling was a relatively unimportant
issue, since most writers, regardless of social class, tended to use a
variable spelling system, but also that there are some indications
that the need for a standardization of style and grammar was felt by
some writers.

The next paper is ''Standard German in the 19th century? (Counter-)
evidence from the private correspondence of 'ordinary people'''
(43-65), by Stephan Elspass. According to various handbooks (e.g.,
Blackall 1959), a number of linguistic features had been standardized
in German by the 19th century; Elspass investigates this claim with
regard to three features: the diminutive, the use of comparison
particles, and the case accompanying the preposition wegen 'because
of', relying on a corpus of private letters, and suggests that matters
are more complicated than the handbooks indicate. For instance, while
prescriptivists hold that wegen is a genitive preposition, it tends to
be used with the dative case in spoken German. Elspass found 68
instances of wegen in his corpus where the accompanying case could be
clearly identified; of these only 8 use the prescribed genitive case.
Similar results were obtained for the diminutive and comparison
particles. Elspass therefore concludes that German was not in fact
standardized by the end of the 18th century, but instead that the
standardization process was ongoing in the mid 19th century.

Nils Langer's contribution, ''On the importance of foreign language
grammars for a history of Standard German'' (67-82), suggests that an
investigation of early grammars of foreign languages can be useful in
preparing a history of Standard German, since they may indicate how
and to what extent prescriptivist recommendations entered language
use. Furthermore, the success of prescriptivists could be measured
based on their success in convincing language teachers to use their
variety of German. Langer therefore investigated the treatment of two
morphosyntactic constructions which are ungrammatical in Standard
German, but are well-attested in Early New High German (approximately
1350-1650), polynegation and the use of tun 'to do' as an auxiliary
verb (see the extensive discussion of this second construction in
Langer 2001), in various foreign language grammars. The results were
''heterogeneous and partially ambiguous'' (79), since some of the
grammars discussed these constructions, while others ignored them. He
does note that ''the rules and usages of L2 teachers do not
fundamentally violate the recommendations of contemporary prescriptive
grammarians, suggesting that language teachers were probably aware
... of the results of discussions by theoretical linguists'' (79).

The first section of the volume concludes with a paper by Alexander
Y. Zheltukhin entitled ''Norms and standards in 16th century Swedish
orthography'' (83-98), which builds on earlier work by the same author
(Zheltukhin 1996). Zheltukhin argues that there was a considerable
drive towards uniformity in spelling in 16th century Swedish texts,
out of which developed a number of community norms, one of which
became the orthographic standard (namely the norm codified in the
Gustavus Vasa Bible, originally published in 1541). Eventually,
however, this standard became obsolete and was replaced by the
orthographic standard of the second edition of this Bible, the
Gustavus II Adolf Bible, published in 1618.

The second section begins with ''Emerging mother-tongue awareness.
The special case of Dutch and German in the Middle Ages and the Early
Modern Period,'' by Luc de Grauwe (99-115). De Grauwe notes that
earlier conceptions of the Western European linguistic landscape often
divided it exclusively into Germanic and Romance speaking territories,
and further that earlier writers tended to use the terms
diutesch/duedesch/duutsch (cp. German Deutsch, English Dutch), which
means 'the language of the people', for the entire German/Dutch
dialect continuum. His discussion therefore focuses on the emerging
concepts of German and Dutch as separate languages, reviewing their
standardization and separation. He further observes that many writers
are aware of the special connection between Dutch and German, and
concludes with some speculations about whether this process will
continue, such that the German spoken in Switzerland, say, will be
renamed ''Swiss.''

Jetje de Groof examines ''Two hundred years of language planning in
Belgium'' (117-134). De Groof argues that language planning played an
important role in the standardization of Dutch in Belgium, that the de
jure language freedom led to de facto Frenchification, and finally
that, in the initial stages of language planning in Belgium, the
structure of the language itself was generally not an issue. De Groof
further attributes the eventual spread of Standard Dutch in Belgium to
three major factors: (1) increased government involvement (in the form
of official status for Dutch, the establishment of the Flemish
Academy, and so on), (2) increased contact with Dutch due to the
media, and (3) economic factors.

Kendra Willson discusses ''Political inflections. Grammar and the
Icelandic surname debate'' (135-152). Icelandic has retained a
patronymic naming system (the Icelandic phone directory is famously
based on first names), although some people also have surnames.
Willson notes that surnames first appear in Icelandic in the 17th
century, and that they became steadily more common over the next two
centuries or so. Eventually, official attempts were made to halt this
practice; for instance, an 1881 proposal (which was not passed) would
have required a fee of 500 crowns to take a surname, as well as
charging an annual tax of 10 crowns per syllable of the surname, and a
1913 law required governmental permission to adopt a surname and
required a fee of ten crowns to change a name and a charge of two
crowns per surname. These laws did not stop the debate over surnames
or their adoption, but the patronymic system has generally survived.

The last paper in this section is titled ''Standardization, language
change, resistance and the question of linguistic threat. 18th
century English and present-day German'' (153-178), by Peter
Hohenhaus. Hohenhaus offers a comparative perspective, examining
developments from 18th century English and current German, with regard
to linguistic purism. Hohenhaus argues convincingly that, despite the
claims of various alarmists about the ''purity'' of these languages,
neither English nor German is threatened. For instance, despite the
flood of Anglizismen that have entered German, German has not
undergone dramatic English-influenced structural changes, nor has
English become the everyday language of (at least most) Germans.

The final section of the book begins with Gerald Newton's
contribution, ''The standardization of Luxembourgish'' (179-190).
Newton argues that Luxembourgish remains strong in Luxembourg, and
shows no signs of being replaced by French or German. He attributes
this strength, and the standardization of Luxembourgish to the
following factors: the Education Act of 1912, which made Luxembourgish
a school subject; radio broadcasting; the Luxemburgische
Sprachgesellschaft (''Luxembourg Linguistic Society''); World War II,
since at the end of the war Luxembourgish was seen as ''the link that
had held the nation together during the time of oppression'' (184);
and various grammars and dictionaries of the language.

Arthur O. Sandved discusses ''Language planning in Norway. A bold
experiment with unexpected results'' (191-203). It is well known that
there are two officially recognized standard Norwegian languages.
Sandved argues that there is in fact a third, albeit not officially
recognized, standard. Ironically, this arose from the efforts of the
Norwegian government to amalgamate the two standards into one
language, one which less closely resembled Danish. For instance, a
series of language reforms introduced new spellings and inflectional
forms. Yet, as Sandved contends, these reforms seem to have
backfired, since these two standards still exist.

Anthonia Feitsma tackles the standardization of Frisian in
'''Democratic' and 'elitist' trends and a Frisian standard''
(205-218). Feitsma applies the description of standardization of
Joseph (1987) to the Frisian situation, describing the efforts of
various writers in the area of standardization. Feitsma also argues
that in Frisian there is uncertainty between an elitist
standardization model and a ''democratic'' standardization model, and
finally notes that there is a strong language ideology about Frisian,
despite the lack of a Frisian-speaking nation.

Ane Kleine's paper, ''Yiddish: No state, no status -- no standard?'',
argues that there is a Yiddish standard (at least in pronunciation),
despite the lack of a Yiddish-speaking state (note also the similar
arguments about Frisian contained in Feitsma's contribution to this
volume). Kleine focuses on ''the impact of language contact in
standardizing and language planning'' (221), since Yiddish speakers
were often forced to migrate, and faced restricted occupational
choices, often leading to dialect leveling. Other factors considered
by Kleine include the impact of Yiddish writers and intellectuals
(e.g. those connected with YIVO, the Institute for Jewish Research,
founded in 1925 in Vilnius, Lithuania), and the question of language

The final paper in the volume is ''Standardization processes and the
Mid-Atlantic English paradigm'' (229-252), by Marko Modiano. Modiano
examines the case of ''Mid-Atlantic English,'' which he characterizes
as a mixture of features of American and British English, combined
with various elements of speakers' first languages (237). Modiano
notes that this variety of English has not been standardized, and
therefore describes some ways to accomplish this, as well as some
challenges which such an effort would face (e.g. pressure from both
American and British English). The volume concludes with a brief
index of names and concepts.

While this volume suffers from the weaknesses common to conference
proceedings (mainly a somewhat less unified focus than one might
hope), the papers are of uniformly high quality. Although not every
essay in this collection will please every reader, there is much of
value here. The volume is a pleasure to read, packed with useful
information and references. It is to be recommended to those
interested in Germanic linguistics, sociolinguistics, and historical
linguistics, and it has certainly whetted my appetite for the larger
forthcoming work mentioned above.


Blackall, Eric A. 1959. The emergence of German as a literary language
 1700-1775. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Joseph, John E. 1987. Eloquence and power. The rise of language
 standards and standard languages. London: Frances Pinter.

Langer, Nils. 2001. Linguistic purism in action -- Stigmatizing the
 auxiliary tun in Early New High German. Berlin: de Gruyter.

Milroy, James and Lesley Milroy. 1985. Linguistic change, social
 network, and speaker innovation. Journal of Linguistics 21: 339-384.

Milroy, Lesley. 1980. Language and social networks. Oxford: Blackwell.

Zheltukhin, Alexander Y. 1996. Orthographic codes and code-switching. A
 study in 16th century Swedish orthography. Stockholm: Almqvist &


Marc Pierce teaches in the Departments of Germanic Languages and
Literatures and Classical Studies at the University of Michigan. His
major research interests are Germanic linguistics, historical
linguistics, phonology, and early Germanic culture, religion, and
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