LINGUIST List 24.4489|
Mon Nov 11 2013
Review: Applied Linguistics: Granzow-Emden (2013)
Editor for this issue: Joseph Salmons
From: Daniel Walter <dwalterandrew.cmu.edu>
Subject: Deutsche Grammatik verstehen und unterrichten
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Book announced at http://linguistlist.org/issues/24/24-1587.html
AUTHOR: Matthias Granzow-Emden
TITLE: Deutsche Grammatik verstehen und unterrichten
SERIES TITLE: bachelor-wissen
PUBLISHER: Narr Francke Attempto Verlag GmbH + Co. KG
REVIEWER: Daniel Walter, Carnegie Mellon University
“Deutsche Grammatik verstehen und unterrichten” (“Understanding and teaching
German grammar”) is an instructional textbook primarily intended for those
teaching German grammar to first language German students. It is particularly
well designed as a course book for teacher education programs, whose students
may not have extensive explicit knowledge of German grammar.
This book is divided into fourteen chapters, laying out problems with
traditional grammar instruction in German language classrooms and providing
alternative explanations and teaching methods for different grammatical
The first chapter, “Wege zur Grammatik” (“Paths to Grammar”), dispels common
myths about what people see as “good” versus “bad” German, emphasizing
differences in language forms in different social contexts. This allows the
author to discuss “Standard” in a way that highlights its importance in
academic contexts without disregarding the importance of local dialects and
natural speech. Finally, the author outlines his plan for instruction built
not on semantic definitions to explain syntactic elements but rather the use
of word groups and their syntactic relations to explain the grammatical
make-up of German.
The second chapter, “Das Verb als Schlüssel zum grammatischen Verstehen” (“The
Verb as the Key to Grammatical Understanding”), places the understanding of
the importance of the verb at heart of German grammar instruction. First, the
author describes why the common description of a verb as an “action” word is
incorrect and leads learners down the wrong path. Instead, the author
describes the verb in terms of valence theory and shows its role in connecting
different sentential elements. This syntactic-relational explanation helps
teachers and students avoid a semantic definition for the syntactic function
of the verb.
The third chapter, “Grammatische Modellbildung” (“Grammatical Model
Construction”), describes the importance of using exemplars to explain
grammatical concepts and highlights the idea that these examples are more
effective than grammatical “rules” which often come with so many exceptions
that they are often hardly worth conveying.
The fourth chapter, “Die Feldgliederung als zentrales Muster der deutschen
Sprache” (“Field Grouping as the Central Template of the German Language”),
provides a five-unit model for the construction of German sentences. These
units, in order from left to right, consist of the pre-field, left verb field,
middle field, right verb field, and post-field. By describing the normal
German paradigm as consisting of a two-part verb field with left and right
positions, movement and placement of German verbs can be better described than
in the standard left verb field base model.
The fifth chapter, “Formen und Funktionen von satzverbindenden und
verweisenden Einheiten” (“Forms and Functions of sentence combining and
referential elements”), focuses on the parts of speech that serve discursive
and deictic functions. For example, the importance of conjunctions in creating
rational relationships between clauses and how deictic elements refer across a
discourse or discourses (e.g. he, she) and within a particular context (e.g.
The sixth chapter, “Eine neue Satzlehre fuer die Schule” (“A New Sentence
Model for the School”), explains problems with current instruction based on
three traditional sentence types: commands, questions, and declaratives. After
problematizing current teaching methods, the author shows how his field
description can overcome pitfalls of the traditional approach.
The seventh chapter, “Starke und schwache Verben und die verschiedenen
Verbarten” (“Strong and Weak Verbs and Different Verb Types”), outlines the
different verb types in German. The author proposes that using
socio-historical explanations for the development of different verb types can
help students understand the seemingly arbitrary nature of different verb
The eighth chapter, “Formen und Funktionen des Verbs im Satz” (“Forms and
Functions of the Verb in the Sentence”), discusses the effects of person and
number on verb conjugation, as well as the verb’s relationship to time and
aspect. This chapter also introduces the participle II form and the different
verb forms in indicative and subjunctive moods.
The ninth chapter, “Übersicht zu den Verbformen: Aktiv- und Passivformen im
Indikativ und Konjunktiv” (“Overview of Verb Forms: Active and Passive Forms
in Indicative and Subjunctive”), provides detailed tables for each of the
different verb combinations with a description of the requisite parts and an
explanation of the semantics behind the use of these different combinations.
The tenth chapter, “Nomen, Nominal- und Präpositionalgruppen” (“Nouns, Nominal
Groups and Prepositional Groups”), differentiates the noun as a lexical,
semantically central element of language from its role as a syntactic element.
Like the verb, the noun can also be split into two fields. The author argues
that the left noun field plays an important role in linguistic pointing, i.e.
which previously discussed information is being referenced, and the right noun
field, on the other hand, is important in naming, i.e. indicating new
The eleventh chapter, “Attribute” (“Attributes”), discusses additional
linguistic elements that complement the nominal group. These include
morphological elements, like adjective endings, in addition to genitive,
prepositional, relative, adverbial, infinitival, verb-final, and accusative
The twelfth chapter, “Kasus, Numerus, Genus” (“Case, Number, Gender”),
discusses the interaction of case, number, and gender. The author takes a
stance against the typical “Fragemethode” (“question method”), in which
students pose questions using the question words Wer, Wen, and Wem in order to
teach case. The author cites evidence that this method leads students to make
false conclusions about case and pushes for instruction that looks at the
government of different parts of speech over case, such as prepositions,
verbs, adjectives, and nouns.
The thirteenth chapter, “Die Deklination der Nominalgruppe” (The Declension of
the Nominal Groups”), provides detailed tables which show the different
declension patterns in German across its four cases, three genders, and two
The fourteenth and final chapter, “Die traditionelle Satzgliedlehre” (“The
Traditional Model of Parts of Speech”), reaffirms why this approach is useful
in instructing students in German grammar, and notes the difficulty any new
approach to grammar will meet once these students begin teaching. They will
face the challenge of conforming to the traditions and norms of their school,
as well as balancing what they know and think is right for their own
classrooms, and it is up to each individual teacher to make decisions about
what is best for their students.
Overall, this book does an excellent job of explaining German grammar in an
easily accessible way. The numerous examples, practice sections, and thorough
explanations behind this specific approach to grammar instruction make it an
obvious choice for students and teachers with a limited amount of instruction
in linguistics. In addition, this book balances the grammatical explanations
necessary to help future teachers understand the grammatical concepts
themselves with methods aimed at helping those future teachers to be able to
teach those grammatical concepts in a classroom.
While this book, on the whole, is well suited for people with fairly limited
explicit knowledge of German, it would not necessarily be appropriate for an
upper level linguistics course. The explanations are clear, but there is
little theoretical context on the different mechanisms driving these different
linguistic forms. Some references for further reading on linguistic theory are
included, such as Steven Pinker’s “The Language Instinct” and Vygotsky’s
“Thinking and Speaking”, but this is not a major topic of the book. In
addition, some of the theories cited differ significantly with regard to
language development (e.g. usage-based vs. innate), but there is no
explanation of this dichotomy.
For professors in German-speaking teacher education programs, this textbook
can provide a clear approach to helping students understand and be able to
teach different grammatical concepts could help to facilitate real change in
future grammar instruction.
Pinker, S. (1994). The Language Instinct. New York: Harper Perennial Modern
Vygotsky, L. (2002). Denken und Sprechen. Psychologische Untersuchungen.
Weinheim; Basel: Beltz.
ABOUT THE REVIEWER
Dan Walter is a Ph.D. student in Second Language Acquisition at Carnegie
Mellon University. His interests include German as a second language,
grammatical gender, and emergentist approaches to language learning.
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