Review of Standardization
Date: Tue, 17 Jun 2003 19:00:16 -0400 (EDT)
From: Marc Pierce <email@example.com>
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.
Reviewed by 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
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
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
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
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
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 shift.
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
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 &
ABOUT THE REVIEWER:
About the reviewer
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 literature.