AUTHORS: Barbour, Stephen; Stevenson, Patrick; translated by Gebel, Konstanze
TITLE: Variation im Deutschen
SUBTITLE: Soziolinguistische Perspektiven
SERIES: de Gruyter Study Series (Studienbuch)
PUBLISHER: Walter de Gruyter
Karen Roesch, Department of Germanic Studies, University of Texas at Austin
This German translation by Konstanze Gebel of Barbour and Stevenson (1990) is
intended to fulfill an introductory role for the German-speaking student
approaching the complex and multi-dimensional field of German language
variation. Barbour and Stevenson begin by providing an historical framework of
the Indo-European origins of the German language through the development of a
standard language, and proceed to identify and describe national and regional
variation. After introducing past and current methodological approaches, the
discussion focuses on the role of social and political factors in language
variation with closer scrutiny of such developments as re-unified Berlin and
issues of language contact in multilingual situations such as those of
Switzerland and Belgium.
In addition to the introduction and a brief conclusion, the text is divided into
seven main content areas: 1) Historical background; 2) The German tradition of
dialectology; 3) Language and society: urban speech, urbanization and 'new
dialectology'; 4) Sociolinguistic variation and the continuum of colloquial
speech; 5) Standard and non-standard German: their role in society; 6) Language
in multilingual societies: the Federal Republic and Switzerland; and 7) Contact
Introduction: What is German and who speaks it? This chapter frames the
discussion of sociolinguistic variation by introducing key issues and terms
which define the field and problematic issues involved. The variation in German
language forms is introduced and basic terms such as ''standard,'' ''dialect,'' and
''colloquial speech'' are defined. (These general terms appear as bold-faced
entries throughout the text and can be found in an appended glossary.) The
section also provides textual samples of German language variation, followed by
a discussion of social, political, historical, and cultural factors critical to
its analysis. The status and function of German in relation to other languages
is presented with a discussion of concepts such as ''bilingualism,'' ''diglossia,''
and ''domain.'' Finally, the disputed status and place of sociolinguistics in
relation to traditional dialectology in Germany is addressed (see also
Chapter 2, Historical background. The historical development of German is
presented from its earliest Indo-European beginnings to the present-day standard
language. Its relation to other Indo-European languages is first established,
followed by explanations of the First and Second Sound Shifts and German's
ensuing relationship to other Germanic languages. Political and cultural factors
are highlighted as the authors trace the formation of a standard despite a wide
spectrum of regional and local variation, with special emphasis given to the
contribution of Middle Age chancelleries, the printing press, and the
Reformation. Classic diglossia (Ferguson 1972), which is understood as using a
High variety of a language for formal domains and a Low variety for informal
domains, and the development of a modern linguistic continuum are introduced
with additional references to global influences from without and social changes
from within the German-speaking region.
Chapter 3, The German tradition of dialectology. The authors trace the
development of the field of German dialectology from its earliest descriptive
traditions of dialect to the introduction of the extralinguistic methods of
English (i.e. British) sociolinguistics. Traditional methods of grouping
linguistic variation according to similarity via isoglosses and isogloss bundles
are presented and compared to the new sociolinguistic methods focused on
variation within groups which look to social factors for explanation. Barbour
and Stevenson commit the rest of the chapter to purely descriptive goals:
establishing three modern German dialect areas by mainly providing traditional
phonological data with brief mention of problems and complexities surrounding
boundaries and analysis of variation.
Chapter 4, Language and Society: urban speech, urbanization and 'new
dialectology'. This chapter presents the shift in variation studies from rural
dialectology (describing ''Mundarten'' as homogenous forms) to urban dialectology
with emphasis on variation and its social meaning in the wake of population
shift to urban centers after World War II, as a new wave of industrialization
and modernization set in. Urbanization is tagged as the new force driving social
change and requires new methods linking social and linguistic change. The 'new
dialectology,' modeled on English and American studies, investigates causes for
linguistic change by taking group and individual factors such as class, gender,
age, education, etc. into account. Benchmark studies indicative of the new
dialectology by German sociolinguists such as Hofmann (1963) and Senft (1982)
are described in detail. The remainder of the chapter provides another in-depth
discussion of late 20th century sociolinguistic studies on Berlin, which gave
sociolinguists a unique opportunity to observe linguistic change in a city
divided, then re-united. The Berlin studies are juxtaposed with new studies of
urban influence on outlying suburbs such as Erp outside of Cologne.
Chapter 5, Sociolinguistic variation and the continuum of colloquial speech.
Barbour and Stevenson provide a detailed description of the wide range of
variation in type, register, and style, as well as phonological, grammatical,
and lexical variation found in the colloquial German spoken in Central Europe.
The reasons for a lack of research on colloquial speech are examined, and a
further division of the colloquial into ''standard colloquial'' and ''non-standard
colloquial'' is proposed. A comprehensive discussion of the
phonetic/phonological, grammatical, and lexical variation in the colloquial
follows, spanning such topics as lenition, case syncretism, the
preterite-perfect distinction, and East-West lexical differences.
Chapter 6, Standard and non-standard German: their role in society. The bulk of
the discussion centers around an early assumption of a linguistic disadvantage
of the working class proposed in Bernstein's (1971) sociolinguistic theory of a
social distribution of codes, i.e. a ''restricted code'' versus an ''elaborated
code.'' Barbour and Stevenson explore the nature of non-standard speech that
might place its speakers (in this case, schoolchildren) at a disadvantage. They
argue that it not a fundamental deficiency of the code itself, but rather a
function of social attitudes.
Chapter 7, Language in multilingual societies: the Federal Republic and
Switzerland. These two countries present very different scenarios of
multilingual societies. The Federal Republic brought in guest workers from
different countries such as Turkey and Poland to supplement the work force after
WWII, many of whom remained in Germany. Their ''guest-worker'' German
(''Gastarbeiterdeutsch'') exhibits similar acquisition stages of structural
features, even though learned by different first language speakers. Barbour and
Stevenson discuss theories which have been put forward to account for this
striking similarity, such as the transfer and pidgin hypotheses. Switzerland, on
the other hand, provides an example of the successful coexistence of four
languages: Swiss German, French, Italian, and Romansch. The authors discuss the
political reasons for this harmony, but also highlight tensions in what is
erroneously thought of as a utopian coexistence, citing examples such as the
friction between Swiss German and French speakers in the Jura region.
Chapter 8, Contact and conflict: Barbour and Stevenson describe contact
situations broadly within a general sociolinguistic framework of historical
context, language use, and attitudes. The breadth and complexity are conveyed by
covering several representative situations where German comes into contact with
Germanic languages, Romance languages, Slovene, and Hungarian, such as Eastern
Belgium, the Alsace-Lorraine, and South Tyrol. Language decline and language
shift are approached from the perspective of the loss of multi- or bilingualism
with examples from Schleswig and southeast Austria. Concluding discussions of
contact within the German-speaking area concentrate on lexical borrowing,
particularly on the heavy influence of English.
This translation into German by Konstanze Gebel of Barbour and Stevenson's
comprehensive, well-structured volume on German variation provides
German-speaking readers with a translation of an important work on German
sociolinguistics and also updates some of the content material. A translation of
an already cross-cultural approach (an English perspective on German variation)
back into the language of its topic speaks for the book's well-earned reputation
in the field of Sociolinguistics (Clyne 1992), evidenced by its frequent
inclusion on course reading lists. Interesting to note is the change of the
title by-line from the English version of ''A critical approach to German
sociolinguistics'' to simply ''Sociolinguistic perspectives'' in the German
translation. Indeed, this small change is indicative of the text's focus, i.e.,
a predominantly descriptive work of the main tenets and developments in the
study of German variation rather than a purely critical appraisal of the field,
although Barbour and Stevenson amply discuss controversies and critique
approaches to sociolinguistic issues.
The translation itself is fluid and remains true to the original text, while at
the same time providing expanded, albeit brief, sections on topics mainly
related to reunification effects on Germany and the increasing influence of
immigrant communities. Discussions on Berlin, guest-worker speech
(''Gastarbeiterdeutsch''), intercultural communication, as well as an extensive
description of the Lusatian Serbs (Wends) of eastern Germany have been added.
The original text has also been updated with recent references to studies after
1990, as well as helpful and expanded additions to the suggestions for further
reading at the end of the chapters. However, one would also have expected to
find at least one reference in the bibliography to Dorian (1989) in view of the
content of the book's final chapter, for instance. Gebel has taken criticisms of
some of the maps and the appended phonetic chart to heart (cf. Nikisch 1993) and
has made small adjustments, such as distinguishing phonemic from phonetic
transcriptions with appropriate indicators, as well as a slightly enhanced map
of the Second Germanic Consonant Shift isoglosses (86).
Gebel makes other adept adjustments for the readership, such as in the opening
discussion of Chapter 4 of the terms ''standard,'' ''colloquial,'' and ''dialect.''
The original version in this case contains an extensive explanation of the
different understandings of the terms ''standard'' and ''dialect'' for the English
speaker versus the broad spectrum which exists in German, while the translated
version foregoes this lengthy comparison, as an explanation is redundant for the
Although not the translator's fault, it should be noted that the English
original version could have been improved with several adjustments helpful to
the student new to the study of variation, such as the inclusion of prescriptive
movements and grammars in the discussion of standardization (Wells 1985) in
Chapter 2, or a sampling of methodological perspectives from the American sphere
in Chapter 4 (in addition to small tokens proffered, as on p. 110), especially
in light of Barbour and Stevenson's concluding statement of intent to place
''German sociolinguistic phenomena within the sociolinguistic framework familiar
in English-speaking countries'' (1990: 262). Chapter 3 presents an
overly-technical assessment of phonemes, diphthongization, and lenition which
would have best been left to suggestions for further reading. Finally, even a
passing remark on guest workers (''contract workers'') brought into the DDR from
Cuba and Vietnam should be included in the discussion of multilingualism in
While the translation is more suited to the native speaker of German, it is
undoubtedly a valuable resource to any student of German linguistics who wishes
to acquire a German academic register in the sociolinguistic field. Discussions
on a breadth of sociolinguistic topics as noted in the summary provide the
student with terms and examples central to German sociolinguistic issues. In
particular, the discussion of recent sociolinguistic studies surrounding Berlin
provides a thought-provoking case study (see also Schoenfeld and Grunert 2001).
Despite the various flaws noted above, the material is by no means outdated, and
this book still constitutes an excellent introductory text in any language.
Barbour, Stephen and Patrick Stevenson. 1990. _Variation in German_.
Bernstein, Basil. 1971 [orig. 1965]. A socio-linguistic approach to social
learning. In _Class, codes and control_, Vol 1, ed. by Basil Bernstein, 118-43.
London: Routledge & Kegan Paul.
Clyne, Michael. 1992. Review of _Variation in German_, by Stephen Barbour and
Patrick Stevenson. _Language_ 68.393-396.
Dorian, Nancy C. (ed.) 1989. _Language Obsolescence: Studies in language
contraction and death_. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Ferguson, Charles. 1972 [orig. 1959]. Diglossia. In _Language and social
context_, ed. by Pier Giglioli, 232-51. Harmondsworth: Penguin.
Hofmann, Else. 1963. Sprachsoziologische Untersuchungen ueber den Einfluss der
Stadtsprache auf mundartsprechende Arbeiter. In _Festgabe K. Winnacker_, ed. by
G. Heilfurth and L.E. Schmitt, 201-81. Marburg: Elwert.
Lippi-Green, Rosina, and Jennifer Dailey-O'Cain. 1998. ''Soziolinguistik'' or
Sociolinguistics: Can the great divide be bridged? _American Journal of Germanic
Linguistics and Literatures_. 10.107-127.
Nikisch, Craig W. 1993. Review of _Variation in German_, by Stephen Barbour and
Patrick Stevenson. _German Studies Review_. 16.105-106.
Schoenfeld, Helmut, and Sabine Grunert. 2001. _Berlinisch heute_.
Frankfurt/Main: Peter Lang.
Senft, Gunter. 1982. _Sprachliche Varietaet und Variation im Sprachverhalten
Kaiserlauterer Metallarbeiter_. Bern, Frankfurt/Main: Peter Lang.
Wells, C.J. 1985. _German: a linguistic history to 1945_. Oxford: Oxford
ABOUT THE REVIEWER:
Karen Roesch is currently recording and analyzing a linguistic variety of
Alsatian in Castroville, Texas, for completion of a PhD in German at the
University of Texas at Austin. She teaches German language and culture courses
on Texas German and film at the University of Texas. Other areas of interest are
multilingualism, second language acquisition, and Japanese language and culture.