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Review of Linguistic Purism in the Germanic Languages
Date: Thu, 02 Mar 2006 15:21:25 -0600 From: Marc Pierce Subject: Linguistic Purism in the Germanic Languages
EDITORS: Langer, Nils; Davies, Winifred V. TITLE: Linguistic Purism in the Germanic Languages SERIES: Studia Linguistica Germanica 75 PUBLISHER: Mouton de Gruyter YEAR: 2005
Marc Pierce, University of Texas at Austin
As the editors note in the introduction to this book, linguistic purism is an increasingly popular subject of scholarly study. This book provides a Germanic perspective on the topic (one paper on a non-Germanic language, an article by Zoë Boughton on French, has been included for comparative purposes), and consists of papers originally presented at a conference held at the University of Bristol in April 2003.
The volume opens with an essay titled ''An Introduction to Linguistic Purism'' (1-17), written by the editors. This chapter offers a useful survey of some of the relevant issues (e.g., a definition of linguistic purism and the relationship between purism and standardization), before outlining the contents of the rest of the volume.
The first section, ''Historical Prescriptivism and Purism,'' contains five papers. It begins with ''Language norm and language reality. Effectiveness and limits of prescriptivism in New High German'' (20- 45), by Stephan Elspaß. Here Elspaß notes that prescriptivist ideals have successfully eliminated a number of constructions from standard German, e.g., double negatives and past participles without the ge- prefix, but have been unable to remove others, e.g., the use of dative case with supposedly genitive prepositions like wegen 'because of'. He suggests that three main factors can contribute to this process: the ''regional distribution of a certain figure, its functionality and the intensity of its stigmatization'' (42). Thus, to take up two of the factors, double negatives are mainly restricted to the south and are intensely stigmatized, while the use of dative case with wegen is much more widespread, and most speakers of German seem happy to accept it.
The next paper, ''Taming thistles and weeds amidst the wheat: language gardening in nineteenth-century Flanders,'' by Wim Vandenbussche, Roland Willemyns, Jetje De Groof, and Eline Vanhecke (46-61), picks up the metaphor of language as a garden (see Burridge 2002, 2005 for recent applications of this metaphor to English) and applies it to nineteenth-century Belgium, where there were in fact two major language conflicts: French vs. Dutch, as well as one within Dutch (perhaps better phrased as Flemish vs. Dutch). Topics discussed here include integrationist purism in contrast to particularist purism, the abuse of purism, and its effects.
Next, Maria Barbara Lange discusses ''Bad language in Germany's past - the birth of linguistic norms in the seventeenth century'' (62- 85). This article can be divided into two main sections. The first section looks at handbooks of the history of German (e.g. Wells 1985), with special attention to their discussion and assessment of seventeenth-century grammarians, while the second section turns to the primary sources themselves (e.g. works by Christof Arnold and Justus Schottelius), with an eye to the negative value judgments about the German language expressed therein.
Joachim Scharloth then discusses ''The revolutionary argumentative pattern in puristic discourse: The Swabian dialect in the debate about the standardization of German in the eighteenth century'' (86-96). Scharloth draws two main conclusions: puristic discourse tends to treat dialects in one of two ways, either as varieties deserving criticism or as varieties that can be ''purer'' than the standard language; and that there are two patterns normally found in puristic discourse, one conservative and one revolutionary.
The final paper in this section is ''A comparative study of linguistic purism in the history of England and Germany'' (97-108), by Maria Geers. After a brief terminological discussion, Geers offers an effective discussion of different trends in linguistic purism manifested in England and Germany.
The second section, ''Nationhood and Purism,'' contains four papers. It opens with ''Linguistic purism in German-speaking Switzerland and the Deutschschweizerischer Sprachverein 1904-1942'' (110-113), by Felicity Rash. The main topics discussed here are the protection of standard German in Switzerland (from foreign languages and the Swiss German dialects) and the protection of the Swiss German dialects (from foreign languages, standard German, and each other), with an emphasis on the role of the DSSV.
The next paper is ''Language nationalism in the Schiller commemoration addresses of 1859'' (124-143), by Evelyn Ziegler, and deals with ''the construction of a national language ideology [for Germany] by studying the ritual of civic festivities during which Germans collectively represented their formation as a cultural entity'' (124); the specific ''civic festivities'' discussed here are the celebrations of the centennial of the birth of the well-known German author Friedrich Schiller. Based on an examination of addresses given at these celebrations, Ziegler concludes, among other things, that Schiller's use of language is idealized, and that his ''Germanness'' is also heavily emphasized, thus contributing to the formation of a specifically German language ideology.
The scene then changes to South Africa for the next paper, ''Standard Afrikaans and the different faces of 'Pure Afrikaans' in the twentieth century'' (144-165), by Ria van den Berg, which traces the phases of development of Standard Afrikaans, from its origins as ''Kitchen Dutch'' to its emergence as a fully-fledged standardized language. This development was cyclical, as Afrikaans was originally a stigmatized variety of Dutch, became an accepted standard language, was then restigmatized because of apartheid, and now seems to be being destigmatized following the end of apartheid.
The last paper in this section is ''Reimagining the nation: Discourses of language purism in Luxembourg'' (166-185), by Kristine Horner. This paper analyzes the ongoing debate about the changing language situation in Luxembourg, with regard to three main issues: the politicization Luxembourgish (and why it is happening at this particular time), the major figures in this development, and the links between manifestations of linguistic purism and Luxembourgish national identity.
The next section, ''Modern Society and Purism,'' opens with Dieter Stein's ''On the role of language ideologies in linguistic theory and practice: purism and beyond'' (188-203). This paper deals with a wide range of issues, including the definition of ''ideology'' and the notion of ''segregationalism'' (cf. Harris 1996).
The next paper, ''Elements of traditional and 'reverse' purism in relation to computer-mediated communication'' (204-220), by Peter Hohenhaus, concentrates on ''reverse purism,'' by which he means a type of purism whose characteristics are the exact opposite of those of traditional purism, in several genres of computer-mediated communication. Hohenhaus outlines the characteristics of traditional purism and ''reverse purism'' (see also Crystal 2001 on this issue), describes the types of computer-mediated communication he will focus on, then presents his analysis, focusing on English, and closes with a brief section on two aspects of computer-mediated communication in German (the use of formal vs. informal forms of address and the use of Anglicisms).
Patrick Stevenson offers a paper titled ''Once an Ossi, always an Ossi: language ideologies and social division in contemporary Germany'' (221-237), which fits nicely into the growing body of research on this topic (see, for instance, Dailey-O'Cain , Stevenson , and the various papers collected in Reiher and Baumann  and Reiher and Laezer [1993)]). Stevenson argues convincingly that ''language ideologies may provide an interpretative frame for understanding the role of (perceptions of) language in use in sustaining social division in Germany since 1990'' (233).
The fourth section, ''Folk linguistics and purism,'' opens with '''The Grand Daddy of English': US, UK, New Zealand and Australian students' attitudes toward varieties of English'' (241-251), by Betsy Evans. The data discussed here represents the results of a questionnaire distributed to university students in the four countries mentioned in the title, and suggests, among other things, that UK English is given a high status, while US English is generally viewed negatively. Australian and New Zealand English both inspired mixed reactions.
Nancy Niedzielski then discusses ''Linguistic Purism from several perspectives: views from the 'secure' and 'insecure''' (252-262). This paper first looks at groups of what Niedzielski calls ''linguistically secure'' speakers (a term apparently coined by Labov 1966), i.e. speakers who have ''demonstrated high degrees [of] confidence in the correctness of their own variety'' (253), in this case speakers from Michigan and California, and then contrasts this with the results obtained from investigating groups of linguistically insecure speakers, in this case speakers from Texas and New Zealand. The results of the investigation are intriguing - among other items of interest, the data from the linguistically secure speakers exhibits certain features that are seen as non-standard, even by these speakers themselves.
The next paper is ''Dialect and written language: Change in dialect norms in the history of the German language'' (263-282), by Klaus J. Mattheier. In this paper, Mattheier points out that certain varieties of German have been favored since at least the Middle Ages, and then briefly traces some of the changes that have occurred in this area, with the most space being devoted to the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.
The final paper in the section is Zoë Boughton's contribution, ''Investigating puristic attitudes in France: Folk perceptions of variation in standard French'' (282-299). Here Boughton reports on a study investigating folk perceptions of the variety of French spoken in Nancy (a city in northeastern France), and then compares the results and methods of her work with the earlier study of Kuiper (1999).
The final section of the volume, ''Linguists and purism,'' contains three papers. It opens with '''Vorsicht ist nicht immer der bessere Teil der Tapferkeit' - Purism in the historiography of the German language'' (302-323), by Katja Leyhausen. After some remarks on the nature of historiography, Leyhausen discusses purist statements found in some histories of the German language (e.g. Grimm 1848 and Stahlmann 1940).
The next paper is ''Some effects of purist ideologies on historical descriptions of English'' (324-342), by James Milroy. Milroy notes that ''it is generally assumed that purist beliefs about language are held only by members of the general public … and not by professional language scholars'' (324), and goes on to argue that this is in fact not the case, and that scholarly knowledge of the history of English has been shaped by the purist beliefs held by some linguists. For example, a number of histories of English (e.g. Wyld 1927) focus exclusively on the development of the standard language, thus excluding nonstandard varieties from the discussion.
The final paper of the book is ''Usefulness and uselessness of the term Fremdwort'' (343-360), by Oskar Reichmann. Here the old distinction between Fremdwort ('foreign word') and Lehnwort ('loan word') is taken up, and its usefulness in discussions of semantics, the ''formal expression of lexical units'' (353), and word formation is reviewed. Reichmann concludes that the term Fremdwort has its uses, but can sometimes be problematic. He further suggests that this question is also relevant to discussions of dialectology and linguistic purism, among other areas of linguistics.
This is a stimulating book. The papers are generally of high quality, and some of them are absolutely first rate. Many of the papers would also be of excellent use in various courses on Germanic linguistics; I have already used the papers by Elspass and Stevenson as supplemental reading in a course on variation in German for advanced undergraduates, and they were both very well-received.
The volume itself is the usual high quality that one expects from this publisher. Typographical errors are few and generally self-correcting (the most serious glitch that I noticed was in the introduction, where some of the bibliographical references are not in the correct alphabetical order, and capitalization is sometimes inconsistent). Some authors are inconsistent when dealing with quotations from languages other than English; for example, in her article, Lange gives English translations of German quotations in the body of the text, but does not give the German originals in footnotes. Moreover, Lange generally does not translate German quotations given in footnotes, and also fails to translate Early New High German quotes. A personal preference is for a unified set of references, as that would have eliminated repetition and thus saved some space.
However, such problems are minor when compared with the substantial merits of this work. The high price of the volume will no doubt keep it out of many hands, but it is to be hoped that it finds the wide reception that it certainly deserves.
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Burridge, Kate. 2005. Weeds in the garden of words. Further observations on the tangled history of the English language. Cambridge: CUP.
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ABOUT THE REVIEWER:
ABOUT THE REVIEWER
Marc Pierce is a visiting assistant professor of German at the University of Texas at Austin. His main research interests are historical linguistics, Germanic linguistics, phonology, and the history of linguistics.