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Review of  German

Reviewer: Mary Grantham O'Brien
Book Title: German
Book Author: Sarah M. B. Fagan
Publisher: Cambridge University Press
Linguistic Field(s): General Linguistics
Subject Language(s): German
Issue Number: 21.1524

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AUTHOR: Sarah M. B. Fagan
TITLE: German
SUBTITLE: A linguistic introduction
PUBLISHER: Cambridge University Press
YEAR: 2009

Mary Grantham O'Brien, Department of Germanic, Slavic and East Asian
University of Calgary


This book provides the reader with a thorough introduction to German
linguistics. Fagan covers the main subfields of linguistics with a clear focus
on the linguistic details of the German data. The book contains seven chapters,
a comprehensive glossary in which terms are exemplified through additional
examples not provided in main text, references and an index. Each chapter ends
with a set of hands-on exercises (answers are available from the publisher) and

The author states that it is a book primarily meant for readers ranging from
students of German at the undergraduate and graduate levels to teachers of
German and those linguists interested in aspects of the German language. As
such, Fagan explains the terminology clearly, often through the use of
illustrative examples. Although knowledge of German is not required, it is

In chapter 1, ''Phonetics and phonology,'' Fagan provides a detailed discussion of
the issues. After a brief discussion of the IPA, she covers the sounds of
German. She makes comparisons between English and German throughout the
In addition to providing a systematic overview of the sounds, she provides
eleven comprehensive phonological rules. These are exemplified through the use
of data sets, and Fagan refers to previous analyses thereof before she decides
on her chosen analyses. Her discussion of syllable structure is thorough, and
she ends the chapter with a treatment of prosodic characteristics, with a strong
focus on word stress.

Chapter 2, ''Morphology,'' deals with the topics of inflection, derivation,
compounding and reduction. Fagan provides multiple examples of each of the
processes. Her approach, based in the theory driven by the data, also includes
an appeal to the language learner in her pedagogical approach to German
adjectival inflections.

The third chapter, ''Syntax,'' provides a description of the major syntactic
structures of German from a generative perspective. After a succinct discussion
of case, Fagan focuses on movement including scrambling and extraposition. She
ends the chapter with a discussion of the pragmatics of word order in German.

Fagan moves on to a discussion of semantics in chapter four. Here she presents
the reader with the important terminology including synonymy, antonymy,
and meronymy, each of which is illustrated through the use of a wide variety of
German examples. English and German differences are highlighted, especially in
her discussion of the German tense system. She offers a clear discussion of
progressive meaning of German verbs. She then segues from a discussion of
thematic roles into one of voice, again providing clear illustrations of the
differences between German and English.

Chapter five is devoted to the history of the German language. Fagan covers the
history and geography of each period - from Proto-Indo-European to New High
German - and provides the reader with details about phonology, morphology and
syntax for each of the periods. She explains the relevant processes that led to
Modern Standard German. A variety of text types illuminate each of the changes
that took place. She ends the chapter with a discussion of standardization.

Chapter 6, ''Regional variation,'' provides the reader with a thorough overview of
dialect usage - within Germany as well as in comparison with Austria and
Switzerland. Fagan examines the varieties with a focus on the phonology,
grammar, and vocabulary. She also provides insight into the use of dialects in
each of the regions and clearly addresses differences between East and West
Germany and the changes that have taken place since reunification.

Her treatment of sociolinguistics in chapter 7 begins with an introduction to
the notions of variety and register. It continues with detailed discussions of
styles, variation, forms of address, language and gender, Jugendsprache ('youth
language'), and foreign workers' German. The highly accessible chapter is filled
with illustrative examples and ends with a presentation of the history of
language contact and of the recent influence of English.


The book is arguably the most comprehensive English language textbook on
linguistics (see also Boase-Beier & Lodge 2003; Fox 2005; Johnson and Braber
2008). Whereas the focus of others varies from presenting German parameters as
merely an instantiation of linguistic principles to providing the reader with a
general introduction to linguistics via German, the main object of study in
Fagan's book is a wide-ranging investigation of the German linguistic data.
Fagan covers the topics included in most other books, and like the others, shies
away from recent theoretical developments (but see Fox 2005 for an Optimality
Theoretic account of German phonology).

The content in her chapter on phonetics and phonology differs perhaps most from
the others (e.g., Fox 2005; Johnson & Braber 2008). For example, she presents
the variants of long and short 'a' with one symbol, /a(:)/, differing only in
length. In addition, she has decided not to allow for ambisyllabic consonants.
Both of these decisions are made, however, after a thorough consideration of the
issues. The biggest difference between her treatment of the data and that of
other textbook authors is her analysis of final devoicing in German. Whereas the
others present it as an alternation in the feature [voice], Fagan relies upon
the analyses of Salmons and Iverson (1995) in treating the alternation as one of
fortition with the relevant feature being [spread glottis]. Therefore, she does
not include voiced stops in her inventory but instead presents them as the stops
with the diacritic for voicing.

The remaining chapters present provide similar, albeit more detailed, analyses
of the data than are provided in other introductory textbooks. Like Fox (2005),
she presents three models of inflection in chapter 2, but unlike others, she
goes into more depth, for example, in her discussion of the status of the –s
plural and two German tenses, [+past] and [-past]. In her discussion of syntax
in chapter 3, Fagan once again is the most rigorous in her presentation, for
example, of scrambling. As is always the case, she brings the text back to the
practical, by discussing the pragmatics of word order. Her examination of the
differences between evidentiality and epistemic modalility in chapter 4 may be
rather technical, but her use of German and English examples brings clarity to
the discussion. She is the only of the authors to present a discussion of the
middle voice in German, focusing especially on the necessity of the adverbial.
The location of her chapter on the history of the language is well chosen, as
compared, for example, to its location as the first chapter in Johnson and
Braber (2008). This allows Fagan to discuss each of the linguistic subfields
therein. This chapter is especially clear and concise and provides the reader
with the history and geography necessary to make sense of the linguistic data.
Fagan's presentation of the data is scientific (e.g., her discussion of Verner's
Law, umlaut) as opposed to cultural. Her division of the chapter according to
period as opposed to linguistic subfield adds a clarity that is lacking in, for
example, Boase-Beier & Lodge (2003). Her presentation of regional variation in
chapter 6 is more precise when compared with that presented in the other books.
Although Fox (2005) challenges the notion of 'Umgangssprache' ('colloquial
speech'), he does not deal systematically with dialects / regional variation.
Fagan's chapter on dialectology appears to be less detailed than that of Johnson
and Braber (2008), who include varieties of German spoken throughout the world,
but it is methodical and provides the reader with a clear view of differences
that extend beyond the lexis. The data provided in her final chapter on
Jugendsprache, language and gender and foreigner speech are thorough. Fox
does not discuss sociolinguistics beyond a mere suggestion that the German
gender system decides ''in favor of the male sex'' (p. 152), and although Johnson
and Braber (2008) do present data on ''Gastarbeiterdeutsch'' ('guest worker
German,' a term from which Fagan shies away) and a discussion of ''Language and
Sexism,'' Fagan's discussion is again more data-driven and scientific than that
provided in the other works.

The exercises provided at the ends of the chapters allow students the chance to
work with real language data. Unlike other authors, Fagan provides answers to
the exercises.

The book is a rigorous introduction to German linguistics. It is editorially
clean and precisely written. Because it includes both basic introductions and
detailed theoretical discussions of the data, it is truly appropriate for
students at a variety of levels. I would recommend it especially for programs
with undergraduate students with a strong interest in continuing studies in
(German) linguistics. It is also the best introduction in English appropriate
for graduate students.


Boase-Beier, Jean, & Ken Lodge. 2003. The German Language. Malden, MA:

Fox, Anthony. 2005. The structure of German. 2nd edition. Oxford: Oxford
University Press.

Iverson, Gregory K., & Joseph C. Salmons. 1995. Aspiration and laryngeal
representation in Germanic. Phonology 12.369–396.

Johnson, Sally, & Natalie Braber. 2008. Exploring the German language. 2nd
edition. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Mary Grantham O'Brien is an associate professor of German at the University of Calgary. Her research focuses on second language pronunciation, and she is currently investigating transfer effects in German and English second language intonation.

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