LINGUIST List 21.3365

Sun Aug 22 2010

Review: Applied Linguistics; Sociolinguistics: Konopka & Strecker (2009)

Editor for this issue: Joseph Salmons <>

        1.    Vitek Dovalil, Deutsche Grammatik -- Regeln, Normen, Sprachgebrauch

Message 1: Deutsche Grammatik -- Regeln, Normen, Sprachgebrauch
Date: 22-Aug-2010
From: Vitek Dovalil <>
Subject: Deutsche Grammatik -- Regeln, Normen, Sprachgebrauch
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EDITORS: Konopka, Marek; Strecker, Bruno TITLE: Deutsche Grammatik -- Regeln, Normen, Sprachgebrauch SERIES TITLE: Jahrbuch des Instituts für Deutsche Sprache 2008 PUBLISHER: Mouton de Gruyter YEAR: 2009

Vít Dovalil, Department of Germanic Studies, Faculty of Arts, Charles University in Prague


This volume is a part of the series edited by the Institute for German Language in Mannheim, presenting papers held at its annual conferences. The 44th conference, on language use, norms, and rules, took place on March 10-12, 2008. The volume from the event contains 18 contributions, a preface by the editors, and a summary of the conference's discussion. Peter Eisenberg, recipient of the 2008 Konrad Duden Prize, offers two contributions. In addition to a paper on 'really good and really bad German', the volume contains his acceptance speech on the state of the art of the description and research of German.

The preface begins with useful introductory questions, with the goal of achieving a highly coherent volume: Does something like good and bad German exist? Are grammatical norms necessary and justifiable? (How) can they be enforced? How do norms and rules come into being? Who can/may/has to make decisions about what has to be accepted as correct German? How important are grammatical rules and norms in teaching? Although these and other questions may arouse the reader's curiosity significantly, they are not treated systematically in the book. The contributions are organized into four sections. Three papers devoted to 'theoretical foundations' are followed by four papers on 'grammatical norms', then seven papers on 'grammatical variation and norms'. The last papers are together in a section titled 'a look at practice and beyond'.

Many papers are based on empirical data, including corpus-based and sociolinguistic analyses, e.g. from language teaching. The former analyze linguistic variables -- Claudio Di Meola's corpus-based study on the prepositional governance, Bernd Wiese's morphological study of strong and weak German adjective inflection, and Stefan Lotze and Peter Gallmann's paper on the German second subjunctive, the last reflecting social practice from a bottom-up perspective. This is also true of Roland Häcker's paper on German grammar in German schools. Among the sociolinguistically-oriented contributions, Martine Dalmas sums up recent developments in the perception of linguistic normativity in France. Other authors take a general philosophical approach without linguistic data. For example, Rudi Keller treats the ontological status of natural languages, conceiving of language neither as a materialized substance (language as an organism), nor as an idea in a totally solipsistic way. Preferring the bottom-up approach, he argues that languages undergo a specific socio-cultural evolution.


The above overview shows the diversity of approaches to the topic, but there is an important common denominator: contributors deal mostly with how to identify norms. In this section, I explore selected sociolinguistic issues in norms and language use, beginning with conceptual and methodological remarks. Norms are reflected in and constituted by language use. Hence, they can be derived from it and reconstructed as contents of human consciousness regulating both language production and expectations (Gloy 2004, Dovalil 2006). Languages, their varieties, registers, etc. are used in concrete interactions by concrete interlocutors creating concrete networks with concrete ties among their members. As early as the mid-1970s, Gloy identified the social roles of interlocutors who take part in the dynamic processes of constituting linguistic norms: Some agents set norms, others receive them, still others check the extent to which these norms are obeyed and conduct sanctions if norms are violated. Some agents benefit from the applied norms, others become ''victims'' of the same norms, etc. Gloy's analyses have been widely used in German norm-related discourse since the 1970s, making it surprising that his work is not cited in this volume. This corresponds to and helps explain why 'norms in action' (as opposed to 'norms in books') are manifested rather rarely here.

The data referring to norms are found in concrete text types produced for concrete purposes. These circumstances clearly determine the indexical nature of norms with their hic et nunc reference. However, some patterns of language use repeat themselves under comparable circumstances, which makes the identification of the underlying norms easier. Due to the indexical nature of linguistic norms it is more useful to approach the topic qualitatively. Language use (interaction) appears to be decisive -- it is in an interaction where norms may be realized, perceived, obeyed, or violated, but also questioned, defended, or (re-) defined. Such metalinguistic activities and others represent behavior toward language as it appears in discourse. The forms of this behavior toward language are designated as language management, as systematically analyzed in language management theory (see Nekvapil & Sherman 2009).

A language management process begins with a deviation from an interlocutor's expectation/norm. Such a deviation may be noted, or not. If it is noted, a deviation may be evaluated, or not. If the evaluation is negative, some adjustments may be made, or not. And if such an adjustment design exists, it may be implemented, or not (Nekvapil & Sherman 2009). Acts are carried out in concrete interactions among individual speakers with different degrees of power. Some are powerful enough to persuade less influential participants and make them, for example, accept a correction imposed by more powerful ones. This may correspond to what happens in schools where teachers act as norm authorities and pupils acquire norms, or in the media when an editor corrects another journalist's article. However, the same people who are respected by their pupils or colleagues as norm authorities in schools do not have to act this way in other networks (in interactions with shop assistants, relatives, friends etc.). Arguably, the phenomenon of power cannot be ignored when norms are analyzed, because they are socially conditioned. Some important points from this way of thinking can be found in Marc Kupietz and Holger Keibel's article on usage-based grammar and statistical regularities and in Rudi Keller's paper on conventions, rules and norms. Keller uses the term "principle of methodological individualism" that allows for the fundamental position of a communicating individual in norm research. In other words: if norms are to be analyzed, interlocutors cannot be ignored.

This leads to the crucial point of how the most adequate question concerning the norms is to be (re-)formulated. Rather than primarily posing the question of what norms are, that of who decides what norms are should be raised. Such a perspective is apparent, e.g., in the articles by Markus Hundt and Roland Häcker. Hundt rethinks Ammon's model of social forces that determine what an element of the standard variety is. Ammon (1995: 82) identified four agents -- norm authorities, codifiers, model speakers/writers, and linguists. The majority of (ordinary) speakers are in the background in his model. Hundt deals with the social significance of these forces, an issue recognized by Ammon. (This question concerns not only German in German-speaking countries; on German as a foreign language see Dovalil (forthcoming).)

Who is more or less powerful in this model? Criticizing the position of the ordinary speakers in Ammon's model, Hundt argues that the ordinary speakers represent a linguistic sovereign. The reader may agree that interactions and social contexts exist in which ordinary speakers are able to persuade their partners and negotiate individual hic et nunc norms -- regardless of what is codified, what is used in model texts or taught and enforced in schools. However, one could doubt the social relevance of these norms in contexts and interactions where more sophisticated argumentation is expected (schools, editorial staffs of national media, scientific journals, or publishing companies). But even if a more active role for such undifferentiated linguistic sovereigns is admitted, Ammon's reasoning stands the test. Some interlocutors are more powerful than others at this micro-level; the former may act as norm authorities, the latter may become subjects (even victims?) of such norms, depending on the concrete dialogical networks.

Discussing the role of norm authorities and their position vis-à-vis the sovereign, an additional issue should be mentioned: In which ways do authorities have to be present in the processes where norms are applied? They do not have to participate in such processes physically -- their mental presence is enough, because norms are ''mere'' contents of human consciousness, as was argued above. Gloy (1997: 32, 2004: 394) takes the so-called 'relevant other' (der relevante Andere) into consideration. Moreover, its social power does not have to be real at all. Non-existent power, merely assumed by an interlocutor without evidence, is sufficient for someone to act like a norm authority. Gloy (1997: 32) refers to the 'Thomas theorem', essentially: If people define situations as real, they are real in their consequences. Seemingly paradoxical, the theorem's relevance is demonstrated by Dalmas (p. 355), who comments on the marginal situation of crossing the street when light is red. The relevant other is not present when adults are alone and cross the street in spite of the red light. Unlike in this case, when they are with children this does not happen (so often?) because the ''other'' is sufficiently relevant.

Language management theory would be helpful in the analyses of cases where a unified opinion on conformity of concrete variants with standard norms does not necessarily exist, and where even competent speakers have difficulties in making appropriate decisions and in using the most appropriate variant. This is a simplified attempt at explaining the term Zweifelsfall (defined on p. 142). This often happens in institutional settings such as language consulting services. Wolf Peter Klein treats such cases. Apart from classifying cases as conditioned and unconditioned, he sketches a decision-making process. Klein's process would specify the phase of adjustment designs if the apparatus of language management were used: Are both variants used? If so, are both used in standard German? If so, are they used in the same grammatical contexts? If so, do both have the same meaning? If so, do they exist in older or newer varieties? This set of decisions tacitly presupposes that a language problem must have been noted and evaluated negatively. Klein explains the otherwise problematic standard use in the second question by reference to those sorts of texts that remind the reader of Ammon's model texts.

Another very instructive case of language management is presented in R. Häcker's study on the position of German grammar in schools. Without referring to the studies on language management theory, the author offers valuable data on management acts of German teachers as norm authorities correcting final high school essays (Abitur). Häcker's examples present grammatical, lexical, stylistic, or spelling variants which are (not) noted by German teachers, and how these noted variants may be evaluated. The section is titled 'What do the correctors see as wrong', which implies negative evaluation, and the act of noting, which precedes evaluation, cannot be ignored. This is decisive because what is not noted does not exist for the norm authorities and cannot be evaluated. This is particularly relevant whenever Häcker points to what teachers overlooked (= did not note) in essays. Interestingly, the author continues his analysis in complete accordance with language management theory. His choice of cases of adjustments designed by teachers that are mentioned in the next section 'What German teachers require be corrected' supports this. Had he consciously applied language management theory, he would have followed up with a remark on the extent to which these corrections were implemented. This implementation reflects how the pupils really changed their language use as managed by their teachers. No matter how appropriate a correction (= adjustment design) may be -- an unimplemented correction corresponds to an uncompleted management process. The results would be the same as if the pupils did not learn anything new.

The data-rich, structurally-oriented studies like those by Wiese or Meola raise another relevant question for norm research, connecting facticity and normativity. In other words, to what extent and from what point do high frequencies of usage of a structure/variant have normative effects on the speaker (normative Kraft des Faktischen, see Luhmann 2008: 43)? A longstanding topic in social science, this challenge points out the qualitative aspect of the research once again. Gloy (2004: 396) argues that high frequencies are to be interpreted only as a reference to an underlying norm. The dominant use of a variant may not necessarily be evidence of its normative character. Thus, the high frequencies allow the researcher to formulate a hypothesis that remains to be proven.

One remark should be devoted to a terminological question. Lotze and Gallmann argue that four verbal moods exist in German: indicative, imperative, subjunctive I and subjunctive II (du schreibst, schreib/e, du schreibest, du schriebest respectively, for example). They reject the term Konjunktiv Präteritum and plea for its replacement by Konjunktiv II, because the form has nothing to do with tense (Präteritum) and may be misleading functionally. In their opinion, the fact that the form of Konjunktiv Präteritum (du schriebest) is systematically derivable from the preterit stem (schrieb-) does not have to be decisive and important enough. However, the term Konjunktiv II is not unambiguous -- one could object that Konjunktiv Plusquamperfekt (du hättest geschrieben) is also classified as Konjunktiv II, whose functions differ from those of the Konjunktiv Präteritum. Hence, one could argue for Konjunktiv Präteritum to Konjunktiv II to disambiguate (particularly for purposes of formal description).

I close with a remark on form: Although the volume as a whole represents Ammon's category of model texts (Sachprosa), the reader encounters grammatical and typographical errors, even mistakes, such as: ''Solche Prozesse haben drei wesentlich Eigenschaften'' and ''Die Konvention, nach denen wir Ziffern mit Zahlwörtern bezeichnen'' p. 16, or ''eine in explanatorischer Hinsicht geeignete Konzeptualisierungen'' p. 46, etc.

This volume does not present a uniform opinion on linguistic norms, but rather, contributes to the negotiation of meaning of linguistic norms, and readers can see how the search for this meaning is progressing. The plurality of approaches may attract readers looking for problem-oriented studies -- in terms of concrete linguistic variables, variants and methods. The volume shows once again that the role of grammars in this debate cannot be overestimated, which may also hold for a corpus-based perspective if high frequencies are interpreted as the evidence of underlying norms. Identifying linguistic norms requires increased use of qualitative methods. From the perspective of language management and formulated simply: empirically observable implementations of adjustment strategies (language use) enable the researcher to detect negative evaluations that, in turn, allow for the reconstruction of the noted deviations from the norms of individual interlocutors. This volume shows that these phases, separated in several individual texts, can indeed be integrated.


Ammon, Ulrich (1995) Die deutsche Sprache in Deutschland, Österreich und der Schweiz. Berlin & New York: Walter de Gruyter.

Dovalil, Vít (forthcoming) Zum Prozess der Gestaltung der Standardvarietät. Stellung der Normautoritäten im Sprachmanagement. In AUC Philologica, Germanistica Pragensia XX, 31-49.

Dovalil, Vít (2006) Sprachnormenwandel im geschriebenen Deutsch an der Schwelle zum 21. Jahrhundert. Frankfurt/Main: Peter Lang Verlag.

Gloy, Klaus (2004) Norm. In Ammon, Ulrich & Dittmar, Norbert & Mattheier, Klaus J. & Trudgill, Peter (Eds.) Sociolinguistics. An International Handbook of the Science of Language and Society Vol. 3. 1. Berlin & New York: Walter de Gruyter, 392-399. 2nd ed.

Gloy, Klaus (1997) Sprachnormen als ´Institutionen im Reich der Gedanken´ und die Rolle des Individuums in Sprachnormierungsprozessen. In Mattheier, Klaus J. (Hg.): Norm und Variation. Frankfurt/Main: Peter Lang, 27-36.

Gloy, Klaus (1975) Sprachnormen I. Linguistische und soziologische Analysen. Stuttgart-Bad Canstatt.

Luhmann, Niklas (2008): Rechtssoziologie. Wiesbaden: VS Verlag für Sozialwissenschaften. 4th ed.

Nekvapil, Jiří & Sherman, Tamah (2009) Language Management in Contact Situations. Perspective from Three Continents. Frankfurt/Main: Peter Lang.


Vít Dovalil works on linguistic norms, processes of standardization and language management theory. He also researches language policy and planning in the European Union.

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