LINGUIST List 23.3504

Tue Aug 21 2012

Review: General Ling.; Lang. Documentation; Applied Ling.: Hentschel (2010)

Editor for this issue: Joseph Salmons <>

Date: 21-Aug-2012
From: Mathias Schulze <>
Subject: Deutsche Grammatik
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EDITOR: Hentschel, ElkeTITLE: Deutsche GrammatikSERIES TITLE: De Gruyter LexikonPUBLISHER: De GruyterYEAR: 2010

Mathias Schulze, Waterloo Centre for German Studies, University of Waterloo,Ontario, Canada

SUMMARYA group of twelve authors -- Alja Lipavic Oštir, Beat Siebenhaar, ElkeHentschel, Gabriela Perrig, Jeroen Van Pottelberge, Korakoch Attaviriyanupap,Klaus Peter, Michael Schümann, Petra Maria Vogel, Rolf Thieroff, Stefan Bogner,Sibylle Reichel -- under Elke Hentschel's editorship compiled this encyclopediaof German grammar. And an encyclopedia it is, in spite of the title "GermanGrammar" suggesting otherwise. The entries, which vary in length, rangetopically and alphabetically from "Ablativ" to "zweiwertiges Verb" (ablative;2-valent verb). In each text, the German keyword terms -- whether they are loanwords or of terms Germanic origin -- are succeeded by a Latin or Englishtranslation or both. The introductory and explanatory texts introduce a widearray of grammatical concepts, terms, and phenomena. The editor states in herforeword that the key entries were not selected solely from a German-Studiesperspective, but their choice was based more on a comparative, typologicalframework ("Vorwort"). Thus, German-language phenomena such as the 'expletiveses' and the 'Wem-Fall' are listed as well as grammatical categories, e.g.'Kasus' and 'Subjekt', linguistic disciplines, e.g. 'Semantik' and 'Pragmatik',schools of linguistics with examples like 'Textgrammatik' and 'X-bar-Theorie',and their key terminology, for example, 'Thema' and 'Rhema'. Cross-references torelated or superordinate entries are given when necessary. Larger entries areself-standing and a list of works cited is provided underneath each of them,which can be used as a starting point for further reading. For each entry, theauthor is clearly identified. I would estimate that about a thousand keywordsare explained on the 404 pages.

Instead of even attempting a summary of a small encyclopedia -- in itselfalready a keyword-alphabetical selection of summaries - I would like to offer ashort glimpse at a pars par totum.

The entry "Morphem" (morpheme, p.188), offers a standard definition as "kleinstebedeutungstragende Einheit einer Sprache" (ibid., smallest linguistic unit thatcarries meaning) and moves on to illustrate grammatical / lexical and free /bound morphemes as subcategories without further elaboration about linguisticcontext and complexity. In little more than a page, these terms are introducedin a quick sketch and by way of example. Focus on the problems that often arisefrom simplified binary decisions in morphological (and other) categorizations isavoided. (The uninitiated reader might be left with the impression thatmorphemes fall neatly into one and only one class, that their features arealways evident, and that a descriptive categorization adequately captures theirsystematic nature, and predicts or governs their communicative and cognitiveuse.) The results of the morphological analysis of the examples are given; thepreceding analytical process, the axiomatic assumptions, and the systematiccontextualization of the linguistic information are left mostly to the reader'sdeduction. In the second half of this entry, three concepts -- morph, allomorph,and zero morpheme -- are mentioned in passing and introduced with some caution("könnte man von einem Nullmorphem sprechen" (one could describe this as a zeromorpheme, p.189). Neither affixes in general nor their root-relative positionalsub-classes are mentioned here, although they have received independent shortentries in the book. Prefix and infix, for example, receive their mention in thealphabetical list; root (Wurzel), however, does not. The "Morphem" entry iscompleted by a reference to a Jakobson essay on the Nullzeichen.

Other entries are shorter. "Suffix" (p.350), for instance, runs three lines,stating that suffixes are bound morphemes, "die nach einem Stamm [sic] angefügtwerden" (ibid., which are added after a stem) and which can function ininflection and derivation.

A few entries -- often on part-of-speech categories such as "Substantiv" (noun,pp. 341-350) -- are longer. "Substantiv" introduces prototypical functions forthe noun and attempts to discriminate it from other lexical categoriescross-linguistically. Noun gender is mentioned next by claimingcognitive-semantic motivation of gender assignment in German first andmorphological determinism second. A historical motivation is not given.Morphological case is listed as a nominal feature and a cross-reference to theentry on case is provided. Number, with a quick mention of nouns that arecommonly used in either singular or plural, is described next. The nominalplural allomorphs are listed in turn and exemplified in some detail. This isfollowed by the distinction of strong and weak nouns in German, with the latterhaving inflectional -(e)n morphs beyond the nominative singular. Elke Hentschel,also the author of this entry, introduces definiteness here and not under"Determinator" (p.69), as one might have expected. In this context, neitherdiscourse nor grammatical feature selection criteria are mentioned; the readeris expected to know them intuitively, select subconsciously, or have learnedthem already. The "Wortbildung" section (p. 347) touches on derivation,compounds, diminutive and augmentative suffixes before Hentschel offers analmost one-page classification of nouns based on coarse-grained semanticcriteria, distinguishing concrete and abstract nouns, proper nouns and genericclass labels such as tree and frog to then finish the entire entry by brieflyreferring to collective nouns. This article is complemented by a list of workscited.

EVALUATIONLet me start with an admission. I expected something very different from a bookwith the title 'Deutsche Grammatik' (German Grammar) -- a comprehensivedescription and discussion of German grammar. I only discovered the series titleon the cover, De Gruyter Lexikon, after realizing that I was embarking on areview of a small, specialized encyclopedia. Needless to say I find the book'stitle misleading. Something like "Lexikon der deutschen Grammatik" or, as theeditor actually calls it in the foreword -- "Lexikon Deutsche Grammatik" --would have been much more appropriate. Here, I think, the publisher did both thepotential readership and the team of authors a disservice.

However, treating this book for what it is and not for what it is not, I foundthe selection of entries -- although somewhat eclectic -- suitablycomprehensive. The text under each keyword is accessible for interestedundergraduate students and sufficiently informative for trained linguists whowould like to refresh their vague memory of terminology used less often or oflinguistic phenomena and approaches which one had studied last at universitysome years ago. The translation equivalents of terms as well as pertinentetymological information are very much appreciated. For some terminology thatwas borrowed from other languages and grammar traditions a translation intoGerman would have added value, especially for terms such as 'antecedent' thathas a widely used German-language term -- Beziehungswort.

Of course, there have been and are still discussions, sometimes disputes, aboutthe more or less central concepts of grammar among linguists from differenttraditions. In this book most are discussed in an almost theory-neutral,traditionally descriptive manner, which makes this book suitable as a concisereference tool for entry-level students in (German) descriptive, structurallinguistics, who might need an ostensibly static, clear-cut introduction of keyconcepts and their traditional terminology. However, in some cases moreawareness could have been raised about genuinely problematic areas such as thegradient nature of part-of-speech categories. For example, the distinction ofadjectives used predicatively and verb-modifying adverbs is only conventional.The one-sentence solution offered here (p.13) -- that adjectives will always beadjectives independent of their morpho-syntactic features and adverbialsyntactic function -- raises more questions for the reader than it answers.

Traditionally, German is described as having an inventory of six tenses (p.360)and the authors state that German has no category of aspect (p.40). Of course,three of the tenses (Präsens, Präteritum, Futur I) facilitate the speakerforegrounding the event and the other three (Perfekt, Plusquamperfekt, Futur II)clearly suppose the existence of a result of the verb event at some point intime. This distinction can be easily explained relying on the category of aspect.

For a small number of entries, I would have preferred having a little moreinformation. Anglophone students of German, for example, inevitably marvel atthe German 'Konjunktiv' (subjunctive, pp.159ff.) especially as a rhetoricaldevice for political journalists. In indirect speech, speakers can attach theirbeliefs about the truth of the other's statement conveyed very elegantly andsuccinctly by selecting the appropriate 'Modus' of the verb: Indikativ (I reallybelieve this to be true; they said it and it happened this way), Konjunktiv II(I believe this to be not true; they said it, but it did not happen this way),and Konjunktiv I (I am not telling you what I believe; they said it, but youmake up your mind whether it's true or not). It is obvious why in journalistictexts the Konjunktiv-I-marking in reported speech is, although somewhat archaic,still widely used. In the thorough and comprehensive discussion of thesubjunctive and its usage in German in this book, this little informationsnippet could have been usefully added.

Other quibbles are even more minor. In the discussion of German's mixed nominaldeclension (p.97), for example, the small group of nouns that have both an -enand an -s inflection - as with 'name' and 'heart': der Name, des Namens, dieNamen; das Herz, des Herzens, die Herzen -- should have been introduced. Myforeign-language students often also appreciate the insight that all German weaknouns are masculine.

Overall, this encyclopedia of German grammar has been copy-edited thoroughly.The layout makes it very easy to navigate this reference tool. And mostimportantly, the writing is clear and the German examples given are pertinentand illustrative. It makes this book a suitable reference work for beginningGerman students of morphological and syntactic description.

ABOUT THE REVIEWERMathias Schulze is an Associate Professor of German and director of theWaterloo Centre for German Studies and co-editor of the CALICO Journal oncomputer-assisted language learning.

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