LINGUIST List 27.2007

Mon May 02 2016

Review: General Ling; Historical Ling; Psycholing; Socioling: Stolberg (2015)

Editor for this issue: Sara Couture <>

Date: 19-Feb-2016
From: Katrin Fuchs <>
Subject: Changes Between the Lines
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Book announced at

AUTHOR: Doris Stolberg
TITLE: Changes Between the Lines
SUBTITLE: Diachronic contact phenomena in written Pennsylvania German
SERIES TITLE: De Gruyter Studia Linguistica Germanica 118
PUBLISHER: De Gruyter Mouton
YEAR: 2015

REVIEWER: Katrin Fuchs, University of Texas at Austin

Reviews Editor: Helen Aristar-Dry


In this updated version of her 2008 dissertation, Doris Stolberg takes a diachronic approach to various syntactic and semantic-syntactic changes in written Pennsylvania German over 130 years. She is not primarily interested in the outcome of the changes, but rather in “the processes triggered by the specific type of contact situation of PG [Pennsylvania German],… [and] the psycholinguistic processes underlying the language-contact phenomena present in PG” (XV). Thus, she uses sociolinguistic models that are usually applied to spoken data, as well as conceptual ideas from psycholinguistics and second language acquisition, to focus on the language user and draw a dynamic picture of language change (XV).

The first chapter gives a detailed account of the theoretical framework on language change and language contact. Stolberg criticizes earlier diachronic perspectives that focus solely on the language system of a speech community and that do not include the language competence of the individual speaker (4). Here she points to Weinreich, Labov, and Herzog (1968) and emphasizes the importance of a combination of empirical and theoretical perspectives to investigate diachronic language change, especially in language contact settings (8). Stolberg then describes and compares the central theories on which she bases her investigation: the theories on language maintenance and language shift of Thomason and Kaufman (1988), the Transmission Phenomenon Model (Van Coetsem 2002), and the Matrix Language Frame Model (Myers-Scotton 2002). She concludes that all three theories share a basic notion of asymmetry between the languages in contact, as well as the “assumption of a basic split between lexicon and grammar” (31). In her study, she uses the approaches by Thomason/ Kaufman and Van Coetsem as the framework, and adds the psycholinguistic approach of Myers-Scotton “to fill in the details” (32).

The second chapter describes the speech community of Pennsylvania German and its history, and gives an overview of previous research. Stolberg especially points to the diversity within the speech community that is crucial for a sociolinguistic investigation and has been often neglected by earlier research (56). The most important distinction is the religious and cultural difference between Anabaptist, or Plain people and non-sectarian, Non-Plain people, which greatly influences the status of PG and its standing in the language contact situation (38f). While both varieties of PG (Plain and Non-Plain) exhibit interference from English (39), the relative isolation of the Plain PG speakers preserved the dialect for a longer time. Furthermore, PG is influenced by varying language repertoires and language uses (58). The Plain PG community, in which PG is the first acquired language, uses PG only in spoken discourse within the family and the same confessional in-group, while American English (AE) is spoken with everybody else. Stolberg describes the situation as a “stable diglossia” (41). In addition, the most conservative groups of the Plain people (Old Order Amish, Old Order Mennonites) use a special form of High German (Amish High German) as a sacral and written language. In the Non-Plain community, AE and PG are either acquired at the same time, or, especially for the younger generations, AE is the first language. This situation endangers the continuing existence of PG within this group (43). As the Plain PG speakers do not produce written data in PG, Stolberg focuses in her study on the Non-Plain community (94).

Chapter 3 gives an overview of the corpus, which is comprised of texts from newspapers and magazines between 1868 and 1992 (97). Stolberg uses the time of production as the crucial variable to show the diachronic development. Additional data was used as a supplement, such as another set of written PG data as a control set for possible outcomes, and spoken data and internet resources to determine language attitudes and language choice (97f). The data originated in the South-East of Pennsylvania (101).

Chapters 4 through 8 focus on the analysis of the data as well as on the interpretation of the results. Chapter 4 is concerned with lexical semantic-syntactic changes in the PG data, specifically the relationship between form-meaning and form-function. Stolberg states that there are several changes found in PG that exhibit a reduction of the form inventory which “leads to less transparent form-function correlations” (112), e.g. case syncretism. It remains debatable, however, if these changes are due to language contact. By comparing her data with Palatinate German data (the source dialect of PG) from the time of the departure of PG, Stolberg determines that the contact is not the main reason for case syncretism, since Palatinate German also shows tendencies towards a reduction in the case system (116). However, the data shows several changes in lexical-semantic patterns with structural consequences that might be triggered by the contact situation: loss of surface reflexive marking of verbs, additional options for a transitive/causative use of intransitive verbs, additional options for intransitive use of transitive verbs, and the avoidance of impersonal constructions (130). The affected verbs follow the argument structures of their AE counterparts, for example the non-reflexive use of “wunnere” (to wonder) – the Standard German counterpart is reflexive (sich wundern) (135). Stolberg observes three determining factors that promote the non-reflexive usage: the similarity in form between German and English, “the availability of a non-reflexive variant within German” (135), and a high frequency in usage. The first factor, convergence with individual AE cognates and AE semantic counterparts, can be seen in all four changes of verb patterns, in addition to a general tendency towards a simplification of form-function relationships in PG (176).

Stolberg identifies similar tendencies in the four following chapters, which focus on syntactic changes. Chapter 5 introduces clause structures in Standard German and AE and provides a brief generative analysis of these clause structures. Chapter 6 presents the PG data for word order in subordinate complement clauses with “dass” (that), while Chapters 7 and 8 describe patterns of extraposition of prepositional phrases and prepositional stranding, respectively. All of these patterns show partial overlap between PG and English, especially in “gray areas” (178). Stolberg refers here to Clyne (1987) who defines “gray areas” as parallels between two languages, e.g. cognates or surface word order, that make it difficult “to determine which language an item or a structure belongs to in the view of the speaker” (178). This could be the case for the position of the verb in subordinate compliment clauses with “dass” as presented in Chapter 6. While the majority of these clauses in the PG data (82.5%) follow the Standard German verb-final word order (188), some sentences do not exhibit the same surface structure as is assumed for the underlying structure, which might indicate that the verb has been moved (205). Most of the sentences with V2 word order were found in the most recent texts. Stolberg concludes that “this distribution means that there is a qualitative change taking place in dass+V2 structures” (206).

The difference between surface and underlying structure in PG word order also plays a major role in Chapter 7, which presents the extraposition of prepositional phrases to the postverbal field. According to Stolberg, the listener can interpret these phrases either as SVO word order as in English, or as an “underlying SOV word order with an extraposed PP in the postverbal field” (208) as it is grammatical in German. While Palatinate German also tends to extrapose prepositional phrases, the PG data exhibits more relevant V2 clauses with the PP in the postverbal field (213). 81,4% of all PPs occur in postverbal position (214). Stolberg concludes that the contact with English influences the PP-extraposition with the result of an “increased use of the gray area between German and English” (225).

Chapter 8 describes the last syntactic pattern, preposition stranding, which is well- established in English, e.g. “This man you can rely on” (230), but more restricted in German. According to Stolberg, the patterns found in the PG data differ from the stranding patterns in both languages (236). Most of the split-off prepositions are found in the postverbal field which shows the difference from the German middle-field stranding (241). However, most stranded prepositions are, similar to German, so called R-pronoun PPs, “a preposition preceded by dr-/da-/de-“ (240), and not bare prepositions as would be expected in AE. Thus, these findings support the vulnerability of gray areas between German and English. Stolberg concludes for all syntactic patterns of change that “the PG word order has been adjusted to parallel the respective English word order, while changes in the underlying (deep) structure do not have to be assumed” (271).

Chapter 9 summarizes the findings and draws a general conclusion based on the theories by Thomason/Kaufman and Van Coetsem. Since World War 2, AE has been established as the dominant language among the Non-Plain PG speakers. However, there is no substantial structural change evident in the PG data presented by Stolberg, as “most instances of surface convergence with English are well covered by structures attested in related varieties of German” (282). Furthermore, the diachronic overview of the data does not show a linear development due to the language contact as Thomason and Kaufman (1988) suggest. While the early data shows lexical borrowing and code-switching, the data from the late 20th century exhibits significantly less lexical borrowing and more general patterns of convergence in syntactic structures (283). Stolberg explains this development with extralinguistic factors, namely the attitude towards German and the prestige of PG within the group, and states that “contact-induced language change cannot be predicted” (284).


The monograph gives an excellent overview of the general state and history of Pennsylvania German, as well as of a variety of semantic-syntactic and syntactic tendencies. Stolberg’s diachronic approach to written data provides a new perspective on the current state of the dialect. She carefully discusses the limitations to her study, such as the specific genre that she used (newspaper articles), and addresses ambivalent data. Furthermore, Stolberg also mentions the problems that might arise due to her additional data used for comparison, specifically Standard German. Standard German is not one of the source dialects of PG. While this poses difficulties when considering lexical items, a comparison between Standard German and PG is still possible in syntactic investigations, “taking into account that the basic syntactic structures of PG and StG […] are the same” (57).

It is unfortunate for historical linguistics that it sometimes must rely on patchy data (see Hernández-Campoy and Schilling 2014 on this problem in historical sociolinguistics). A comparison to the standard language is often inevitable, since this variety provides the most data and is diachronically well-documented. Stolberg implements these comparisons carefully and acknowledges problems that might arise (244). The state of Pennsylvania German and diachronic overviews of language varieties is currently widely-discussed (see most recently Louden 2016). Within this discussion, Stolberg makes a great case for the historically and socially developed state of PG and draws a dynamic picture of a language variety in a contact situation. As such, this book can be recommended to those interested in PG, German dialectology, and historical sociolinguistics.


Clyne, M. 1987. Constraints on code-switching: How universal are they? In: Linguistics 25. 739-764.

Hernández-Campoy, J. and Schilling, N. 2014. “The application of the quantitive paradigm to Historical Sociolinguistics: Problems with the generalizability problem.” In: The Handbook of Historical Sociolinguistics. Hernández-Campoy and Conde-Silvestre (Eds.). Oxford: Blackwell. 63-79.

Louden, M.L. 2016. Pennsylvania Dutch: The story of an American language. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press.

Myers-Scotton, C. 2002. Contact linguistics: Bilingual encounters and grammatical outcomes. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Thomason, S.G. and Kaufman, T. 1988. Language contact, creolization and genetic linguistics. Berkeley/ Los Angeles: University of California Press.

Van Coetsem, F. 2002. A general and unified theory of the transmission process in language contact. Heidelberg: Winter.

Weinreich, U./ Labov, W./ Herzog, M.I. 1968. Empirical foundations for a theory of language change. In: W.P. Lehmann/ Y. Malkiels (Eds.). Directions for Historical Linguistics. Austin: University of Texas Press. 95-195.


Katrin Fuchs is a Ph.D. Candidate in the Department of Germanic Studies at the University of Texas at Austin. Her dissertation investigates orthographic changes in 16th and 17th century German court documents under a historical sociolinguistic viewpoint. Other academic interests include language contact, language islands, language ideology, and language policies.

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