LINGUIST List 29.3948

Thu Oct 11 2018

Review: German; Applied Linguistics; General Linguistics; Linguistic Theories; Sociolinguistics: Davies, Buhofer, Schmidlin, Wagner, Wyss (2017)

Editor for this issue: Jeremy Coburn <>

Date: 04-Apr-2018
From: Vitek Dovalil <>
Subject: Standardsprache zwischen Norm und Praxis
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Book announced at

EDITOR: Winifred V. Davies
EDITOR: Annelies Häcki Buhofer
EDITOR: Regula Schmidlin
EDITOR: Melanie Wagner
EDITOR: Eva Lia Wyss
TITLE: Standardsprache zwischen Norm und Praxis
SUBTITLE: Theoretische Betrachtungen, empirische Studien und sprachdidaktische Ausblicke
SERIES TITLE: Basler Studien zur deutschen Sprache und Literatur, Band 99
PUBLISHER: Narr Francke Attempto Verlag GmbH + Co. KG
YEAR: 2017

REVIEWER: Vitek Dovalil, Universität Freiburg


The volume, edited by an international team of experts, explores the phenomenon of standard language in the German-speaking space from various perspectives. As the subtitle lets the reader know, these perspectives are devoted not only to the contemporary theoretical discussions and empirical analyses, but also to teaching practices and other didactic interconnections. Actually, the volume is one more part richer, this fourth part being designated “interdisciplinary approaches”.

In total, the volume is divided into 15 chapters including an overview in which the editors sketch their theoretical preliminaries. They systematically build on the pluricentric character of standard German, which is projected into the synchronic description and data analysis in each chapter.

The only historically focused contribution is the first one in which Martin Durrell discusses the role of the German language in the ideological constructions of nation in the German-speaking territory in the 18th and 19th century. He refers to discourses about German national identity having an ethnolinguistic basis, and denies that the German linguistic unity would precede the political unification in 1871. In his opinion, the myth of a homogeneous language contributes to neglecting the real heterogeneity particularly of spoken German, which strengthens the status of standardized written German as the symbol of national identity. This, in turn, intensified the perception of German as a monocentric language in the past and made the position of educational elites stronger.

Regula Schmidlin approaches language variants as unclear or doubtful cases (“Zweifelsfall” in German, p. 42-45). She refers to Klein’s concept of Zweifelsfall, which can be defined as 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. Apart from Klein’s classification of this concept into three kinds (briefly: free variants, gradual variants, and variants which are conditioned by contexts), she argues in favor of an additional speaker’s perspective, because language users’ evaluation of what is/not a correct variant depends to a large extent on their regional origin. The author places emphasis on the necessity to deal with these unclear cases in educational contexts, because doubting the correctness and/or appropriateness of a variant helps to increase the pupils’ and students’ language reflection.

Konstantin Niehaus provides the reader with results of the research project “Regional Variation in the Grammar of Standard German” (Variantengrammatik des Standarddeutschen, see also Just like the whole project, this author’s chapter also draws on the quantitative methodology (corpus analysis) that correlates the dependent and independent variables. For Niehaus, the crucial independent variable is the territory. He argues in favor of the more adequate pluriareal instead of the pluricentric conceptualization of standard German. He describes the territorial distribution of several selected grammatical variants – plural forms “Balkons” vs. “Balkone”, grammatical gender “die E-Mail” vs. “das E-Mail”, lexical forms “durchweg” vs. “durchwegs”, and the problem of separability of the prefix “wider” in the verb widerspiegeln. Similarly to Regula Schmidlin’s remarks, he also favors more tolerance toward language variation in the language instruction.

The questions of a peculiar Belgian German variety and its position in the pluricentric discourse are discussed by Robert Möller. One of the problems concerning the status of this variety consists in the fact that German is used by a relatively small minority of speakers in this country (fewer than 70 000 people). The East-Belgian variants are categorized in German codification as variants of a regional language. The author refers to the socio-cultural circumstances which co-define the situation of this minority variety: the dialectal background of the region, its closeness to Germany as well as the historical specifics of the regional government and school-system. Belgian identity of the German speakers coming from this region clarifies the reasons, why they concentrate on multilingualism rather than on the cultivation of German.

The chapters by Winifred Davies, Eva Wyss and Melanie Wagner present the results of a comparative project focused on the German in high schools in Germany, Luxembourg and the German-speaking part of Switzerland. One part of data comes from various educational documents (school curricula, teaching plans etc.), the other part was collected by means of questionnaires distributed in schools. Winifred Davies concentrates on the role of German teachers in one region of North Rhine-Westphalia. She finds out that German teachers are not familiar with the concept of pluricentric German at all, which results, logically, in the lack of reflection in their teaching practices.

Eva Wyss’s chapter deals with the more complicated situation of German in Switzerland, which has been classified as a typical diglossia for decades. Referring to the more differentiated perspectives which take the media, acquisition-related, and instruction-related specifics into account, she argues against the conceptualization of this situation as diglossic. Swiss teachers of German use differing concepts of standard variety, which has to do with their perception of (Swiss) Standard German as a non-native variety. Furthermore, the author mentions weak loyalty of these teachers toward the Swiss German standard.

Melanie Wagner deals with the situation of German in Luxembourg. Drawing upon the analysis of the questionnaires and other documents (curricula, guidelines of language policy and planning in Luxembourg), she concludes that it is impossible to categorize the teaching method for the school subject German as first, second, or foreign language. In her opinion, this fact raises a question to what extent Luxembourg – with German as the main language of instruction – can be classified as one of half centers of this language.

Yet another project – Austrian Standard German as a language of instruction and education – served as a basis for the chapter published together by Rudolf de Cillia, Illona Fink and Jutta Ransmayr (Das österreichische Deutsch als Unterrichts- und Bildungssprache, for more details see also Similarly to the previous project, these authors also analyze the curricula of schools, universities, and faculties of education, as well as the data collected by means of questionnaires from, and partially interviews with, teachers, students and pupils in Austria. The authors are interested in how familiar the teachers are with the concept of pluricentric German, in the teachers’ language loyalty and practices of correction as well as in the extent to which Austrian pupils become more perceptive toward the variation of German. The results reveal that although the expert concept of pluricentric German can hardly be considered as well-known in Austria either, the respondents are more aware of different forms of standard German.

Aivars Glaznieks and Andrea Abel present the results of the analyses of grammatical competence drawing on a corpus-based project “Language of Education in Comparison”. The authors concentrate on writing competence of pupils attending the last grade before the school-leaving exam. The respondents come from three regions – South Tirol, North Tirol and Thuringia. The authors identify various regional variants as problematic, the case governments (accusative, dative, genitive) being in the foreground. Similarly to K. Niehaus’s and R. Schmidlin’s consideration, these authors also favor such teaching practices in which debates about language variation would contribute to more adequate language use.

Karin Gehrer, Maren Oepke and Franz Eberle explore the usefulness of the Swiss school-leaving language test database EVAMAR II for the linguistic research on the pluricentricity of German. They also deal with the influence of family varieties on the language competence of university students. They reveal that no significantly different results can be proven in the competence of high-school graduates who were linguistically socialized in Swiss German and those who underwent this kind of socialization in German standard. Trying to explain their results, the authors refer to the high level of Swiss high schools, which do not allow every applicant to be admitted.

Stefan Niehaus chose a literary topic for his chapter, the only one in the volume. Not surprisingly, the literature canons are traditionally established within the national borders. These practices have been broken neither by migrants, nor by gender-related topics yet. In spite of the decline of state-related nationalism after 1945, these general tendencies are still operating. Literature does not stop playing an important role in the discourses of national as well as regional identities.

The last three chapters are unified by their primarily didactic orientation. Klaus Peter analyzes the role of language awareness and language knowledge of teachers dealing with language variation. On the one hand, language knowledge is conceptualized as knowledge of meaning; on the other hand, it corresponds to encyclopedic knowledge. The author argues that evaluation of linguistic variants may only be adequate if data concerning both language attitudes, and individual language knowledge have been analyzed. He identifies weak points in the language attitude research for reasons of discrepancy between both kinds of knowledge.

Interesting findings showing how Swiss teachers understand language norms are summarized in the contribution by Adriana Gatta. She analyzes how they evaluate Helvetisms, and to what extent they correct them. The author correlates the collected linguistic data with extra-linguistic variables (age, education, or teaching experience of the teachers). She concludes that younger teachers may behave in a more tolerant manner toward Helvetisms than the older ones. However, the other factors do not seem to influence the general skepticism toward these variants. What these teachers most often correct are syntactic Helvetisms.

Finally, Chiara Scanavino deals with Teutonisms, specifically German variants, in the lexicography of the 21st century. She views this field with much criticism. Not only does she point out the terminological discrepancies – she suggests e.g. that the term “gemeindeutsch” (Common German) be replaced by “innerdeustch” (Inner German) – but she is critical of how Teutonisms are presented in dictionaries. She argues that lexicography should be more inspired by encyclopedic handbooks. She also supports the principle of alphabetical nesting of lemmas, accompanied by more information about the frequency and the contexts in which the word is used appropriately.


The programmatic orientation of the whole volume toward the pluricentricity (or pluriareality) of standard German is likable, and this review is a convenient opportunity to highlight this approach. The editors’ point of view fits with the increase in social diversification, which represents one big group of features characterizing the contemporary post-modern era: heterogeneity of many social phenomena including the language use, higher prestige and support of regional identities, protection of minorities and individual rights as well as loosening of social norms (for further details and connections see Neustupný 2006: 2217-2220). By the way, the pluralization of standards can be interpreted as a form of language destandardization (Auer 1997: 136). At the same time, the pluricentric orientation of the research on standard varieties has already become quite usual. Thus, it is revealed that the more complicated problem concerns the implementation of this approach as well as research findings in teaching practices. The efforts to implement the concept of pluricentric standards in the educational sphere, not to mention some other public discourses, have largely failed so far as is convincingly evidenced by Davies, Schmidlin, Wagner, de Cillia, Fink and Ransmayr, Gatta and some other contributors. These authors confirm the experience that speakers belonging to both dominant, and non-dominant centers are rather rarely aware of the pluricentric character of their language, although the linguists may have been sharing the „pluricentric opinion” for decades.

Thus, it is predominantly the expert discourse that constructs the pluricentric character of German – to some (or rather a large?) extent even on behalf of the German speakers themselves. Hence, the concept of the specifically pluricentric standard is in this German-related context (still) an etic, and not an emic one. In other words, this kind of pro-pluricentric/pluriareal behavior of experts toward German starts on the macro-level and eventually needs to reach the micro-level. This has not happened in very many cases yet, though.

Generally speaking, it is the methodological design of the research on norms and standard varieties that appears to remain the most difficult question (going beyond the volume reviewed). Most researchers cope with the dynamics of discourses, in which these standards are shaped, to approach the social reality more adequately. A tool is needed that would structure the phases of these dynamic processes and that would help to operationalize the theoretical frames including the connection of the micro-macro-level in practice (see e.g. the language management approach and its methods in Fairbrother & Nekvapil & Sloboda 2018, or the website This also holds for the more systematic consideration of the role of social actors (and their networks) who participate in these processes (institutions and norm authorities with their social status, (lack of) power, their ways of enforcing various suggestions in interactions with other speakers etc.) as well as further socioeconomic circumstances.

The volume reveals that questionnaires, which were used for data collection in many contributions, are not necessarily very helpful, as e.g. Davies remarks briefly (p. 134). They may deform the social reality in that it is an expert who notes a language problem/inadequacy on behalf of the other social actor. In other words, respondents may not perceive quite a few linguistic structures or forms as doubtful or problematic if a researcher does not do so on their behalf. As participant observation is, for understandable reasons, difficult to accomplish, then self-observation of the respondents (Rodríguez/Ryave 2002) or follow-up interviews with them (Neustupný 1999) help the researchers to approach the social reality more adequately. Particularly the follow-up interviews appear practical and advantageous, because they are recorded e.g. with language norm authorities when the relevant correction events have already taken place, i.e. after teachers (or editors) corrected what they had noted as a deviation from their own expectations (for application and further reflection on this method see Dovalil 2015). By means of the follow-up interview, the researcher can make the relevant actors – in our case language norm authorities – discuss, re-think or explain their decision-making processes and find out the decisive underlying argumentation.

The research on norms of standard varieties represents a primarily qualitative methodological challenge, which does not rule out the relevance of quantitative elements, of course. However, the qualitative perspective is seldom to be found in the contributions (partially, for instance, in the Austrian project of R. de Cillia, I. Fink and J. Ransmayr, pp. 210-212). Owing to the title of the volume (standard language between NORM and practice), this remark is not entirely marginal. Although several contributors (E. Wyss, or A. Glaznieks & A. Abel) refer e.g. to Gloy’s concept of norm, this concept is not projected into their research quite consistently. Gloy (2004) defines language norms as deontic contents of human consciousness which effectively regulate language use as well as language expectations (see also Dovalil 2015: 84). Hence, language norms as contents of consciousness are neither directly accessible, nor can they be interchanged with mere formulations in grammars, dictionaries or expert articles. Contents of consciousness without regulatory effects cannot be taken for norms. This should also be emphasized with regard to the usual differentiation between subsistent and explicitly set norms (in German “subsistente” vs. “statuierte” Norm, p. 42 in Schmidlin’s contribution), because both kinds of norms have to effectively regulate the language use (and expectations). (Subsistent) Norms need not be explicitly formulated to bring about the aforementioned effects. Norms have to be interpreted and derived from the observable behavior toward language.

However, if standards are conceived purely quantitatively as high (or the highest) frequencies of linguistic variants (see, for instance, in K. Niehaus’s chapter, p. 70), then they need not have to do much with norms of standard varieties. As Gloy (2004: 396) argues against the simplifying quantitatively-based concept of norms, high frequencies are to be interpreted only as a reference to a potentially underlying norm, not to the norm as such yet. These high frequencies allow the linguists to formulate only a preliminary hypothesis which remains to be proven. Thus, the reader may raise a question concerning the interconnection of such standards with appropriate teaching, which represent typical normative discourses and in which the language use of pupils and students is still (more or less?) managed by their teachers toward the standard varieties (= regulatory effects).

This problem is relevant for the pluriareal approach (the same chapter, pp. 66-81) that is accompanied by even less normative force than the pluricentric concept backed – at least partially – by state authorities: unlike the pluricentric codification, the pluriareal approach cannot rely on any comparable reference works (yet). Thus, the quantitative paradigm mapping the (precise territorial) distribution of linguistic variants has to take into consideration that the facticity (high frequencies of the explored variants) does not have to influence the teaching practices at all. Typically, it is the practice of a norm authority that might turn the high frequency of a variant into the decisive argument when a solution to an unclear case (Zweifelsfall) is discussed in an interaction. However, norm authorities may make a decision, no matter how frequently a variant is used in a specific territory, or regardless of its codification. A decision will be made anyway, although it will not be adequate from the quantitative point of view (see K. Niehaus’s discussion about the didactic dimension of his research on pp. 82-84, which actually reveals potentially prescriptive effects of the linguistic description). Or, in an opposite case – the fact that a variant is used (very) frequently does not have to mean that this variant is not heavily criticized, corrected and replaced by another one in schools. Therefore, it would be useful and interesting to find out to what extent e.g. the Bavarian (or any other) areal standard starts establishing any normative effects, and if Bavarian teachers of German start enforcing (or at least stop correcting) specific Bavarian variants at the expense of others. Hence, it is this behavior of teachers toward language as it is realized in their interactions with pupils for which empirical data should be collected. Apart from these arguments, the correlative approach does not have to bring much provided some of the pre-selected extra-linguistic variables turn out to be relatively irrelevant in the end (see in Gatta’s contribution, pp. 378-386). Interestingly enough, her data might serve as initial stage for promising follow-up interviews with the teachers as indicated above.

These circumstances account for necessity of the qualitative research on interactions between teachers and their pupils/students (or between book and journal editors and contributors, or other norm authorities and norm subjects in general), in which it is possible to observe who are the most powerful decision-making social actors, how their decisive arguments look, whose language use is influenced by such a decision, how exactly, and in which situations, etc.

The crucial process shedding light on the way in which differences between the monocentric and pluricentric standard varieties in educational contexts are (re-)shaped can be succinctly outlined as follows: in process of managing the monocentric standard (a dominant center), the norm authorities note deviations from their normative expectations and evaluate them negatively. Alternative variants complying with the monocentric standard are implemented as traditional corrections (sanctions). The deviations triggering the process are viewed as mistakes. If this standard is really implemented, which means that the mistakes are corrected and the corrections enforced, the whole cycle with all phases, including implementation, repeats itself. Emphasizing successful implementation is very important in this context, because it brings the necessary empirical evidence for removing the alternative, i.e. pluricentric variants, from language use (at least for the time being).
In the process of managing the pluricentric standard, some noted deviations from the normative expectations based on the monocentric standard are evaluated positively (gratification), or at least not entirely negatively (see note 1 underneath). This fact stops the process. The gratification of the deviations contributes to the stabilization of these deviating structures, which is of high importance particularly in public discourses and normative settings (education). Therefore, this kind of management does not lead to the changes in the variants. Rather, it illustrates and strengthens gradual changes in the content of the expectations (when compared to the original monocentric standard) in further cycles of language management.

Overall: this very useful volume provides the reader with lots of new valuable findings and remarkable details (e.g. the school curricula and other official documents related to educational policies across several countries, overviews of attitudes of various social groups toward several varieties of German and many other details). These findings confirm the legitimacy of differentiated approaches toward language standards. Surprisingly (or not?), the discursive nature of standard varieties, which depends on interactions between language norm authorities and other social actors participating in the processes of negotiation of norms, enables us to identify a methodological desideratum underlying the whole volume. It reveals that the sociolinguistic research on standard varieties should more systematically concentrate on metalinguistic activities of the abovementioned actors through which the standard varieties are (re)shaped. This would usefully complement the traditional quantitative approach – especially in school contexts as they are focused in the volume.

Language standards without normative effects remain primarily frequency-related phenomena based on correlations of linguistic and extra-linguistic variables (exemplified by the distribution of variants in a territory, basically regardless of how the territory is called – area, region, or center). However, if educational contexts, which are taken for so important in many chapters, with various forms of language management are targeted, then normative problems cannot be neglected. At least in these situations, a stronger qualitative approach appears indispensable. Purely quantitative methods miss the target when norms of standard varieties have to be analyzed.


Obviously, there is an essential precondition that needs to be repeated and emphasized: the general expectations underlying the discussed management process are oriented toward a language standard. Many deviations from the monocentric standard are variants of dialects anyway – independent from the region in which such variants are used. Austrian or Swiss dialect variants represent deviations from the German standard just like Low German dialect variants differ from the Austrian and Swiss standards.


Auer, Peter. 1997. Führt Dialektabbau zur Stärkung oder Schwächung der Standardvarietät?
Zwei phonologische Fallstudien. In: Mattheier, Klaus J. & Edgar Radtke (Hrsg.). Standardisierung und Destandardisierung europäischer Nationalsprachen. Frankfurt/Main: Peter Lang. 129-161.

Dovalil, Vít. 2015. The German Standard Variety at Czech Universities in the Light of Decision-making Processes of Language Management. In: Davies, Winifred & Evelyn Ziegler (eds.). Language Planning and Microlinguistics. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan. 83-102.

Fairbrother, Lisa, Nekvapil, Jiří & Marián Sloboda (eds.). 2018. The Language Management Approach: A Focus on Research Methodology (Prague Papers on Language, Society and Interaction 5). Berlin: Peter Lang.

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Neustupný, Jiří V. 1999. Následné (follow-up) interview. Slovo a slovesnost 60(1). 13-18.

Rodríguez, Noelie & Alan Ryave. 2002. Systematic Self-Observation (Qualitative research methods series 49). London: Sage.


Vít Dovalil works on linguistic norms, processes of standardization and language management theory. He also researches language policy and planning in the European Union including the case law concerning the language-related disputes. For more details see also

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