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Review of  Einführung in die germanistische Linguistik

Reviewer: Daniel Bürkle
Book Title: Einführung in die germanistische Linguistik
Book Author: Elke Hentschel Theo Harden
Publisher: Peter Lang AG
Linguistic Field(s): General Linguistics
Historical Linguistics
Language Acquisition
Subject Language(s): German
Issue Number: 26.2327

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Review's Editor: Helen Aristar-Dry


Einführung in die germanistische Linguistik (Introduction to German linguistics) by Elke Hentschel and Theo Harden consists of 16 chapters designed to introduce the novice reader to the respective field or topic, without it being necessary to read the entire book. Each chapter except the co-authored Chapter 10 is written by either Hentschel or Harden alone. The chapters all have attention-getting questions or statements as titles, but the subtitles helpfully name the area of linguistics that the chapter covers.

Chapter 1, to give just one example, is titled ''Can words make you tired? Semantics'' and was written by Hentschel. It starts by explaining the priming studies of Bargh et al. (1996) (though without ever mentioning the term ''priming'') and uses these to argue that the mental representations of words are connected to other words and to other aspects of cognition. After laying out that linguistic signs are symbols rather than indices or icons, the chapter also briefly introduces featural semantics, prototype theory, and the semiotic triangle.

Chapter 2, “Where are words in your head and how do you access them?” (Harden), presents modular and connectionist models of lexical access. It uses real examples of production errors and experimental designs throughout, and also offers jumping-off points for discussions of experimental validity and the map-territory problem.

Chapter 3 (by Hentschel) answers the question ''Are there languages without any grammar?'' by showing in just one Mandarin example how a supposedly grammar-less language has strict syntactic rules and grammaticalized lexical items. The S/A/P terminology for basic thematic roles is introduced (citing Comrie 1987), which leads easily to a quick description of ergative-absolutive languages as well as the basic terminology of subject, predicate, object, and adverbial.

Chapter 4, “My holiday destination: A country without irregular verbs” (Hentschel), is on verbal morphology. It introduces the reader to tense, aspect, mood, and voice. The examples are almost exclusively German, but that allows for a comprehensive overview of German verbal morphology: non-standard analytic tenses (the ''double perfect'', as in ''ich habe dich gesehen gehabt'', and the ''double pluperfect'', as in ''ich hatte dich gesehen gehabt''), the absentive (''Ernst ist essen.''), and inflective interjections (''seufz''), which German-speaking readers of this book will know from everyday language use, are described alongside standard forms.

Chapter 5, “Why do we say ‘der Tisch’, but ‘die Lampe’ and ‘das Klavier’ – and what is that good for?” (Hentschel), is the first of two chapters on noun morphology. It covers grammatical gender and number. Quite a number of terms and topics are established in this short chapter: morphological typology, different grammatical gender systems and possible reasons for these, different types of number systems, nominal classifiers, and the distinctions between bound and free as well as between lexical and grammatical morphemes.

Chapter 6, “Who? What? Whom?” (Hentschel), is the second one on noun morphology, and describes the German case system. It lists different uses associated with each of the four German case system, but also briefly mentions a few other cases and the languages they exist in.

Chapter 7, “All about sounds” (Hentschel), is on phonetics and phonology and begins by asking why speakers have so much trouble with speech sounds that are not used in their native language, when they can easily distinguish and produce all in their native language. The high-amplitude sucking paradigm and well-known results from it are presented as an answer to this question. The chapter then proceeds by establishing the distinction between consonants and vowels, the phones of German, and minimal pairs and syllable structure as the basics of phonology.

Chapter 8 (by Harden) asks ''What is linguistics?''. It gives a brief overview of the history of the concept of science, from hermeneutics to structuralism and the problem of induction, as well as an introduction to the history of linguistics, from Panini and European scholasticism via William Jones and Ferdinand de Saussure to the different schools of the twentieth century and the wide-ranging and diverse field that linguistics is today.

Chapter 9, “What kind of a language is German?” (Harden), is on the history of German. It re-introduces William Jones and the Indo-European theory, and goes on to describe the major phonological shifts in the history of German (Grimm's Law and the High German consonantal shift) in some detail.

Chapter 10, “That’s not a language, that’s a throat disease” (Hentschel and Harden), is an overview of German dialectology. It illustrates the major isoglosses of modern German and presents the methods that were and are used to find them. The low prestige of dialects is also discussed, and this discussion serves to set up the next chapter.

Chapter 11, “Anyone who talks this sloppily can’t be thinking properly” (Harden), continues with the introduction to sociolinguistics. It discusses the prestige of different dialects (using Labov 1972’s New York department store study as one example) and establishes the difference between diglossia and bilingualism. High and low prestige in colonial settings then leads into an explanation of pidgins and creoles.

Chapter 12, “How do you learn to talk?” (Hentschel), presents the major stages of first language acquisition (babbling, one word, two words, complex utterances) and relevant research methods. For the earlier stages, the high-amplitude sucking paradigm is explained (again); for the latter ones, pseudoword methodologies are introduced. The rest of this chapter offers an overview of theories of language acquisition on either side of the familiar nature-versus-nurture debate: Chomskyan nativism is contrasted with constructivist approaches like Skinner's behaviorism, Piaget's cognitive theory, and more recent interactionist developments (Tomasello is mentioned as an example).

Chapter 13, “Why is learning a second language so hard?” (Harden), begins by laying out the relevant basic terminology of ''learn'' and ''acquire'', ''second'' and ''foreign'' languages, and ''L1'' and ''L2''. What follows is an overview of some second language teaching methods (grammar-translation, audio-visual, and the communicative turn) and how they are influenced by different theories (sociocultural theories, acculturation, connectionism, and teachability). The chapter closes by answering the question of its title, arguing that an L2 is not as necessary for survival as an L1.

Chapter 14, “My neighbor is not in prison” (Harden), is an introduction to pragmatics. It briefly lays out Austin's theory of speech acts, Gricean maxims of conversation, deixis, and the idea of negative and positive face in politeness.

Chapter 15, “And how do you write all this?” (Hentschel), presents different types of writing systems. Icons, logograms, syllabaries, alphabets, and mixed systems are described and illustrated. German examples are used (where appropriate) in the discussion of different considerations that affect the design of orthographies. Throughout the chapter, the author stresses that there is no objectively better or worse writing system or orthography.

Chapter 16 is ''A postscript for fans of formal systems'' (by Harden). In 19 pages, it introduces several syntactic frameworks (namely phrase structure grammar, generative grammar, dependency grammar, Optimality Theory, and construction grammars) and provides references for further reading on them.


As there are many German-language introductory linguistics textbooks on the market readily available already, it is important for a new one to fill a specific gap. Hentschel and Harden's book is designed to be used either as a standard comprehensive textbook or as a collection of chapters each offering a short standalone introduction to a specific subfield. The book certainly meets the first of these goals: it covers all major subfields of linguistics with enough detail for an introductory course, and with plenty of references for more in-depth reasoning. Chapters 8 (history of science and linguistics) and 16 (syntax frameworks) do not have the depth that their respective topics demand, even for a short introduction, but they can easily be skipped or supplemented with additional reading. Since the book also meets its second goal, that of a collection of independent short introductions, skipping them would not mean missing fundamental basics for the other chapters.

Some chapters will certainly be read together by most readers (Chapters 5 and 6, which both discuss noun morphology, spring to mind). This is made easier by the accurate but approachable style, which is consistently maintained throughout, and by the length of the chapters: Chapter 6 is the shortest, at ten pages; Chapter 16 by far the longest, at 19 pages (and it is presented as a “postscript”, or not as basic as the other chapters). No chapter explicitly refers the reader to another chapter, and there is no glossary, but looking up concepts and terms is made easy by the comprehensive index at the end of the book. The few misspellings (“mit” in place of “mir” in the third example on p.52, “joined attention” p.164, “Personendeixi” p. 236 in the index) and other typographic issues (some of the lines in Fig. 2 p.22 not connecting, for instance) are just cosmetic and do not inhibit understanding of the examples and explanations.

In a few places, the book is not as precise as it could be. For example, it claims Brazilian Portuguese no longer uses “the grammatically correct form” of the object pronoun (p.214). While it is implied that this refers to the form that is taught as correct in prescriptive textbooks of Portuguese (and not to a form that is objectively “correct”), this implication could be lost on a reader with no previous knowledge of linguistics.

Each chapter ends with a topic-specific short list of references and further reading. The authors have taken great care to cite German-language books and articles wherever possible, but have not shied away from citing seminal English- or French-language works as well. Readers who prefer German are served just as well as readers who are using this book as a starting point to in-depth studies of linguistics. However, the book makes a few very interesting claims without supporting them (about German prepositions that traditionally took dative noun phrases now being extended to take the genitive as well, p.85-86; or about the phonemic status of the glottal stop in German, based on the minimal pair “StudentInnen” (students of either/any gender) – “Studentinnen” (female students), p.98). References to the relevant literature would not only support these claims, but also benefit novice linguists: as examples of state-of-the-art research, such references would answer one question that the book itself does not ask: “What do linguists actually do?”

All the questions that it does ask, however, are answered competently. Examples from languages other than German are used where appropriate, and these are not limited to the typical textbook examples: for example, p.151 gives the first four lines of the Lord’s Prayer in Tok Pisin as a conspicuous example of grammaticalization. The German examples are not just standard textbook fare either, with reference being made to non-standard or innovative forms like the comprehensive list of German tenses (p.47) or adjectives (apparently) derived from prepositions (“der Mann mit dem abben Bein”, p.214). These examples not only draw the reader in, but also make it clear to non-experts that linguistics is the study of language as it is used. Together with the chapters being designed to be short and independent, this makes for a useful introductory text.


Bargh, John, Mark Chen, and Laura Burrows. 1996. “Automaticity of social behavior: Direct effects of trait construct and stereotype activation on action”. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 71.2:230-244.

Comrie, Bernard. 1987. Language universals and linguistic typology (Second edition). Oxford: Blackwell.

Labov, William. 1972. Sociolinguistic patterns. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press.
Daniel Bürkle is a PhD candidate in linguistics at the University of Canterbury in Christchurch, New Zealand, where he uses eyetracking and other attention-tracking methodologies to investigate the acquisition of syntactic variations. His research interests include variation and innovation in syntax as well as methods in psycholinguistics and corpus linguistics.

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