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Review of  Sprachwissenschaft [Linguistics - A Reader]

Reviewer: Petra-Kristin Bonitz
Book Title: Sprachwissenschaft [Linguistics - A Reader]
Book Author: Ludger Hoffmann
Publisher: De Gruyter Mouton
Linguistic Field(s): General Linguistics
Linguistic Theories
Issue Number: 22.450

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EDITOR: Hoffmann, Ludger
TITLE: Sprachwissenschaft [Linguistics - A reader]
SUBTITLE: Ein Reader.
SERIES TITLE: De Gruyter Studium
PUBLISHER: De Gruyter Mouton
YEAR: 2010

Petra-Kristin Bonitz, Department of German Linguistics, University of Göttingen


This book is -- as the subtitle makes clear -- a “reader”. In
''Sprachwissenschaft'', Ludger Hoffmann presents the most classic approaches to
linguistics through widely read linguistic texts (primarily in German) for
various subfields of linguistics. As a result, this book reviews many important
assumptions concerning language, gathered in one volume.

Each chapter begins with a well-written introduction that primarily explains and
justifies the selection of texts. This brief introduction contains suggestions
for further reading along with additional bibliographical references. Hoffmann
guides the reader through the chapters with these instructions. As a result, the
chapters and especially the texts are interconnected and form a coherent whole.

Classic texts -- for example from Humboldt, de Saussure, and Chomsky -- give an
overview of general linguistic themes. The book is useful for university classes
or individual study as well, in part because it provides exercises and
introduces relevant linguistic background.

This is the third edition of the “reader”. The editor has kept the original
outline but made some additions to stay abreast of recent advances in the field.
In contrast to the last edition, Hoffmann (2000), the current one contains
introductions to recent grammatical theories and there is more focus on language
acquisition and interculturality.


Part A: Sprachtheorien (theories of language)

This part treats questions like ''What's language?'', ''How did linguistic research
begin?'' and ''Is there a universal grammar?''. Different historical stages and
theories of linguistics are briefly but critically discussed. The philosophers
and authors of the excerpts are succinctly introduced along with their basic
assumptions and fundamental works.

The texts are well chosen. The excerpt by Humboldt (1810-1811) gives arguments
why the reader should learn about the structure of languages. Texts by Paul
(1880/1920), de Saussure (1916), Bloomfield (1933/1935/2001), Bühler (1934),
Wittgenstein (1958) and Morris (1938), provide a broad overview of theories of
language representations (e.g. Course on General Linguistics, the Organon model)
and basic questions about linguistics. Three contemporary texts from Chomsky
(1988/1996), Tomasello (1999/2002) and Lakoff & Wehling (2008) present recent
assumptions about language and its relevance for the social life.

Part B: Sprache und Handlung (language and action)

This chapter presents important theories of language and action. Basic terms of
semantics and pragmatics are given and embedded into a full theory of language
and action. Hoffmann follows the theory of pragmatics chronologically. Texts
from Austin (1958), Searle (1969) and Grice (1975) cover the work of three
classical pragmatists, while Ehlich (1998) presents a current definition and
aspects of pragmatics, including empirical methods.

Part C: Diskurs und Konversation (discourse and conversation)

This section deals with discourse as communication in spoken language. Ehlich
(1984) introduces the theory of speech act analysis, then a relatively new
subfield. He explains terminology and gives suggestions for the methodological
application of speech act analysis. Conversation analysis is the topic of
Bergmann (1995), especially with regard to ethnomethodology: (i) the history of
development gives a nice overview of the history of research; (ii) basic
principles and theories concerning ethnomethodology, the relevance as well as
utilization of which are briefly discussed; (iii) current principles in
methodology are presented in a precise and practical manner.

The next articles deal with specific approaches to discourse analysis: Sacks'
(1971) article is about telling stories in conversations (especially
conversational organization), and Günthner (1993) presents conventions in
intercultural communication based on the assumption that the use and
interpretation of contextualization are formed by socio-cultural conventions.
Rehbein (1986) analyzes intercultural misunderstandings in
doctor-patient-communications that appear to be due to bilateral
misinterpretations. Hoffmann (1996) gives an uncommented sample transcript (a
dialogue from a trial). Redder (1994) gives a transliterated example of an
everyday conversation.

Part D: Laute, Töne, Schriftzeichen (sounds, characters)

The brief introduction overviews major features of phonetics and phonology. The
following articles are also introductions to the two components: (i) phonetics:
Martinet (1960), Pompino-Marschall (1995/2003) and (ii) phonology: Tracy Alan
Hall (2000), Trubetzkoy (1939). Eisenberg (1996) presents important aspects of
the German writing system (e.g. capitalization). Jakobson (1959) discusses
crosslinguistic variants of ''Mama'' and ''Papa'' -- which have not only linguistic
but also potential anthropological and psychological importance. Labov (1968)
demonstrates quantitatively how linguistic indicators can correlate with
sociological characteristics of speakers. So the analysis of language
development mechanisms can contribute to a general theory of social development.

Part E: Wortform und Wortstruktur (word form and word structure)

The general introduction and Bühler et al. (1970) cover key morphological
terminology and lexical categories.

Bloomfield (1923/1935) characterizes grammatical forms and distinguishes three
main classes: sentence types, constructions, and what he calls “substitutes”
(essentially pronouns). Vennemann & Jacobs (1982) summarize briefly different
theoretical approaches to morphology (e.g., process morphology, paradigmatic
morphology). Sapir (1931) discusses the many formal means languages employ to
express morphological distinctions and the relevance of studying them. Aitchison
(1997) discusses the different ways of word formation in conjunction with the
creative potential of human language. The history and development of the word
class system used in the European grammatical tradition is presented in Robin

Part F: Grammatik von Satz und Äußerung (the grammar of sentence and utterance)

Part F gives brief introductions to different syntactic theories and models.
Short exercises that could be helpful for students are given in the introduction
to this chapter as well as in some of the articles. The development of syntactic
descriptions of German is presented via classic views like those of Paul (1919),
Behagel (1932), Hockett (1958) and Tesnière (1959). The brief excerpt of
Chomsky's principles of phrase structure (1988/1996) introduces the main aspects
of universal grammar. Klenk (2003) clearly presents key concepts of Generative
Syntax, e.g. constituents and syntactic categories. Greenberg (1969) summarizes
types and universals of basic word order, focusing on VSO, SVO and SOV and
categorizing languages in that scheme.

This chapter has been updated with recent excerpts: Müller (2002) introduces
optimality theory by comparing it with traffic rules. Hoffmann (2003) describes
the theory of functional grammar using graphics to illustrate procedures and
phenomena (e.g. coordination or complex structures). Goldberg (2003) briefly
explains constructionist approaches to grammar, which “set out to account for
all of our knowledge of language as patterns of form and function.'' (2003: 726).
Tomasello (2006) argues for a description of first language acquisition with the
help of construction grammar and other cognitive-functional approaches. He thus
explains construction grammar as well as evidence for children's language
acquisition through their use of linguistic constructions. Haspelmath (2002)
discusses whether universal grammar exists, arguing and giving evidence for a
child grammar based on the usage of their parents. He concludes that grammar is
not inherent but learned, though there are crosslinguistic universal properties.

Part G: Bedeutung (meaning)

This section introduces basic terms and concepts of semantics. Lyons (1991)
clearly introduces the basic terms of semantics and gives a brief but
comprehensive review of semantic theories (reference theory, ideation theory,
behavioral theory of meaning, structural semantics, truth conditional theory).
Bierwisch (1969) introduces structural feature semantics using notations of
family connections. Wunderlich (1974) presents the concept of sense relation
between verbal expressions and Wunderlich (1980) gives an example of lexical
field analysis, followed by exercises on lexical fields. Löbner (2003) explains
prototype theory and family resemblance. An excerpt from Frege (1906) shows his
assumptions about logic, thought, negation, conditionals and the distribution of
sense and meaning. The subsequent excerpt from Tugendhat & Wolf (1983) provides
a well-chosen follow-up to Frege’s article and deals with the theory of
redundancy, truth and verification. Finally Frosch (1996) introduces Montague
semantics and categorical grammar.

Part H: Supplemente (appendixes)

Part H contains quite different three sections: an overview of articulatory
phonetics, place and manner of articulation, and an IPA table make up the first
section. In the second, Klein (2001) reviews concepts and types of language
acquisition. Finally, Heeschen (1985/2010) presents the Yale language as a
member of a language family with many unexplored questions (especially the
relationships among different dialects of this language).


This is a very well-written book that presents central important issues of
linguistics with excerpts from the classic academic literature. This book is
ideal for university classes in German linguistics. An instructor can present
linguistic themes drawing on the classic theories and texts collected here.

The brief introductions are appropriate for the work with the chosen texts. But
although they interconnect the texts within a chapter, it would have been
preferable to make an attempt to connect the chapters to each other, for example
in the form of questions or additional exercises after each chapter.

The excerpts included will be useful to readers in class or in independent
reading. One possible drawback is that the excerpts from the original literature
are commented on only briefly in the introduction. In the next edition, it would
be advisable to include more extensive comments, so that also students with
little preparation can interpret these excerpts, above all when the book is used
outside a classroom setting.


Hoffmann, Ludger, ed. (2000): Sprachwissenschaft. Ein Reader. 2. verb. Auflage.
Berlin/New York: de Gruyter.

Petra-Kristin Bonitz ( is writing her dissertation in the field of German linguistics. She serves as an academic assistant in the German department of the University of Göttingen. Her interests of research are in psycholinguistics, linguistic theory and descriptive grammar.