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Review of  Standardvariation

Reviewer: Claudia Kunschak
Book Title: Standardvariation
Book Author: Ludwig M. Eichinger Werner Kallmeyer
Publisher: De Gruyter Mouton
Linguistic Field(s): Historical Linguistics
Subject Language(s): German
Issue Number: 16.2398

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Date: Sat, 13 Aug 2005 22:04:35 -0400
From: Claudia Kunschak
Subject: Standardvariation: Wie viel Variation verträgt die deutsche

EDITORS: Eichinger, Ludwig M.; Kallmeyer, Werner
TITLE: Standardvariation
SUBTITLE: Wie viel Variation verträgt die deutsche Sprache?
SERIES: IDS Jahrbuch 2004
YEAR: 2005
PUBLISHER: Mouton de Gruyter

Claudia Kunschak, Departamento de Traducción e Interpretación y Lenguas
Aplicadas, Universidad Europea de Madrid

The present volume on standard and variation in German, with the
provocative subtitle of how much variation the German language can
tolerate is the 2004 edition of the yearbook of the 'Institut für Deutsche
Sprache' (IDS) and was published on the occasion of its fortieth annual
conference. Edited by Ludwig Eichinger and Werner Kallmeyer, the book
amply illustrates current research paradigms in German dialectology,
sociolinguistics and applied linguistics from a variety of contrasting but
complementary standpoints. From conceptual approximations to historical
motivations, from formal linguistic categorizations to social identity
formations, from pedagogical deliberations to German studies abroad, the
collection of articles clearly demonstrates that variation has made its
way into the sphere of the German standard language, leaving behind its
formerly marginalized position of non-standard. The following paragraphs
aim at briefly summarizing the different contributions to this volume,
that is, the different answers its authors are suggesting with respect to
the overarching question of how much variation the German language can

In the first chapter, Heinrich Löffler explores the various concepts
related to the degrees of standardization of the German language with
respect to their usefulness for contemporary language description.
Starting out from the traditionally used hierarchical
standard/colloquialism/dialect divide and moving on to the continuum of
standard/sub-standard/non-standard, he emphasizes the highly complex
character of the multiple, overlapping and fluctuating categories that
have been suggested by different contemporary linguists. Given the
dynamics of linguistic and societal developments with the resulting
impossibility of stable, unambiguous and clear-cut definitions, the author
instead proposes operational definitions for the terms of standard and
variation that would allow for empirically based decisions on whether
certain variations should be considered as falling inside or outside the
ever expanding scope of standard language. In this way, Löffler rejects
prescriptive dogmatism in favor of a pragmatic approach to variation both
within and beyond standard German.

These terminological quagmires are also at the heart of Ulrich Ammon's
deliberations on the characteristics of standard and (diatopic) variation.
Presupposing the recognition of national and regional variation of the
German language, the author focuses on the sometimes neglected distinction
between standard and norm. He suggests four instances of normative
entities - model speakers, language codices, language experts and language
authorities - reminding us that the existence, validity and legitimacy of
a norm should also be viewed as separate notions. Ammon thus joins Löffler
in his emphasis on the multi-layered dimensions of the question and
prefers drawing a comprehensive picture to laying down hard and fast rules
for the standard-variation decision.

After these two macro perspectives on the issue, Susanne Günther's
contribution delves into the pragmatics of grammar variation at the
example of two traditional verb final, i.e. subordinating conjunctions
that seem to be developing into verb second, i.e. coordinating
conjunctions in current spoken German, 'obwohl' and 'wobei'. Günther makes
a case for regarding this phenomenon as an example of standard variation
since it entails a change in function for these conjunctions. As corpus
studies have demonstrated a clear increase in the use of these forms, the
author suggests a potential scenario for language change and recommends
them as accepted variations also within the context of teaching German as
a second language.

This pro-variation stance is also salient in the following article by
Stephan Elspass, who challenges traditional top-down approaches to the
history of the German language that are based on an unattainable, elitist,
written standard. Drawing on a wide range of examples, Elspass furthermore
questions the notion of a finished German standard of the latter 19th
century. Instead, he proposes a bottom-up history of the German language
that would be truly generalized, featuring oral regional standard
varieties, the notion of acceptance (Haugen, 1994), and contemporary
phenomena of linguistic development.

The general tendencies of a current development with a potential for
language change, destandardization, are discussed by Helmut Spiekerman in
the next chapter. Based on corpus data from SW Germany comparing phonetic
variation between the years of 1961 and 2001, the author describes two
parallel trends, regional standardization and national destandardization.
While dialectal forms seem to be decreasing, non-standard non-regional
variations seem to be more widely used and thus maybe gain more acceptance
in the future. While a clear-cut case for language change cannot be made
due to ambivalent developments for more regional variants, Spiekerman's
data support the general bottom-up trend of destandardization and a more
heterogeneous standard language.

Beyond the written-oral dichotomy of standardization, Peter Schlobinski
frames 'destandardization' in the context of new media. The synchronous
character of hypermedia together with its typical combination of image,
sound and text requires a new variation of communication - a hybrid that
is not a lesser form of standard language but a purposefully optimized
functional variation. At the example of internet chat and SMS
communication, Schlobinski describes a variety of discursive patterns that
characterize this new variation. According to the author, these phenomena
should be seen as parallel developments and not necessarily as threats to
conventional written language.

Returning to the realm of spoken German, Nina Berend charts the territory
for a new research project on the description of regional standards of
use. Based on phonetic, syntactic, morphological and lexical regional
variation from a corpus collected in the 1970s by Werner König, Berend
suggests four major zones of spoken standard German: north, central, south-
east and south-west. With a learner of German in mind and in keeping with
Durrell's (1999) principles of formal vs. informal standard, the author
calls for a paradigm shift in the description of standard language and an
applied linguistics focus that would result in the production of
empirically grounded, inclusive, current works of reference.

Bottom-up language change through youth language is another path to
language variation compatible with a contemporary view of standard
language. For the purpose of documenting this process, Jannis
Androutsopoulos suggests a model of language change that combines an
accommodation and network-oriented micro approach with a media-oriented
macro approach developed by Kotsinas (1997). Based on a newspaper corpus,
the author illustrates his point at the example of 'cool', 'geil'
and 'chillen', lexical items that have made their way into main-stream
journalistic jargon beyond the realm of specialized genres like music,
sports, young people.

As with the above examples, much of lexical innovation originating in the
youth stratum,, tends to migrate over from the English speaking sphere of
influence. Within this larger scope, Ulrich Busse discusses pronunciation
dilemmas for English loan words in the German language. Depending on the
type of word, the speaker's linguistic background, and the context of use
(e.g., the media), a more English or more German oriented pronunciation
may be chosen. In this context, Busse refers the reader to the critical
issue of "standard" English and the need for specific inclusion of
phonetic variation in works of reference.

Switching back to grammatical variation, the following contribution by
Richard Schrodt illustrates the case of lack of subject-verb agreement.
While some prescriptive grammar manuals tend to be restrictive in this
matter, Schrodt argues that an UG-inspired approach that keeps in mind
thematic rather than grammatical agreement would support a speaker-
mediated decision. Term quality, subjectivity and pragmatics are key words
that help frame this discursive approach to a seemingly formal linguistic
cause. Once more we are faced with a paradigm shift in the direction of
greater inclusiveness bolstered by a range of examples from a variety of
textual sources.

In a regional study on citylects, Margret Selting examines yet another
potential lieu of variation, intonational contours. Comparing Berlin
speech with standard German intonational patterns and, furthermore,
variations within Berlin speech of more or less standard character,
Selting finds variations in the timing of pitch summit, in accent
contours, in the structure of intonational phrases and in salient overall
intonational contours. Even though, at this point, the study has a
geographically limited focus, the results from the large-scale project on
dialect intonations that is currently being undertaken should provide some
interesting comparative data.

In the following chapter, Jürgen Erich Schmidt examines the different
normative levels of the German language. Based on the premise of Standard
German as one (literary) variety with three different oral norms (Austria,
Germany, and Switzerland), Schmid suggests three levels of areality within
and across these normative boundaries: trained speaker, colloquial
standard and regional accent. Empirical studies seem to coincide with such
a theory-based drawing of standard boundaries due to the saliency factor
of areal markers. Schmid thus proposes delimiting standard German based on
this factor and the concept of full variety, coinciding at the same time
with the variation awareness of lay speakers.

A view from across the border, presented by Peter Bassola from the
Hungarian perspective, suggests a methodological approach to the teaching
of the varieties of the German language. Bassola makes a case for
functional inclusion of variation according to level of schooling with a
view to combining language and content in the pursuit of
bilingual/bicultural identities. Language for specific purposes with its
intralingual (Austria and Germany) and interlingual (Hungarian-German)
variation would then be embedded in a comprehensive framework of
variation, history and culture.

Another view from across the border, comparing approaches to variation in
German and English, has Stephen Barbour comment on communicative
interferences between English-speaking learners of German and German-
speaking learners of English. Different concepts of norm (prescriptive
versus descriptive) and new learner varieties, German English in this
case, that is, English words used by Germans in non-English ways, can
create invisible barriers in seemingly germane linguistic contexts. The
author thus strongly recommends a language in society approach to language
teaching from the beginning levels onwards.

In the third contribution concerning German studies abroad, Marisa Siguan
portrays the language policy interplay between Spanish and Catalan and its
effect on the teaching of German philology in Barcelona. Juxtaposing
Spanish as a language with a long normative history and Catalan as a
language which is still undergoing standardization while maintaining and
extraordinary openness toward variation, Siguan considers this
constellation fertile ground for variation awareness, particularly at a
higher level of competence. This state of affairs leads to a focus on
communication, a high degree of tolerance toward mistakes, an
understanding of the arbitrariness of norms and a will to compromise.

Language users at home seem less open to variation. In his article on the
prescriptive-descriptive dilemma, Matthias Wermke finds users more rule-
oriented than the general tendency toward destandardization may seem to
imply. Editors of normative texts are thus in a bind over what degree of
prescriptiveness to include into their publications. One way out of this
dilemma, according to the author, would be to introduce a distinction
between descriptive and prescriptive dictionaries and thus allow for
informed choices as to which manifestations of the same basic functions to

As a conclusion, Ludwig M. Eichinger takes the concept of norm one step
further. Acknowledging the move towards more empirical research and the
now accepted difference in norms for written and oral language, the author
puts forward the provocative of question of whose norm is it anyway. While
talking about situative norms, expectations toward genre, and
appropriateness, Eichinger stresses the dynamic nature of standardization,
the interplay between the linguistic and the social. He concludes by
sketching the three current realms of norms to be taken into consideration
by speakers: mistakes to avoid, options to choose from and symbolic social
positionings to enact.

As can be seen from the above paragraphs, the IDS yearbook shows the
current state of affairs in German language standardization research from
a wide variety of standpoints. Conceptual pieces alternate with empirical
studies, general overviews with foci on a specific linguistic feature.
While this wide range of different subtopics among a total of 17
contributions has something to offer for everyone, that same diversity
makes a cohesive read difficult. In this respect, the collection may have
benefitted from a thematic rather than purely chronological order, maybe
even supported by some introductory section paragraphs. Concerning the
underlying frameworks of reference, a number of contributions echo recent
developments in applied linguistics from pluricentricity (Clyne, 1995) to
language awareness (Davies, 2000) and language variation as social
practice (Eckert, 2000), opening the field of inquiry beyond the
traditional dialectology focus in German sociolinguistics or combining the
two. In a future edition of the IDS yearbook, this scope may be broadened
to include other recent approaches like critical linguistics, which has a
lot to offer to the whole debate of standard, variation, and norms. Still,
as is, the present collection provides a most valuable state of the art
overview of conceptual, empirical, and methodological developments in the
study of the German language and should be included as a work of reference
in any German studies library both within and without the German speaking


Clyne, Michael (1995). German as a pluricentric language. In M. Clyne
(ed.), Pluricentric languages, 117-147. Berlin: Mouton de Gruyter.

Davies, Winifred (2000). Language awareness amongst teachers in a central
German dialect area. Language Awareness 9(3), 119-134.

Durrell, Martin (2003). Register, Variation und Fremdsprachenvermittlung.
In G. Stickel (eds.), Deutsch von Aussen, 239-258. Berlin: Walter de

Eckert, Penelope (2000). Linguistic variation as social practice. Oxford:

Haugen, Einar (1994). Standardization. In E. R. Asher (ed.), The
Encyclopedia of Language and Linguistics vol. 8, 4340-4342.

Kotsinas, Ulla-Britt (1997). Young people's language: Norm, variation and
language change. Stockholm Studies in Modern Philology, New Series 11, 109-


Claudia Kunschak received her PhD in Education with a minor in German
Studies from the University of Arizona (2003). She is currently teaching
translation and languages for specific purposes at the Universidad Europea
de Madrid. Her research interests include language variation,
multilingualism and second language teaching and testing.