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Review of  Linguistic Purism in the Germanic Languages

Reviewer: Marc Pierce
Book Title: Linguistic Purism in the Germanic Languages
Book Author: Nils Langer Winifred V. Davies
Publisher: De Gruyter Mouton
Linguistic Field(s): Historical Linguistics
Language Family(ies): Germanic
Issue Number: 17.719

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Date: Thu, 02 Mar 2006 15:21:25 -0600
From: Marc Pierce
Subject: Linguistic Purism in the Germanic Languages

EDITORS: Langer, Nils; Davies, Winifred V.
TITLE: Linguistic Purism in the Germanic Languages
SERIES: Studia Linguistica Germanica 75
PUBLISHER: Mouton de Gruyter
YEAR: 2005

Marc Pierce, University of Texas at Austin


As the editors note in the introduction to this book, linguistic purism is
an increasingly popular subject of scholarly study. This book provides
a Germanic perspective on the topic (one paper on a non-Germanic
language, an article by Zoë Boughton on French, has been included
for comparative purposes), and consists of papers originally
presented at a conference held at the University of Bristol in April

The volume opens with an essay titled ''An Introduction to Linguistic
Purism'' (1-17), written by the editors. This chapter offers a useful
survey of some of the relevant issues (e.g., a definition of linguistic
purism and the relationship between purism and standardization),
before outlining the contents of the rest of the volume.

The first section, ''Historical Prescriptivism and Purism,'' contains five
papers. It begins with ''Language norm and language reality.
Effectiveness and limits of prescriptivism in New High German'' (20-
45), by Stephan Elspaß. Here Elspaß notes that prescriptivist ideals
have successfully eliminated a number of constructions from standard
German, e.g., double negatives and past participles without the ge-
prefix, but have been unable to remove others, e.g., the use of dative
case with supposedly genitive prepositions like wegen 'because of'.
He suggests that three main factors can contribute to this process:
the ''regional distribution of a certain figure, its functionality and the
intensity of its stigmatization'' (42). Thus, to take up two of the factors,
double negatives are mainly restricted to the south and are intensely
stigmatized, while the use of dative case with wegen is much more
widespread, and most speakers of German seem happy to accept it.

The next paper, ''Taming thistles and weeds amidst the wheat:
language gardening in nineteenth-century Flanders,'' by Wim
Vandenbussche, Roland Willemyns, Jetje De Groof, and Eline
Vanhecke (46-61), picks up the metaphor of language as a garden
(see Burridge 2002, 2005 for recent applications of this metaphor to
English) and applies it to nineteenth-century Belgium, where there
were in fact two major language conflicts: French vs. Dutch, as well as
one within Dutch (perhaps better phrased as Flemish vs. Dutch).
Topics discussed here include integrationist purism in contrast to
particularist purism, the abuse of purism, and its effects.

Next, Maria Barbara Lange discusses ''Bad language in Germany's
past - the birth of linguistic norms in the seventeenth century'' (62-
85). This article can be divided into two main sections. The first
section looks at handbooks of the history of German (e.g. Wells
1985), with special attention to their discussion and assessment of
seventeenth-century grammarians, while the second section turns to
the primary sources themselves (e.g. works by Christof Arnold and
Justus Schottelius), with an eye to the negative value judgments about
the German language expressed therein.

Joachim Scharloth then discusses ''The revolutionary argumentative
pattern in puristic discourse: The Swabian dialect in the debate about
the standardization of German in the eighteenth century'' (86-96).
Scharloth draws two main conclusions: puristic discourse tends to
treat dialects in one of two ways, either as varieties deserving criticism
or as varieties that can be ''purer'' than the standard language; and
that there are two patterns normally found in puristic discourse, one
conservative and one revolutionary.

The final paper in this section is ''A comparative study of linguistic
purism in the history of England and Germany'' (97-108), by Maria
Geers. After a brief terminological discussion, Geers offers an
effective discussion of different trends in linguistic purism manifested
in England and Germany.

The second section, ''Nationhood and Purism,'' contains four papers.
It opens with ''Linguistic purism in German-speaking Switzerland and
the Deutschschweizerischer Sprachverein 1904-1942'' (110-113), by
Felicity Rash. The main topics discussed here are the protection of
standard German in Switzerland (from foreign languages and the
Swiss German dialects) and the protection of the Swiss German
dialects (from foreign languages, standard German, and each other),
with an emphasis on the role of the DSSV.

The next paper is ''Language nationalism in the Schiller
commemoration addresses of 1859'' (124-143), by Evelyn Ziegler, and
deals with ''the construction of a national language ideology [for
Germany] by studying the ritual of civic festivities during which
Germans collectively represented their formation as a cultural entity''
(124); the specific ''civic festivities'' discussed here are the
celebrations of the centennial of the birth of the well-known German
author Friedrich Schiller. Based on an examination of addresses
given at these celebrations, Ziegler concludes, among other things,
that Schiller's use of language is idealized, and that his ''Germanness''
is also heavily emphasized, thus contributing to the formation of a
specifically German language ideology.

The scene then changes to South Africa for the next paper, ''Standard
Afrikaans and the different faces of 'Pure Afrikaans' in the twentieth
century'' (144-165), by Ria van den Berg, which traces the phases of
development of Standard Afrikaans, from its origins as ''Kitchen Dutch''
to its emergence as a fully-fledged standardized language. This
development was cyclical, as Afrikaans was originally a stigmatized
variety of Dutch, became an accepted standard language, was then
restigmatized because of apartheid, and now seems to be being
destigmatized following the end of apartheid.

The last paper in this section is ''Reimagining the nation: Discourses of
language purism in Luxembourg'' (166-185), by Kristine Horner. This
paper analyzes the ongoing debate about the changing language
situation in Luxembourg, with regard to three main issues: the
politicization Luxembourgish (and why it is happening at this particular
time), the major figures in this development, and the links between
manifestations of linguistic purism and Luxembourgish national identity.

The next section, ''Modern Society and Purism,'' opens with Dieter
Stein's ''On the role of language ideologies in linguistic theory and
practice: purism and beyond'' (188-203). This paper deals with a wide
range of issues, including the definition of ''ideology'' and the notion
of ''segregationalism'' (cf. Harris 1996).

The next paper, ''Elements of traditional and 'reverse' purism in
relation to computer-mediated communication'' (204-220), by Peter
Hohenhaus, concentrates on ''reverse purism,'' by which he means a
type of purism whose characteristics are the exact opposite of those
of traditional purism, in several genres of computer-mediated
communication. Hohenhaus outlines the characteristics of traditional
purism and ''reverse purism'' (see also Crystal 2001 on this issue),
describes the types of computer-mediated communication he will focus
on, then presents his analysis, focusing on English, and closes with a
brief section on two aspects of computer-mediated communication in
German (the use of formal vs. informal forms of address and the use
of Anglicisms).

Patrick Stevenson offers a paper titled ''Once an Ossi, always an Ossi:
language ideologies and social division in contemporary Germany''
(221-237), which fits nicely into the growing body of research on this
topic (see, for instance, Dailey-O'Cain [2000], Stevenson [2002], and
the various papers collected in Reiher and Baumann [2000] and
Reiher and Laezer [1993)]). Stevenson argues convincingly
that ''language ideologies may provide an interpretative frame for
understanding the role of (perceptions of) language in use in
sustaining social division in Germany since 1990'' (233).

The fourth section, ''Folk linguistics and purism,'' opens with '''The
Grand Daddy of English': US, UK, New Zealand and Australian
students' attitudes toward varieties of English'' (241-251), by Betsy
Evans. The data discussed here represents the results of a
questionnaire distributed to university students in the four countries
mentioned in the title, and suggests, among other things, that UK
English is given a high status, while US English is generally viewed
negatively. Australian and New Zealand English both inspired mixed

Nancy Niedzielski then discusses ''Linguistic Purism from several
perspectives: views from the 'secure' and 'insecure''' (252-262). This
paper first looks at groups of what Niedzielski calls ''linguistically
secure'' speakers (a term apparently coined by Labov 1966), i.e.
speakers who have ''demonstrated high degrees [of] confidence in the
correctness of their own variety'' (253), in this case speakers from
Michigan and California, and then contrasts this with the results
obtained from investigating groups of linguistically insecure speakers,
in this case speakers from Texas and New Zealand. The results of
the investigation are intriguing - among other items of interest, the
data from the linguistically secure speakers exhibits certain features
that are seen as non-standard, even by these speakers themselves.

The next paper is ''Dialect and written language: Change in dialect
norms in the history of the German language'' (263-282), by Klaus J.
Mattheier. In this paper, Mattheier points out that certain varieties of
German have been favored since at least the Middle Ages, and then
briefly traces some of the changes that have occurred in this area,
with the most space being devoted to the nineteenth and early
twentieth centuries.

The final paper in the section is Zoë Boughton's
contribution, ''Investigating puristic attitudes in France: Folk
perceptions of variation in standard French'' (282-299). Here
Boughton reports on a study investigating folk perceptions of the
variety of French spoken in Nancy (a city in northeastern France), and
then compares the results and methods of her work with the earlier
study of Kuiper (1999).

The final section of the volume, ''Linguists and purism,'' contains three
papers. It opens with '''Vorsicht ist nicht immer der bessere Teil der
Tapferkeit' - Purism in the historiography of the German language''
(302-323), by Katja Leyhausen. After some remarks on the nature of
historiography, Leyhausen discusses purist statements found in some
histories of the German language (e.g. Grimm 1848 and Stahlmann

The next paper is ''Some effects of purist ideologies on historical
descriptions of English'' (324-342), by James Milroy. Milroy notes
that ''it is generally assumed that purist beliefs about language are
held only by members of the general public … and not by professional
language scholars'' (324), and goes on to argue that this is in fact not
the case, and that scholarly knowledge of the history of English has
been shaped by the purist beliefs held by some linguists. For
example, a number of histories of English (e.g. Wyld 1927) focus
exclusively on the development of the standard language, thus
excluding nonstandard varieties from the discussion.

The final paper of the book is ''Usefulness and uselessness of the
term Fremdwort'' (343-360), by Oskar Reichmann. Here the old
distinction between Fremdwort ('foreign word') and Lehnwort ('loan
word') is taken up, and its usefulness in discussions of semantics,
the ''formal expression of lexical units'' (353), and word formation is
reviewed. Reichmann concludes that the term Fremdwort has its
uses, but can sometimes be problematic. He further suggests that this
question is also relevant to discussions of dialectology and linguistic
purism, among other areas of linguistics.


This is a stimulating book. The papers are generally of high quality,
and some of them are absolutely first rate. Many of the papers would
also be of excellent use in various courses on Germanic linguistics; I
have already used the papers by Elspass and Stevenson as
supplemental reading in a course on variation in German for
advanced undergraduates, and they were both very well-received.

The volume itself is the usual high quality that one expects from this
publisher. Typographical errors are few and generally self-correcting
(the most serious glitch that I noticed was in the introduction, where
some of the bibliographical references are not in the correct
alphabetical order, and capitalization is sometimes inconsistent).
Some authors are inconsistent when dealing with quotations from
languages other than English; for example, in her article, Lange gives
English translations of German quotations in the body of the text, but
does not give the German originals in footnotes. Moreover, Lange
generally does not translate German quotations given in footnotes,
and also fails to translate Early New High German quotes. A personal
preference is for a unified set of references, as that would have
eliminated repetition and thus saved some space.

However, such problems are minor when compared with the
substantial merits of this work. The high price of the volume will no
doubt keep it out of many hands, but it is to be hoped that it finds
the wide reception that it certainly deserves.


Burridge, Kate. 2002. Blooming English: Observations on the roots,
cultivation and hybrids of the English language. Sydney: ABC Books.

Burridge, Kate. 2005. Weeds in the garden of words. Further
observations on the tangled history of the English language.
Cambridge: CUP.

Crystal, David. 2001. Language and the internet. Cambridge: CUP.

Dailey-O'Cain, Jennifer. 2000. Competing language ideologies in
post-unification Germany: When East meets West. In: Relocating
Germanness. Discursive disunity in unified Germany. Edited by
Patrick Stevenson and John Theobald. Basingstoke: Macmillan. Pp.

Grimm, Jacob. 1848. Geschichte der deutschen Sprache. Leipzig:

Harris, Roy. 1996. Signs, language and communication: Integrational
and segregational approaches. London: Routledge.

Kuiper, Lawrence. 1999. Variation and the norm: Parisian
perceptions of regional French. In: Handbook of perceptual
dialectology, volume 1. Edited by Dennis Preston. Amsterdam: John
Benjamins. Pp. 243-262.

Labov, William. 1966. The social stratification of English in New York
City. Washington, DC: Center for Applied Linguistics.

Reiher, Ruth and Antje Baumann (editors). 2000. Mit gespaltener
Zunge? Die deutsche Sprach nach dem Fall der Mauer. Berlin:

Reiher, Ruth and Rüdiger Läzer (editors). 1993. Wer spricht das
wahre Deutsch? Erkundungen zur Sprache im vereinten
Deutschland. Berlin: Aufbau.

Stahlmann, Hans. 1940. Vom Werden und Wandel der
Muttersprache. Ein Hilfsbuch für Studierende, Lehrer und Freunde
unserer Muttersprache. Leipzig: Brandstetter.

Stevenson, Patrick. Language and German disunity. Oxford: OUP.

Wells, Christopher J. 1985. German: A linguistic history to 1945.
Oxford: OUP.

Wyld, Henry C. 1927. A short history of English. 3rd edition.
London: John Murray.

Marc Pierce is a visiting assistant professor of German at the
University of Texas at Austin. His main research interests are
historical linguistics, Germanic linguistics, phonology, and the history
of linguistics.