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Journal of Comparative Germanic Linguistics 2: 183189, 1998.

1998 Kluwer Academic Publishers. Printed in the Netherlands.


Book review

Ewald Lang and Gisela Zifonun (eds.), Deutsch typologisch. Institut fr

Deutsche Sprache, Jahrbuch 1995. Berlin: de Gruyter, 1996. pp. vii, 700.
ISBN 3-11-014983-4. DM 220.00.
Arguably most future progress in our understanding of well-studied language
like German will come from research in comparative grammar that puts
the well-known facts in a new perspective, suggesting correlations between
several of the languages properties that were not recognized before and
ruling out hypotheses that were constructed on the basis of just one language.
Cross-linguistic research, whether called language typology or comparative grammar, has accordingly become prestigious in theoretical linguistics,
and the publication of the present book is thus very timely. The bulky volume
consists of Ewald Langs introduction and twenty-five papers dealing with
diverse topics from all the major areas of grammar (syntax, morphology,
lexical semantics, phonology, orthography).1 This surprising heterogeneity is
explained by the books history: The papers are based on invited talks at the
1995 Annual Conference of the Mannheim Institut fr Deutsche Sprache,2
and they were apparently intended to be a representative sample of current
typologically enlightened research on German grammar. Most of the authors
are linguists working in Germany or Austria, only seven authors are from
other countries (Netherlands, Scandinavia, Switzerland, United States), and
all but one are written in German.
On the whole, the book lives up to the expectations thus raised, and most
of the contributions are of a high quality. Given the heterogeneous audience
at the conference, the papers could not presuppose too much specific knowledge of the approach or the research history, and with few exceptions (such
as Christer Platzacks paper on Germanic verb second, which presupposes

The authors are K. Alter, W. Abraham, J.O. Askedal, B. Comrie, . Dahl, K. Donhauser, V. Ehrich, P.
Eisenberg, U. Engel & E. Geller, N. Fuhrhop, J. Grabowski & P. Wei, T.A. Hall, E. Hentschel, B. Haftka,
E. Knig, K.-M. Kpcke & D. Zubin, E. Lang, B. Lenz, U. Kleinhenz, S. Olsen, C. Platzack, B. Primus,
M. Starke, C. Wilder, W.U. Wurzel.
The book appears in the series Jahrbcher des Instituts fr deutsche Sprache, and the last 64 pages are
filled by a report on institute business in 1995. One wonders whether this practice still makes sense.



familiarity with the minimalist framework (92120),3 or Werner Abrahams

underedited paper on clitic pronouns (428479)), they are written very clearly
and accessibly. Most of them will be excellent reading material for German
linguistics courses, and linguistics teachers will welcome a selection of
theoretically sophisticated yet accessible papers by distinguished scholars.
However, readers who expected a strong cross-linguistic orientation will
be somewhat disappointed. About a third of the papers (e.g., those by
Donhauser, Ehrich, Eisenberg, Fuhrhop, Haftka, Hall, Olsen, Wilder) restrict
their attention to German or content themselves with a comparison with
English, although this language is virtually always present at least implicitly
in theoretically oriented papers. Roughly another third of the papers deal
with a few more languages but are still far away from the global perspective
that is indispensable for the complete picture. Only the last third are truly
typologically oriented (e.g., Dahl, Knig, Kleinhenz, Lang, Lenz, Primus).
To be sure, attention to language-particular detail often makes broad crosslinguistic comparison too costly, and language typology is also served very
well by contributions that point out hitherto unobserved correlations in just
a few languages, such as Michal Starkes paper on strong, weak, and clitic
pronouns in Germanic and Romance (405427, my favorite piece in this
collection), although he only covers German, French, and Italian. On the other
hand, a glance at the world-wide situation could make one see things that
remain hidden otherwise. For instance, Brigitte Haftka (121141) characterizes German typologically as a derived verb-second language with underlying
SOV order (a fairly technical discussion shows how this may be expressed in
a Chomskyan framework), but she says noting about the typology of verbsecond languages more generally. In fact, we know little about this because
so few of the worlds languages have this property. It is probably no exaggeration to say that verb-second syntax in some genetically related far western
Eurasian languages is about as exotic as click phonology in some genetically related southern African languages, and it seems difficult to accept that
this fact should be irrelevant for linguistic theory (cf. Hawkins (1994) for a
theoretical perspective that connects cross-linguistic frequency distribution
directly to markedness and explanation of word order patterns).4

Platzacks paper is the only contribution in English. The editors justify this by observing that it can
serve as an introduction to the metaphernreiche Terminologie of this framework, which seems to be a
roundabout way of admitting that the paper is at present untranslatable.
Conversely, Wurzel boldly places German in a global perspective by asserting dass das Neuhochdeutsche einen morphologischen Mischtyp realisiert, der in dieser Form unter den Sprachen der Welt
ziemlich rar, wenn nicht sogar unikal ist (p. 508), without citing any evidence. To my knowledge there
are no world-wide studies of morphological typology yet that could back up such a sweeping claim.



A similar plea for broad cross-linguistic comparison is one of the main

points in Ekkehard Knigs Kontrastive Grammatik und Typologie (31
54). He notes that there has been a tendency to make strong claims of parametric correlations on the basis of very few languages (often just the authors
native language plus English), which break down as soon as the next language
is considered. But Knig also recognizes that in-depth comparison of two
languages may yield interesting insights (contrastive grammar as the limiting case of typology). This is followed by a necessarily sketchy overview
of typological characteristics of German, which also includes a discussion of
features that German shares with other languages of the Standard Average
European Sprachbund. Knigs paper is thus a good complement to Langs
introduction. Bernard Comries title Sprache und Sprachen: Universalien
und Typologie (1630) suggests an even more general content, but in fact
Comrie just discusses four phenomena (case-marking of predicative NPs,
tough-movement, relative clauses, and tense-aspect systems), ending with
the unsurprising conclusion that in many cases typology must be confined
to the level of the individual construction because there are no higher-level
generalizations. John Ole Askedals paper berlegungen zum Deutschen
als sprachtypologischem Mischtyp (369383) is similar to Knigs in
its attempt to arrive at an overall typological characterization of German.
Askedal concentrates on word order frames (Klammerbildung), case and
configurationality, and analytic/synthetic expression, and he concludes that
German represents a mixed type. This statement seems to presuppose that
there are typologically pure languages, a rather dubious view. While 19th
century typology seems to have assumed that languages can in principle be
classified as belonging to one of a fixed set of types, this optimistic view has
long been abandoned. I suspect that thorough investigation will reveal that
every language is a mixed type, just like every organism is constituted by a
unique mix of genetic material.
Wolfgang U. Wurzel, too, continues the 19th century tradition of typology,
asking how German morphological structure changed from early Old High
German up to the present (Morphologischer Strukturwandel: Tyologische
Entwicklungen im Deutschen, 492534). His result: German moved away
from the fusional type, not in a consistent direction, but by introducing isolating, agglutinating, introflexive, and incorporating elements. Again, this is less
surprising than it seems because in fact 19th-century morphological typology
(or Skalickas more recent version of it, which Wurzel uses) has always
remained speculative and has never been tested empirically. Still, Wurzels
paper is very useful in that it challenges several accepted textbook wisdoms,
e.g., the alleged development from synthetic to analytic (here he agrees with
Askedal). However, some general laws of language change are not easily



discerned just by looking at an individual language, and the universal law

that languages turn their analytic structures into synthetic ones and replace
these by new analytic ones is certainly not invalidated by the German case
One of the best typologically oriented papers in Beatrice Primuss
Dependenz und Serialisierung im Sprachvergleich (5791). She proposes
a competition model of constituent order in which serialization is influenced by discourse factors and by two types of grammatical factors: rolesemantic dependence (e.g., the hierarchy proto-agent < proto-recipient
< proto-patient) and government dependence, which roughly says that
argument NPs in unmarked cases should precede those in marked cases
(nominative/absolutive < accusative/ergative < . . . ). She shows how different word order patterns result when part of these factors are neutralized in
individual language (e.g., fixed recipient-patient order when there are no
case distinctions, preference for recipient-patient order in dative-accusative
languages, preference for patient-recipient order in accusative-PP languages.
Primuss paper is particularly convincing because she combines crosslinguistic breadth with a detailed discussion of how her general principles
make correct predictions for various problems of German word order. Chris
Wilders contribution (142180) deals insightfully with the influence of
constituent order on various ellipsis patterns in German, which are occasionally contrasted with English. This is an excellent paper, but its main thesis
(that ellipsis principles are universal, and cross-linguistic differences are the
result of interaction with other parameters, especially word order parameters)
must remain speculative because Wilders evidence is limited to two closely
related languages (cf. Harries-Delisle (1978) for a broader cross-linguistic
sten Dahls paper (Das Tempussystem im Deutschen im typologischen
Vergleich, 359368) is the only one to adopt an explicitly global perspective, which allows him to characterize not only German among European
languages, but also European languages among the worlds languages. Thus,
we learn that the German system is quite poor in comparison to most other
languages and that European languages are peculiar in showing a high density
of perfects (the have-perfect turns out to be entirely restricted to Europe). The
paper may also serve as an introduction to the Bybee-Dahl approach to the
typology of grammatical categories (cf. Bybee et al. 1994; Dahl, to appear).
Like Knig, Dahl emphasizes areal regularities and actually provides maps
showing the geographical distribution of tense-aspect features. The European
areal perspective is also present in Barbara Lenzs summary of what is known
about negation reinforcement (Jespersens Cycle) in German and other
European languages (183200). Karin Donhauser treats the same topic but



without considering languages other than German (201217). She makes the
surprising point that the typological model of Jespersens Cycle resulted in
an unhealthy narrowing of the perspective for German in that the patterning of
negative indefinite pronouns was neglected. It is probably true that indefinite
pronouns have not been studied in as great detail as simple negation patterns
(but see Bernini and Ramat (1996), Haspelmath (1997) for recent typological
work), but I fail to see how typology could have an adverse effect. In a third
paper on negation, Elke Hentschel looks at negative markers in interrogative
and exclamative sentences (218226), noting that these somewhat puzzling
occurrences of German nicht have parallels in numerous other languages
around the world.
Klaus-Michael Kpcke and David Zubin give a useful summary of their
well-known research on phonological and semantic gender assignment rules
in German (473491), adding a general discussion of the degree of motivation in classificatory systems. Instead, a more detailed comparison with
other gender languages would have been helpful one still wonders whether
German alone is so weird as to assign masculine gender, for instance, to
words for alcoholic drinks and words beginning with kn-. Nanna Fuhrhops
overview of the regularities in the use of compound interfixes (Fugenelemente, 525550) does not include any cross-linguistic considerations at all.
True, the description of the German rules is daunting enough, but Fuhrhop
makes few attempts to separate productive from lexicalized patterns. If lexicalized compounds were excluded, the rules would probably become more
straightforward. Ulrich Engel and Ewa Geller (Das Verb in seinem Umfeld,
384401) study past tense, verb complexes in subordinate clauses, and yes-no
questions in Standard German, Swabian, Yiddish, and Polish. The choice of
topics and the choice of languages seem to be equally accidental.
Four papers are grouped together under the heading of types in lexical
fields. Two of these deal with spatial expressions and contrast German with
a handful of other languages. Joachim Grabowski and Petra Wei (289311)
discuss the contextual ambiguity of in front of and behind and report
on the results of an experiment in which subjects were asked to interpret
an instruction to park their car in front of a reference object. As expected, the responses were mixed, with some subjects choosing the intrinsic
interpretation and others the deictic interpretation. But surprisingly, English,
French, and Italian speakers differ from German and Dutch speakers in
that they strongly prefer the intrinsic interpretation with directed reference
objects. The authors attribute this to the additional temporal sense of the
anterior preposition in the latter two languages, but the precise connection
remains unclear. Ewald Lang (312355) offers a detailed introduction to
the semantics of dimensional adjectives (long, wide, high, deep, etc.),



including the conceptual foundations and various semantic parameters and

their combinability. He then asks how the ten possible semantic distinctions
are lexicalized in different languages (particularly German, English, Russian,
Chinese, Korean), i.e., how the universal inventory of possibilities may be
partitioned. The most important result is that languages may be proportionbased (e.g., Chinese), observer-based (e.g., Korean), or mixed (e.g., German,
English), but there are numerous further differences of detail. This is a highly
sophisticated and successful example of lexical typology which demonstrates
the fruitfulness of a cross-linguistic approach also in the neglected area of
lexical semantics.
The two other lexical papers deal with verbs. Susan Olsens Partikelverben im deutsch-englischen Vergleich (261288) discusses the effect of
preposition-like prefixes (e.g., be-schreiben) and particles (e.g., an-nhen,
sew on) on a verbs argument structure. Her discussion is framed within
Wunderlichs lexicalist theory, and she nicely demonstrates how the difference between prefixes and particles may be described in terms of functional
composition and functional application. The comparison with English is
again not uninteresting, but since similar phenomena exist in many other wellstudied languages (e.g., Latin and Greek (Miller 1993), Russian (Spencer
& Zaretskaya 1996), Hungarian (Ackerman 1992)), a broader comparison
would have been possible. Veronika Ehrichs paper on German transport
verbs (229260) completely lacks a typological or contrastive perspective
(apart from a brief mention of Talmys well-known typology), but it contains
many valuable observations on the influence of verbal semantics on argument
expression (e.g., concerning the possibility of an indefinite null argument).
The last four papers are on phonology or orthography. Among these,
the only one I would give my students to read is T. Alan Halls Silbenund Morphemstruktur in der Phonologie des Deutschen (553568) which
argues elegantly and persuasively that phonotactic restrictions may be operative at the level of the syllable or of the morpheme and that morpheme
structure conditions may have exceptions, unlike syllable structure conditions. However, typological variation plays no role here. The papers by
Kai Alter (on the relations between focusing, accent and prosodic phrases
in German, French, and Russian, 585614) and Ursula Kleinhenz (Zur
Typologie phonologischer Domnen, 569584) cover relatively unexplored
ground. Kleinhenz offers a very interesting if still speculative typology
assigning languages to a word-prominent type (e.g., German) and a phraseprominent type (e.g., Italian), depending on whether the language makes use
of special phonological phrases or not. Following Peter Auers work, she
suggests some intriguing further correlating properties: for instance, wordprominent languages tend to lack tone and sandhi effects and to have reduced



vowels, and the phonological word does not coincide with the morphosyntactic word. This looks like a promising point of departure for further
empirical typological work. Finally, Peter Eisenberg (615631) treats two
controversial aspects of German spelling, the use of hi and its phonological
and morphological conditions, and consonant doubling in loan words from
English (e.g., Tip/tippen), embedding these two case studies in a general
discussion of the typology of alphabetical writing systems (with special
reference to the parameter of depth).
I hope that the various critical remarks on the individual papers did not
convey the wrong impression: I found this collection of papers to be of
high quality and an excellent cross-section of current research on German
grammar. If the papers are perhaps somewhat less typological than one could
have expected from the books title, then this only reflects the academic
environment in German-speaking countries. Most linguistic research is
carried out in language departments rather than linguistics departments, and
young scholars are rarely encouraged to give their work a cross-linguistic
orientation. But there is a growing consensus that serious theoretical linguistics cannot ignore typological variation and regularities, and this book may
play an important role in making this clear to all those interested in German
Ackerman, Farrell: 1992, Complex Predicates and Morphological Relatedness: Locative Alternation in
Hungarian, in I. Sag & A. Szabolcsi (eds.), Lexical Matters, CSLI, Stanford, pp. 5584.
Bernini, Giuliano & Paolo Ramat: 1996, Negative Sentences in the Languages of Europe, Mouton de
Grugter, Berlin.
Bybee, Joan L., Revere Perkins & William Pagliuca: 1994, The Evolution of Grammar: Tense, Aspect and
Modality in the Worlds Languages, The University of Chicago Press, Chicago.
Dahl, sten (ed.): to appear, Tense and Aspect in the Languages of Europe, Mouton de Gruyter, Berlin.
Harries-Delisle, Helga: 1978, Coordination Reduction, in J. Greenberg (ed.), Universals of Human
Language, Vol. 4: Syntax, Stanford University Press, Stanford.
Haspelmath, Martin: 1997, Indefinite Pronouns, Oxford University Press, Oxford.
Hawkins, John: 1994, A Performance Theory of Order and Constituency, Cambridge University Press,
Miller, Gary: 1993, Complex Verb Formation, Benjamins, Amsterdam.
Spencer, Andrew & Marina Zaretskaya: 1996, Copredication in Russian Lexical Resultatives, Essex
Research Reports in Linguistics 10, 3567.
Max-Planck-Institut fr evolutionre Authropologic Inselstr. 22
D-04103 Leipzig
E-mail: haspelmath@eva.mpg.de