Studien zur historischen Grammatik des Tschechischen

Studien zur historischen Grammatik des Tschechischen: Bohemistische Beiträge zur Kontaktlinguistik. By Tilman Berger. (Travaux linguistiques de Brno 02.) Munich: LINCOM Europa, 2008. Pp. 92. ISBN 9783895860478. $67.90.

Reviewed by Marc Pierce, University of Texas at Austin

This slim volume contains five previously published papers on the history of Czech, mostly on aspects of Czech-German language contact, that have been updated for this collection (e.g. bibliographical references and cross-references have been added).

The first paper, ‘Überlegungen zur Geschichte des festen Akzents im Westslavischen’ (‘Thoughts on the history of the fixed accent in West Slavic’) (7–19), tackles the problem of why the West Slavic languages have a fixed initial accent, while languages like Polish accentuate the penultimate syllable, and ultimately traces it to the effects of contact with German and Hungarian. The second paper, ‘Nové cesty k bádání česko-německých jazykových vztahů (na příkladu hláskosloví)’ (‘New methods in the study of Czech-German linguistic relationships (examples from phonology)’ (21–28), concentrates on issues like monophthongization and diphthongization, while also giving an overview of the relevant literature.

The next paper, ‘Der alttschechische “Umlaut”—ein slavisch-deutsches Kontaktphänomen’ (‘The Old Czech “Umlaut”—a Slavic-German contact phenomenon?’) (29–35), explores the possibility that certain vowel changes in the history of Czech—traditionally referred to as přehláska—can be connected to parallel developments in the history of German. The fourth paper, ‘Gibt es Alternativen zur herkömmlichen Beschreibung der tschechischen Lautgeschichte?’ (‘Are there alternatives to the traditional description of Czech historical phonology?’) (37–55), offers such an alternative, suggesting that it is possible to treat Czech historical phonology as the result of a complex combination of factors, including language contact with German. The final thematic paper in the volume, ‘Deutsche Einflüsse auf das grammatische System des Tschechischen’ (‘German influences on the Czech grammatical system’) (57–69), discusses issues like Germanisms in Czech and presents criteria to evaluate possible results of German influence in Czech. The volume concludes with a brief afterword, ‘Nachwort: Bohemistik, Sprachkontakt, Prager Schule’ (‘Afterword: Bohemian studies, language contact, the Prague School’) (71–74), by Bohumil Vykypěl on connections between contact linguistics and the Prague School of linguistics.

I have mixed feelings about this book. On the one hand, it reads easily and well, and the individual papers are certainly interesting; however, there is some overlap between the individual papers and the price is very high for so slim a volume. Perhaps the subject would have been better served if the author had written a monograph on the topic rather than reprinting various earlier papers, which would have eliminated the overlap and merited the price. Be that as it may, we can be grateful that these papers are now gathered in one place and made much more accessible to scholars.