A German language course on historical and linguistic principles

A German language course on historical and linguistic principles. 2nd edn. By Hermann Bluhme and Dmitri Milinski. (LINCOM coursebooks in linguistics 17.) Munich: LINCOM Europa, 2011. Pp. 413. ISBN 9783862880423. $74 (Hb).

Reviewed by Mark Irwin, Yamagata University

This is not a ‘language course’, and only a small portion of the material is based on either historical or linguistic principles.

Proportionally, the content of the volume breaks down as follows: ‘Introduction’ (1%); ‘Basic German’ (<1%); ‘Pronunciation’(3%); ‘English words and their German relatives’ (26%); ‘Advanced grammar’ (18%); ‘Particles’ (2%); ‘Conjunctions’ (1%); ‘High frequency words’ (3%); ‘Selected abbreviations’ (1%); ‘Glossary’ (1%); ‘Appendix A: Reading exercises’ (5%); ‘Appendix B: Practical German’ (1%); ‘Appendix C: Further pronunciation exercises’ (3%); ‘Appendix D: The gender, further materials’ (4%); ‘Appendix E: German-English word list’ (24%); and ‘Appendix F: English-German word list’ (3%).

Approximately two-thirds of the book’s content consists of word lists (e.g. the vast bulk, or all, of Ch. 4, Chs. 6–10, and App. C–F). A handful of exercises are scattered sporadically throughout the text. The vast bulk of German example sentences are left untranslated. The volume exhibits no pedagogical structure, and it is often hard to discern for whom the ‘course’ is designed. As a reference work, it is not very useful to the beginner, but it will perhaps be of interest to some learners of a high-intermediate level or above. It is the potential of the longer chapters on which I will concentrate in the remainder of this review.

Ch. 4, ‘English words and their German relatives’, shows the most originality. The section opens with a table of English–German sound correspondences (e.g. p–pf, th–d), then proceeds to give examples of vocabulary items for each (e.g. plough–Pflug, thorn–Dorn). Unfortunately, these are introduced in a different order from the preceding table. They also include correspondences not cited therein, as well as correspondences where both English and German are identical (e.g. b–b: bush–Busch) and whose expository value is thus questionable. By way of word lists, the remainder of the chapter examines word derivation, compounding, and affixes. All of these, while useful references, have no connection with ‘English words and their German relatives’. The chapter also includes a list of loanwords common to German and English, although information on the donor language is unfortunately lacking.

Ch. 5, ‘Advanced grammar’, is not particularly advanced. It includes sections on number and case, adjectival declension, the verb, and the plural and gender of nouns, as well as lists of prepositions, adverbs, and irregular verb declensions. Ch. 8, ‘High frequency words’, contains a list of 280 ‘common German words’; it is unclear why 280 were selected and not more or fewer. With examples such as Annahme ‘assumption’, Hochleistung ‘top performance’, and Tagesschau ‘eight o’clock news’, the authors’ selection process is curious. Appendix A, ‘Reading exercises’, contains a mix of nursery rhymes, poetry, and ‘stories’ (e.g. the Bible stories by Franz Kafka and by the brothers Grimm). Appendix B, ‘Practical German’, gives advice on job application letters and looking for a flat. Probably the most useful of the appendices is Appendix D, on gender, offering guidelines on gender assignment.

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