Nils Langer and Winifred V.
Davies (eds.) (2005), Linguistic Purism in the Germanic
Languages. Berlin, New York: De Gruyter. viii + 374 pp. ISBN 3
11 018337 4
(November 2005, HSL/SHL 5)
Whereas linguistic texts previously only mentioned
language purism in association with standardisation of languages or
texts debunking language myths such as Bauer and Trudgill (1998),
linguistic purism was scarcely given research focus. The first volume in
English dealing exclusively with this topic was
Niedzielski and Preston (2000) who refer to
the group of language purists as folk linguists. Following up the
publications of van der Sijs (1999) and Brincat et al.
(2003), the present volume is a “selection of papers
given at a conference at the University of Bristol in April 2003” (p.
2), which was entitled likewise. The aimed readership for the book
primarily consists of scholars interested in linguistic purism. However,
also scholars interested in historical and contemporary sociolinguistics
will find a a fair number of articles in this volume useful, since some
studies discuss language standardisation (see van den Berg on Afrikaans)
and nationhood (see Rasch on Swiss-German).
The editors Langer and Davies specifically
concentrate on linguistic purism in Germanic languages, although one
contribution, by Boughton,
investigates purism in French “for the sake of comparison” (p. 2). The
Germanic languages/dialects investigated in this volume are Afrikaans,
English, Flemish, German, Luxembourgish, Saxon, Swabian, and
Swiss-German. Whereas the majority of the articles in van der
Sijs (1999) present how a specific language (i.e.
group of people) reacts to foreign lexical items and how a language is
lexically cleansed, articles in Langer and Davies, however, also present
studies revealing the links between purism and language standardisation
on the one hand and national identity on the other, as well as studies
dealing with the perception and evaluation of subordinate
The volume starts off with a comprehensive
introduction to linguistic purism. It reveals how topics in linguistic
purism generally are connected with the desire to keep a certain
language ‘pure’, with folk-linguistic attitudes, issues concerning
s/Standard versus non-s/Standard language, the preservation of old forms
and the rejection of new ones, and the role of language in national
identity. Langer and Davies hence argue that language purism not only
means to refuse influences from other languages on a certain language,
but also to make subjective judgements on dialects and styles. Such
judgements can be made by “influential members” of a society (p. 3), but
most essentially purism is at play when one variety is compared to a
more focussed one. As the introduction reveals, purists can be
well-known persons such as an established author, a (linguistic)
institution such as the Académie Française, a geographical area
where the ‘good’ language is spoken, or even a “cultural artefact” (p.
7) such as the Welsh translation of the Bible. Whatever this prestigious
variety is, it is only a “particular” one.
Concerning the structure of this volume, the book is
thematically divided into five sections: (i) Historical Prescriptivism
and Purism; (ii) Nationhood and Purism; (iii) Modern Society and Purism;
(iv) Folk Linguistics and Purism; and (v) Linguistics and Purism. The
first section of the volume concentrates on German, Dutch, and English,
all five articles revealing how some authors of the languages concerned
were mostly condemning French lexical influences, but also German ones.
In the second part, the articles concentrate on Swiss-German, German,
Afrikaans, and Luxembourgish and discuss the question of how national
unity is created through linguistic purism. The authors seem to
correlate nationalism with linguistic xenophobia and with decisions on
what is s/Standard is often made upon what it is not. The third
section examines how linguistic purism exists in specific present-day
contexts of English and German: i.e. the preference for British English
at German universities, linguistic prescriptivism in computer-mediated
communication, and a perceived linguistic divergence between West
Germans and East Germans. The fourth section of this book deals with how
the specific languages of English, German, and French are perceived and
evaluated, for instance, as positive and/or ‘correct’. The final section
of this book concentrates on how linguists themselves can be purists.
Concerning the methodologies of the chapters, the
variety of types of data analysed is broad. Van den Berg’s article, for
instance, describes under what circumstances English words in Afrikaans
dictionaries are integrated into the language. Ziegler analyses speeches
given at civic festivities, which “were used to create a national
cultural identity” (p. 13). Horner’s research draws on folk linguistic
examples from word lists and letters to the editor. Evans, on the other
hand, presents her data of folk linguistic attitudes obtained from
actual informants. The various approaches hence prove that linguistic
purism not only exists in linguistic manuals published by
As a collection of articles, Linguistic Purism in
Germanic Languages sometimes shows an overlap of theoretical
background information between the various contributions; for all that,
each chapter can be read individually, although readers will find the
introductory article offering both an excellent review on issues with
regard to linguistic purism and a summary on the different articles of
the volume. What is unfortunately missing in this book are studies on
linguistic purism in North-Germanic languages, as well as in Yiddish and
Frisian. If ever a second edition or volume were considered, perhaps
studies from those languages could be included as well. All in all,
however, Linguistic Purism in Germanic Languages offers diverse
perspectives on linguistic purism and it is hoped that similar volumes
will be published on other Indo-European branches or even different
phyla. There is no doubt that this volume will find a good place in any
Cédric Krummes, Centre for Luxembourg
Studies, Department of Germanic Studies, University of Sheffield, United
Bauer, L. and P.
Trudgill (eds.) 1998. Language Myths. London: Penguin Books.
J., Boeder, W. and T.
Stolz (eds.) 2003.
Purism in Minor, Regional and Endangered Languages.
N. and D. Preston. 2000. Folk Linguistics. Berlin, New York: De
Sijs, N. van der (ed.) 1999. Taaltrots:
Purisme in een veertigtal talen. Amsterdam, Antwerp: Uitgeverij