Historical Sociolinguistics and Sociohistorical Linguistics

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Review of:

Ulrike Katrin Freitag (2007), Geputztes Blumwerk und buntschäkkiger Wörterkram. Sprachkritik in den Wöchentlichen Wahrheiten (1782-1784). Frankfurt am Main: Peter Lang (Schriften zur deutschen Sprache in Österreich, vol. 38). 223 pages.

Received, October 2008, published November 2008 (HSL/SHL 8)

This interesting study, written under the supervision of Peter Wiesinger (University of Vienna), analyses the Wöchentliche Wahrheiten für und über die Prediger in Wien (WW), a weekly periodical published from 1782 to 1784. The WW featured anonymously published reviews of sermons given in and around Vienna. In the context of the Josephinist reforms, the critics assessed the sermons according to the ideas of the Enlightenment – with regard to content as well as language. Due to its wide contemporary reception, the periodical is considered to have contributed to the development of a standard language in Austria (cf. von Polenz 1994:176).

The author addresses two major questions: Firstly, she intends to analyse critical metalinguistic judgements made by the reviewers. Secondly, she takes sermon passages quoted by the WW as an “authentic insight into the reality of spoken language at the end of the eighteenth century” (Freitag 2007:19, my translation) and aims to give a description of this reality. In other words, the questions are: How was language intended to be by enlightened critics, and what was it really like? Contrary to expectations raised by the book’s title and subtitle, which cover only the first of these aims, the author’s main focus is on the second objective only. Her description of the dialect used in and around Vienna at the end of the eighteenth century (Chapter 5) comprises almost half the work, whereas the sections actually dealing with the WW’s criticism of language (Chapters 4, 6 and 7) and its premises (Chapter 3) account for about one third. Chapters 1 and 2 give a condensed, informative overview of the historical background in eighteenth-century Austria and the reforms undertaken by Maria Theresa (1717-1780) and Joseph II (1741-1790). The description of the vivid debate between the WW and its opponents, as expected, focuses on questions of language (for a description of the discussion as such as well as its setting in a confessional quarrel, see Wangermann 2004:85-94).

The analysis of the WW’s criticism of language (Chapter 4) concentrates on the objects of criticism and is structured accordingly: phonological, morphological, syntactical and lexical aspects (one should not be confused by the wrong chapter numbering which turns Morphology, Syntax and Lexis into sub-chapters of Phonology). An analysis of the critics’ motivation and criteria is given in a separate, quite short chapter (Chapter 3). It concentrates on the concept “Popularität” (a term taken from a later publication by the WW’s editor, Hoffmann 1789), which is presented as the critics’ most important criterion. A sermon is “popular” if it is neither too pretentious nor too humble; if it can dispense with, for instance, difficult phrases or the buntschäkkiger Wörterkram (“variegated vocabulary”, Freitag 2007:57) of the title of the book under review, as well as swear words or dialectal expressions. A sermon needs to be “popular” in order to affect the audience. A critique of the language used is therefore a crucial part of the WW project. Even though their most important demands concern the sermons’ contents, criticism of language is the critics’ foremost means of supporting these demands (cf. Freitag 2007:65). Apart from some remarks on style (Chapter 6, including the repudiation of Latin quotes and zu gepuzte[s] Blumwerk “garish, flowery phrases” Freitag 2007:182) as well as para- and non-verbal means of communication such as intonation and gesture (Chapter 7), most of the critics’ complaints concern dialect – mainly pronunciation and morphology (Chapter 3).

Based on this fact, Chapter 5 proceeds to give a detailed description of the dialect spoken in Vienna and the surrounding rural areas at the end of the eighteenth century, although this part is introduced – somewhat misleadingly perhaps – as just an excursus for a better understanding of the WW’s criticism (cf. Freitag 2007:12). This description is based upon a rather small corpus, namely the pamphlet by “Fleischhackermeister Uhatzi” directed against the WW (seven pages in the author’s modern transcription) for the rural areas and several passages from sermons quoted by the WW (three pages) for Vienna (the analysis of the sermon passages is largely identical to Wiesinger 2004:152-160, which is indeed credited as the “basis” of the analysis in fn. 2, 2007:12). The author takes both to be “authentic” examples of spoken language (2007:12). However, a broader critical reflection of this claim would have been desirable.

As regards the sermon passages quoted by the WW, a description of “sermon” as a text type and its specific conditions of production would have been helpful. For example, the author mentions quite casually that the sermons had to be “learnt by heart” (Freitag 2007:179, cf. 2007:191) or even “read” (2007:194) – which would of course indicate a written text. She also admits that most passages were not quoted verbatim, but were most likely written down retrospectively from memory (2007:17).The author herself cites several contemporary sources doubting the reviews’ accuracy as well as a response by the WW’s editor stating that the critics “cleaned” and reformulated the sermons in order to isolate their “essence” (2007:19). Finally, in the special case of the dialectal sermons, the quotes are presented in a mocking manner, framed by metalinguistic comments and sharp irony (cf. e.g. Hoffmann 1782-1784, vol. 4:278, 280). The passages therefore function as caricatures of dialect rather than representations of “authentic” dialect.

Similar considerations apply to the Fleischhackermeister’s pamphlet. This “master butcher” is probably a pseudonym of the priest Joseph Pochlin, who had been reviewed by the WW and wrote the pamphlet in an attempt at rebuttal (Freitag 2007:18). In any case – as Freitag herself attempts to prove in her analysis of the pamphlet’s complex syntax (2007:170) – it is quite likely that the “master butcher” was indeed an educated writer who only pretended to be a dialect speaker. The author herself takes this explanation into account in the justification of some phonological phenomena (2007:111). There are several occasions in which she describes aspects of spoken language, such as the delabialisation of /ü/, even though they are not or not sufficiently documented in the corpus (cf. Freitag 2007:70, 103, 104, 111); she also blames the lack of a certain expected dialectal phenomenon on the small corpus (2007:116, 145) or even the typesetter (2007:111, 123). Both facts give a touch of circularity to the whole description.

The book’s strengths are due to its presentation of an exciting collection of sources coupled with their meticulous analysis. In each chapter, the author compares the results with an impressive volume of contemporary as well as modern sources. The WW’s criticism of language and the description of the spoken language are contrasted with views of several scholars and grammarians of the eighteenth century. The only drawbacks are some unsubstantiated claims whose omission would not have affected the main results. Apart from the points mentioned above, the rather misleading title implies a study focused solely on language criticism and lexical/semantic aspects. In fact, the book contains an overview of the historical circumstances and the dialect spoken in and around Vienna at the end of the eighteenth century, a description of the criticism of language by the WW’s reviewers and other enlightened scholars, and finally a complete transcription of Uhatzi’s pamphlet and fragments of dialectal sermons.

Due to its broad range of topics, this study is well suited to serve as an introduction to the subject, especially for students who are new to it. The book is a very interesting, well-researched and readable contribution to the history of the standard language in Austria and gives an enthralling insight into the zeitgeist at the end of the eighteenth century.

Jana Tereick, German Department, University of Heidelberg (Germany) & King’s College London



Hoffmann, Leopold Alois (ed.) (1782-1784). Wöchentliche Wahrheiten für und über die Prediger in Wien. Bearbeitet von einer Gesellschaft Gelehrter. 9 volumes. Wien/Prag: Johann Ferdinand von Schönfeld.

Hoffmann, Leopold Alois (1789). Anleitung zur geistlichen Beredsamkeit, ein Handbuch für Prediger und Seelsorger. Pest/Wien: Philipp Georg Wucherer.

von Polenz, Peter (1994). Deutsche Sprachgeschichte vom Spätmittelalter bis zur Gegenwart. Volume 2. 17. und 18. Jahrhundert. Berlin/New York: de Gruyter.

Wangermann, Ernst (2004). Die Waffen der Publizität. Zum Funktionswandel der politischen Literatur unter Joseph II. München: Oldenbourg.

Wiesinger, Peter (2004). “Dialekt im Urteil der Aufklärung. Über Wiener Dialektpredigten von 1782”. In: Albrecht Greule, Rupert Hochholzer and Alfred Wildfeuer (eds.), Die bairische Sprache. Studien zu ihrer Geographie, Grammatik, Lexik und Pragmatik. Regensburg: Edition Vulpes. 143-161.