431: Elements of German by Elmer Antonsen

by Gerard


431: Antonsen, Elmer H. Elements of German: Phonology and Morphology. Tuscaloosa, AL: The University of Alabama Press, 2007. 136 pp. ISBN 978-0-8173-1583-2.

Dewey Breakdown:

  • 400: Language
  • 430: German and related languages
  • 431: Writing systems, phonology, and phonetics of standard German

Elmer Antonsen’s Elements of German is a crash course on the phonology of spoken German. Phonology consists of breaking down a language into tiny sounds and categorizing each type of pronunciation. Each different way a “g” can be vocalized has a separate symbolic representation. Each different “n” has another set and so on. Antonsen’s categorization (and attempted standardization) of spoken German will make you very aware of how your mouth and your tongue is positioned. There are bilabial fricatives (to make the “Pf” sound), voiceless alveolar affricates (the “ts” in tsetse), palatal nasal sounds (the second “n” in niño), as well as numerous other types of vocalizations (don’t worry, he lists them all).

This book relies heavily on an understanding of the International Phonetic Alphabet, so he spends a lot of time teaching the reader about phonemes on a general level before heading in German speech. These lessons are here to help the reader speak German so that native speakers will be able to understand them, but the problem comes when you actually get there and everyone has their own dialect or non-standard accent.

After the phonetic sections, there is a compendium on the general morphology of the German language. This involves learning how the language is constructed, from gendered suffixes to standard verb conjugation to subject-verb agreement. Into this he incorporates the earlier understanding of phonetics to ensure the reader pronounces everything correctly.

This is definitely not a book for a casual reader. If you’re learning German, this would make a decent companion piece to ensure that you don’t sound completely off-base when talking with native speakers. There are even small appendixes with speaking lessons to help novices along in their studies. This was not my favorite book, but since I know a bit of German, it was nice to cozy up with the language again. The writing is no-nonsense and thankfully to the point. A short, terse, and dry read.