Is there a German complaint tradition?

Milroy and Milroy, in Authority in Language (first published in 1985, but with a fourth edition in 2012), argue that English has a complaint tradition, with people writing Letters to the Editor about linguistic problems they encounter and usage guides dealing with the same issues seeing the light of day year after year, from 1770 onwards. See my recent book Describing Prescriptivism (2020).

By English, Milroy and Milroy probably mean the variety of the language as spoken in England (perhaps even Britain as a whole), because Morana Lukač found that writing such letters to the editor seems rather more a British than an American phenomenon (see her book Grassroots Prescriptivism, 2018).

About six months before the COVID pandemic severely restricted travelling abroad, I presented a paper at the British Library on the question of whether The Netherlands has a similar complaint tradition, which in my view we don’t. We do have a usage guide tradition, and people do write Letters to the Editor of NRC Handelsblad, but they rarely get published. We have the Taaladviesdienst, I was told when I inquired, where language advice is provided online. But what about Germany?

For a paper I’m preparing for a talk in Augsburg in January, I’m interested in the question whether German has a similar complaint tradition to the UK, whether people write and complain to newspapers about usage probales and if they are able to mention off-hand the title of usage guides like Fowler’s iconic Modern English Usage. I don’t mean Bastian Sick’s Der Dativ ist Dem Genitiv sein Tod, which is not a usage guide but a collection of newspaper columns on subjects like those in the title, called Zwiebelfisch.

If there are any German readers of this blog, or if you are familiar with the German language situation in this respect: I’d welcome your thoughts and comments!

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4 Responses to Is there a German complaint tradition?

  1. Paul E Kerswill says:

    Heike Wiese’s run-in with language guardians about Kiezdeutsch would be a good place to start, though I guess it’s not part of the complaint tradition as such.

  2. Martina Sijakovic says:

    I am not sure whether this is helpful, but you could check out Jörg Kilian, Thomas Niehr, Jürgen Schiewe (2016) “Sprachkritik” – they refer to a “complaint tradition” in Germany (but the concepts around that are based on folk linguistics and folk concepts (Laienlinguistik – Sprachideologie/Sprachverfall).

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