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Daniel Schmidt-Brucken, Susanne Schuster, Thomas Stolz, Ingo H. Warnke and Marina Wienberg (eds.): Koloniallinguistik: Sprache in kolonialen Kontexten.

Daniel Schmidt-Brucken, Susanne Schuster, Thomas Stolz, Ingo H. Warnke and Marina Wienberg (eds.) Koloniallinguistik: Sprache in kolonialen Kontexten. Berlin / Boston: De Gruyter, 2015, viii + 370 pps. ISBN 9783110428407. Price: USD 140.00 (hardback).

Koloniallinguistik. Sprache in Kolonialen Kontexten ('Colonial Linguistics: Language in Colonial Contexts') is a German-language edited volume by five scholars based in Bremen. This book was written as part of the project Koloniallinguistik: Language in Colonial Contexts, co-founded by Thomas Stolz and Ingo H. Warnke. It is the eighth book publication of this prolific research initiative and the outcome of the 2013 meeting of the German Society for Overseas History (Gesellschaftfur Uberseegeschichte). Together with its predecessors, the volume here under review is a contribution to what its editors see as a new sub-discipline: Colonial (and Postcolonial) Linguistics. Dewein et al. (2012:242) characterise this area of study as an interdisciplinary linguistic research programme dedicated--for the first time--to the systematic acquisition, classification and interpretation of all linguistically relevant phenomena connected with colonialism ("[...] das sich erstmalig der systematischen Erfassung, Ordnung und Deutung aller linguistisch relevanten Phanomene widmet, die in Zusammenhang mit Kolonialismus stehen").

The project is, however, by no account the first to take a language-centric approach to colonialism (cf. Calvet 1974; Swellengrebel 1974-1978; Fabian 1986; Errington 2008). From its initial establishment, the field of Missionary Linguistics, too, centred on the interpretation of colonial-era material dealing with language (Hanzeli 1969; Hovdhaugen 1996; also compare the five-volume series Missionary linguistics / Linguistica Misionera edited by Otto Zwartjes et al.). In fact, the complexities of examining colonial sources have for many scholars been an essential part of descriptive linguistics more generally, although this has not previously led to the ossification of Colonial Linguistics as a separate field. That being said, the book's claims for novelty certainly stretch beyond the trendy language in which successful research proposals tend to be written these days. Innovation is evident in its holistic approach, featuring a range of perspectives from linguistics, history, anthropology, ethnology, and area studies. Philology and literature studies play less prominent roles in this particular volume, although that may be a matter of coincidence.

In addition to the book's multidisciplinary outlook, it is innovative in its deployment of digitised archives and other recently developed research infrastructures of Germany's short-lived colonial past. The benefits of this approach --and the benefits of Colonial Linguistics in general, both the book and the area of study--are almost self-explanatory. From the perspective of historical linguistics, the linguistic varieties documented in numerous colonial-era archives and publications provide crucial access to earlier developmental stages of the languages being researched. On a more general note, it is no secret that academic research on the languages, cultures, and histories of non-western societies relies heavily on colonial-era scholarship; it is a common obstacle for post-colonial communities that this body of resources is largely inaccessible to them. Although linguists have not been as prolific as historians and literature scholars in analysing the socio-cultural phenomena associated with (post-)colonialism, language offers a unique window to the interests, institutes, and ideologies that governed European policy-making across continents. The information found in Koloniallinguistik on colonial discourses, education policies, interethnic contact, and many other topics are of interest to a broad range ofresearchers.

The central themes of Colonial Linguistics are reflected in nine chapters: the interdependence of coloniser/colonised languages (Klaus Zimmermann, pp. 1-19), the transformation from colonial to post-colonial language scholarship (Marlier S. Salazar, pp. 21-39), missionary linguistics (Wilfried Wagner, pp. 41-56), colonial language history and its research agenda (Matthias Schultz, pp. 57-89), plantation pidgins (Holger Warnk, pp. 91-106), colonial and postcolonial toponymy (Thomas Stolz & Ingo H. Warnke, pp. 107-175; Hermann Muckler, pp. 177-246), colonial-era archival documents and their importance for historical linguistics (Lothar Kaser, pp. 247-316), and language politics and language planning (Doris Stolberg, pp. 317-362). These topics are explored through engaging colony-specific case studies, most of which are absent or overlooked in the wider literature.

The volume's modest two-page preface (pp. vii-viii) sheds little light on the extent to which this diverse set of papers represents a joint effort aimed at advancing theoretical or methodological issues in the field. Rather, the chapters are quite heterogeneous. The fourth chapter by Matthias Schulz, 'Quellen-Fragen: Uberlegungen zur Korpusfundierung einer Kolonialsprachgeschichte' ('Questions on Sources: Considerations for the Foundation of a Corpus on a Colonial Language History') is the most informative on the background and current state of Colonial Linguistics in Germany. Other contributions are distinctly empirical, such as Hermann Muckler's seventh chapter 'Toponyme zu den Inseln Ozeaniens' ('Toponyms for the Islands of Oceania'), which contains less than five pages of text followed by a 66-page list of historically attested Oceanic toponyms and their present-day equivalents. The first eight chapters consist of a title in German, an abstract and keywords in English, a main text in German, and a bibliography. The last chapter, Doris Stolberg's 'German in the Pacific: Language policy and language planning; Governmental and mission activities in the German-colonial era (1884-1914)', is in English and was presented at a different conference (p. 317, fn. 1). The index of authors (pp. 363-366), index of languages (pp. 367-368), and index of subjects (pp. 369-370) are also in English, belatedly raising some questions as to the book's intended readership. The proofreading of the English segments could have been better and gives the impression of a rushed publication.

Though not explicitly stated, Koloniallinguistik pivots on the implication that other colonial settings can be studied according to the same paradigms. For the time being, however, the initiative predominantly features German colonies and German researchers. Time will tell whether the book represents a (sub-)discipline in the making, along with the stimulating 'messiness' and experimental qualities that may be expected of such an effort. For a full grasp of the theoretical and methodological considerations behind Koloniallinguistik, the volume should be read in conjunction with the other publications from the same project. This may turn out a costly enterprise, as even the eBook (pdf) version is a steep 140 USD and some volumes in the now nine-volume series cost even more. But that is, of course, beyond the control of the editors.

DOI: 10.1163/22134379-17202014

Tom Hoogervorst

Royal Netherlands Institute of Southeast Asian and Caribbean Studies, Leiden


Calvet, Louis-Jean (1974). Linguistique et colonialism. Petit traite de glottophagie. Paris: Payot.

Dewein, Barbara, Stefan Engelberg, Susanne Hackmack, Wolfram Karg, Birte Kellermeier-Rehbein, Peter Muhlhausler, Daniel Schmidt-Brucken, Christina Schneemann, Doris Stolberg, Thomas Stolz, Ingo H. Warnke (2012). 'Forschungsgruppe Koloniallinguistik: Profil--Programmatik--Projekte', Zeitschriftfur germanistische Linguistik 40-2:242-249.

Errington, Joseph (2008). Linguistics in a colonial world. A story of language, meaning, and power. Malden, ma, etc.: Blackwell.

Fabian, Johannes (1986). Language and colonial power. The appropriation of Swahili in the former Belgian Congo 1880-1938. Cambridge, etc.: Cambridge University Press. Hanzeli, Victor E. (1969). Missionary linguistics in New France: A study of seventeenth- and eighteenth-century descriptions of American Indian languages. The Hague etc.: Mouton.

Hovdhaugen, Even (1996).... and the Wordwas God: Missionary linguistics and missionary grammar. Munster: Nodus Publikationen.

Swellengrebel, Jan Lodewijk (1974-1978). In Leijdeckers voetspoor. Anderhalve eeuw bijbelvertaling en taalkunde in de Indonesische talen. Leiden: KITLV. Two volumes.
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Author:Hoogervorst, Tom
Publication:Journal of the Humanities and Social Sciences of Southeast Asia and Oceania
Article Type:Book review
Date:Apr 1, 2016
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