German is spoken as a Wrst language by approximately 100 million people in Germany, Austria, Switzerland, and elsewhere, and as a second language by many others in Central and Eastern Europe. It is also learnt as a foreign language by people all over the world. There are many books which purport to describe the language, ranging from compendious grammars intended for native speakers to elementary textbooks for foreign learners, and from dic- tionaries of current usage to philological studies of earlier stages of the language.

The present book is none of these, however. Though written primarily for foreign learners of German, it is not a language textbook, and makes no attempt to improve the reader’s practical mastery of the language in any direct way. And, though it presents a description of German, it is not a grammar of the language in the usual sense, and does not contain comprehensive lists of forms. Nor does it have anything to say about the historical development of German.


What this book oVers is an introduction to the description of the structure of present-day German in linguistic terms, i.e. according to the principles and practices of modern linguistics. Exactly what this entails, and how such a description diVers from those undertaken from other points of view, will become clear from the remaining chapters of the book, but the main theme can be brieXy stated as follows: German is here taken to be not a body of facts to be presented or learnt but rather the subject of scientiWc investigation. From this point of view, the ‘facts’ of the language cannot be merely assumed, but must be established and their status determined. In many cases the known characteristics of German will serve merely as the starting point, rather than as the goal, of our enquiry.

In order to clarify and to justify the approach adopted here, it will be helpful to consider in the remainder of this chapter some of the basic principles of linguistic theory.

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