Review 1: Sonja Wölke

Sonja Wölke. Geschichte der Sorbischen Grammatikschreibung: Von den Anfängen bis zum Ende des 19. Jahrhunderts. (A History of the Writing of Sorbian Grammars: From the Beginnings to the End of the 19th Century.) Schriften des Sorbischen lnstituts 38. Bautzen: Domowina-Verlag, 2005. 304 pp. Paper.

Geschichte der Sorbischen Grammatikschreibung: Von den Anfängen bis zum Ende des 19. Jahrhunderts, by Sonja Wölke. Schriften des Sorbischen Instituts 38. Slavic and East European Journal 52 (2008): 339-40.

Compared to the other Slavic languages, the two Sorbian languages, Upper and Lower, have a relatively recent literary history. The first extant document in Sorbian is the Budyska Přisaha (Bautzen Burghers’ Oath] of 1532, an oath of allegiance to the Czech king. Later in the sixteenth century, religious works (translations of the Bible, catechisms, etc.), both in manuscript and printed form, began to appear in the two languages.

It was only in the seventeenth century that secular books, again in both manuscript and printed form, made their appearance. In 1650 Jan Chójnan published in manuscript form the first grammar of Lower Sorbian. Bearing the unwieldy Latin title of Linguae Vandalicae ad Dialectum Districtus Cotbusiani Formandae Aliquis Conatus, it reflected one of the terms then used for Sorbian (i.e., Vandalic) and was based on the Lower Sorbian dialect of Cottbus. Then, in 1679, Fr. Jakub Ticinus published in printed form his grammar of Upper Sorbian: Principia Linguae Wendicae.

Sonja Wölke, a researcher at the Sorbian Institute in Bautzen and one of the more prolific scholars of the younger generation of Sorabists, has written a detailed history and analysis of Sorbian grammars from the seventeenth century to the end of the nineteenth century. Her study comprises four chapters. The first three chapters are chronological: seventeenth century, eighteenth century, and nineteenth century. Not surprisingly, the section devoted to the nineteenth century is the longest of the chronological chapters, which reflects the greater output of grammars relative to the two earlier centuries. The chapter culminates in Wölke ‘s discussion of Arnost Muka’s Historische und Vergleichende Laut- und Formenlehre der Niedersorbischen (Niederlausitzisch-Vendischen) Sprache of 1891. Muka, arguably the greatest Sorbian linguist of the pre-twentieth century, and some might argue of all time, authored the most detailed of the various Sorbian grammars. Wölke’s lengthy concluding chapter treats in detail the phonology, morphology, and syntax of the grammars. Her knowledge of the structure of the two Sorbian languages is impressive and several detailed tables help illustrate the treatment of the earlier Sorbian grammarians of such things as the dual (pages 206-9).

Dr. Wölke is to be commended for taking on the task of analyzing the pre-twentieth-century grammars of Upper and Lower Sorbian. Her study should set a standard of scholarship for years to come. The amount of detail that she analyzes is impressive, and she relates it to the work not only of other leading Slavists of the late eighteenth and nineteenth centuries (e.g., Karadźić, Jordan, and Dobrovský), but also to Sorabists of our era (Schuster-Šewc, Stone, Schaarschmidt, etc.). Although the book is in German, this should not be a hindrance, since virtually all serious Sorabists are reasonably fluent in the dominant language of the Sorbian-speaking area.

Domowina-Verlag, the leading publisher of books dealing with Sorbian, comes out each year with examples of solid scholarship dealing with these smallest of the Slavic languages. One looks forward to further titles in their excellent series. Indeed, one hopes for a further study by Wölke, particularly on Sorbian grammars of the last century.


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