Unequal in the translators’ eyes

Using German Synonyms
November 24, 2000

The use of the word synonym for groups of words that have similar meanings, is, the author freely admits, somewhat misleading. For lay people, synonyms are words that have the same meaning, while for the linguist and student of languages, this is rarely true. All this is explained in an excellent introduction to what is in essence a dictionary of lexical fields.
 
Other works that English-speaking students have used have started from English, whereas Martin Durrell starts with the German headword of the semantic field, giving its English equivalent. Then the other members of the field are listed with their English translations. The fact that a simple translation does not always render the semantic nuance required is shown in some cases by paraphrases. Since words are also not all equal in status. They are labelled "colloquial", "neutral" and "formal". Many of the colloquial words are also "vulgar" and those that are "formal" are either "literary" or "non-literary". Both concrete and abstract semantic fields are covered. Some sections are large with 20 words, whereas some have only four. The selection of words shows clearly how German language studies have changed over recent decades in that there are now more English loans and words from youth culture and a decline in literary words.

The individual words are illustrated by use in sentences, for which no sources are given, except the hint in the acknowledgements that some of them come from the corpora at the Institut für Deutsche Sprache in Mannheim. Highlighting the synonyms in the example sentences by making them italic or bold would have lifted them out and focused attention on them. Any of the German or English words used can be found through the English and German indices at the end of the book. There is also an extensive bibliography.
This is primarily a book for advanced students who want to learn vocabulary systematically, and for the teachers who guide them. 
 
Charles V. J. Russ is  reader in German and linguistics, University of York.

Using German Synonyms: First edition

Author - Martin Durrell
ISBN - 0 521 46552 4 and 4695 4
Publisher - Cambridge University Press
Price - £40.00 and £14.95
Pages - 319

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