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  • Topics, questions, keywords: A handbook for students of German by Petra Hachenburger, Paul Jackson
  • Gary H. Toops
Topics, questions, keywords: A handbook for students of German. By Petra Hachenburger and Paul Jackson. London & New York: Routledge, 2000. Pp. xxvi, 257. Cloth $60, paper $17.99.

This book is geared towards English-speaking students taking intermediate- or advanced-level classes in German conversation and composition. It is based on the assumption that those using the book have already acquired substantial proficiency, if not outright mastery, of German grammar. Accordingly, as its title suggests, the book has a strictly lexical focus and a topical orientation.

Divided into three parts—‘Individual topics’, ‘Social topics’, and ‘Political topics’—the book comprises a total of thirty chapters, each devoted to a specific topic. These range from computers, health, and music to morality and immorality, the environment, and the Third World. Each chapter opens with 10–12 topic-related questions, followed by a lengthy vocabulary list arranged alphabetically and by part of speech (nouns and noun phrases, adjectives and adjectival phrases, verbs and verb phrases). Each chapter concludes with a number of ‘illustrative sentences’ that incorporate one or more of the listed vocabulary items.

The vocabulary lists have been compiled with British, rather than American, usage in mind. Briticisms, for which no US equivalent is provided, include (but are in no way limited to) ‘windscreen’ for die Windschutzscheibe (US ‘windshield’), ‘zebra crossing’ for der Zebrastreifen (US ‘crosswalk’), ‘overtaking lane’ for die Überholspur (US ‘passing lane’), ‘takeaway meal’ for das Essen zum Mitnehmen (US ‘carry-out food’), ‘biscuits’ for die Kekse (US ‘crackers’ or ‘cookies’), ‘tinned food’ for die Konserven (US ‘canned goods’), ‘chips’ for die Pommes Frites (sic; US ‘French fries’), and many others.

Not only do the vocabulary lists lack US equivalents for the English glosses, but they also fail to include a number of German words and phrases commonly associated with the topic being presented. For example, Ch. 2 (‘Computer’) lacks such terms as Zeichensatz ‘font’, Nadelmatrixdrucker ‘dot matrix printer’, and Laserdrucker ‘laser printer’. While the chapter on ‘men and women’ (Ch. 16, ‘Frauen and Männer’) includes das Verhütungsmittel ‘contraceptive’ (136), and the chapter on ‘morality and immorality’ (Ch. 21, ‘Moral und Unmoral’) includes die Schwangerschaftsverhütung ‘contraception’ (173), nowhere do we find the highly popular term die Anti-Baby-Pille ‘the “pill” ’. In similar fashion, the chapter on ‘cars and drivers’ (Ch. 13, ‘Autos und Autofahrer’) includes the term die Höchstgeschwindigkeit ‘top speed’ (110), but omits die Höchstgeschwindigkeitsgrenze ‘speed limit’ as well as its more commonly used synonym das Tempolimit ‘idem’.

The vocabulary lists are also encumbered by a number of inexact English translations; cf. für die meisten Leute ‘for the great majority of people’ (xx) instead of ‘for most people’; ganz im Gegenteil ‘quite the reverse’ (xx) instead of ‘on the contrary’; gröβtenteils ‘in the main’ instead of ‘for the most part’ (xx); meiner Meinung nach ‘in my view’ (xxi) instead of ‘in my opinion’; die Angst ‘anxiety’ (4) instead of ‘fear’; die Launenhaftigkeit ‘changeable moods’ (5) instead of ‘moodiness’; der Tick ‘hang up’ (sic; 6) instead of ‘quirk’; anomal ‘abnormal’ (6) instead of ‘anomalous’; wankelmütig, launisch ‘volatile’ (9) instead of ‘moody’; mit sich selbst beschäftigt ‘self-preoccupied’ (11) instead of ‘self-absorbed’; der Drogenkonsum ‘drug abuse’ (125) instead [End Page 790] of ‘drug use’ (cf., however, der Drogenmissbrauch ‘drug abuse’ [27]).

In sum, while Hachenburger and Jackson have come up with some interesting topics for discussion, teachers who adopt this book for classroom use may wish to review, revise, and, possibly, expand the vocabulary lists to conform to the particular dialect and life experience of their students.

Gary H. Toops
Wichita State University