LINGUIST List 13.1110

Mon Apr 22 2002

Review: Historical Linguistics: Andersen, ed. (2001)

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  1. Marc Picard, Andersen, ed. (2001), Actualization. Linguistic Change in Progress.

Message 1: Andersen, ed. (2001), Actualization. Linguistic Change in Progress.

Date: 22 Apr 2002 16:45:53 -0000
From: Marc Picard <picardvax2.concordia.ca>
Subject: Andersen, ed. (2001), Actualization. Linguistic Change in Progress.


Henning Andersen, ed. (2001) Actualization. Linguistic Change in Progress.
John Benjamins, 250 pp.,Hardback,ISBN 1 58811 081 8, USD 77.00
			
Book Announcement on Linguist:
http://linguistlist.org/issues/13/13-363.html
	
	
Marc Picard, Concordia University
	
This book is the outgrowth of a workshop on "Patterns of Actualization
in Linguistic Change" that was held in conjunction with the Fourteenth
International Conference on Historical Linguistics in Vancouver, BC in
1999. It consists of a collection of ten papers whose general aim is
"to consolidate the observation that the progression of certain kinds
of linguistic change is grammatically conditioned" (p. 1). This is
based on the premise that "there is some correlation between the
environments in which innovations occur earlier or later and the
markedness values of the phonological, phonotactic, morphophonemic,
morphosyntactic, clause-syntactic, lexical-semantic, referential, and
other parameters involved" (p. 3). The articles are preceded by the
editor's introduction and followed by a short general index.
	
Andersen's "Markedness and the theory of linguistic change" sets the
stage by introducing the Principle of Markedness Agreement which he
defines as "the favoring of combinations or concatenations of
different features that are homogeneous in Markedness value"
(p. 49). He begins by showing how this concept is manifested
synchronically in such diverse areas as ritual, the thematic and plot
structures of texts, the grounding structure of narrative discourse,
and the regularities of morphosyntax, morphophonemics and
phonology. Then he turns to markedness in diachrony and argues that
"as a linguistic innovation gains currency and is generalized in a
language, the process of actualization conforms to the Principle of
Markedness Agreement in that the innovated element is favored first of
all in marked environments, if the innovated element is marked, but in
unmarked environments if it is unmarked" (p. 31). In sum, then,
Andersen sees markedness as a principle of cognitive organization
which is fundamental to human behavior and which manifests itself
linguistically not only as a synchronic property of speakers' grammars
but as a significant conditioning element in language change.
	
The second article is Kristin Bakken's "Patterns of restitution of
sound change" wherein she examines the partial reversal of two
historical phonological processes from the dialect area of Western
Telemark in Southern Norway. The two sound changes in question are the
loss of postvocalic /l/ before consonants other than alveolar stops,
e.g., Old Norse (ON) holmi 'island' > /hu:m/, and the shift of
postvocalic /ll/ to /dd/ (probably via /dl/), e.g., ON allir 'all' >
/add/ ( = schwa). What she succeeds in showing is that the undoing
of the effects of these processes, that is, the return to the
etymologically older forms in certain words, "most likely was a
lexically diffused substitution process triggered by dialect contact
and linguistic variability [that was] obviously bound to be
sociologically and culturally determined" (p. 75).
	
Next comes "The role of markedness in the actuation and actualization
of linguistic change" by Alexander T. Bergs and Dieter Stein. This
consists mainly in an investigation of the origin and early history of
the English relative markers *which*, *who*, *whose* and *whom* which
gradually replaced the Old English relativizers *the* and *se* at
different times beginning around the 13th century. For the authors,
"[t]his development is interesting for a theory of actuation and
actualization insofar as it shows that new forms can originate (be
actuated) in ... salient, marked contexts, and ... be gradually
actualized in the linguistic system as their markedness declines"
(p. 82). This is particularly evident in the case of *who* which was
first triggered by God, saints and other religious antecedents, then
by noblemen, good friends and worthies, and finally by any [+human].
	
This is followed by Vit Bubenik's "On the actualization of the
passive-to-ergative shift in pre-Islamic India" in which he examines
the proposal that ergative systems can arise through a shift in
markedness that operates on the active-passive opposition of a
nominative language. Basing his analysis on a corpus of fourteen
Prakrit poetic texts written between the 7th and 11th centuries, he
attempts to show that the actualization of the passive-to-ergative
shift occurred more widely and earlier:

	(1) with agents high in animacy;
	(2) in agent-initial sentences;
	(3) with discourse participants;
	(4) in the interrogative mode;
	(5) in causative predicates.
	
Correspondingly, this shift was more limited and later:

	(1') with agents low in animacy;
	(2') in agent-final sentences;
	(3') in the third person;
	(4') in the declarative mode;
	(5') in noncausative predicates.
	
His conclusion is that these changes "are in keeping with Andersen's
Principle of Markedness Agreement ... which predicts innovations will
spread earliest in environments with equivalent markedness value and
subsequently spread to the complementary environments with opposite
markedness value" (p. 111).
	
"The use of address pronouns in Shakespeare's plays and sonnets" by
Ulrich Busse analyzes the alternation between *thou* and *you* in the
Early Modern English period as evidenced mainly in Shakespeare's
various writings (1589-1613). Although these pronouns were both
available to speakers and writers of the time, they were not
necessarily interchangeable socially, stylistically or
rhetorically. Thus, "by making a link between a statistically more or
less probable form (*thou*) and its stylistic value as the marked item
in the dyad", the author arrives at "the following text typology in
terms of *thou*-fulness" (p. 138):
	
	(1) *thou* is marginal in nonfictional writings from 1500 on;
	(2) in Shakespearian drama, the History Plays and the Tragedies are 
	 the most *thou*-ful, while the Comedies are more *you*-ful;
	(3) in terms of their distribution in the media of verse and prose 
	 (in drama), *thou* predominates in verse and *you* in prose;
	(4) in the elevated register of poetry as compared to drama, *thou* 
	 is more prevalent;
	(5) more overtly public poems prefer *you*, more private ones, *thou*.
	
Marianne Mithun's article "Actualization patterns in
grammaticalization: From clause to locative morphology in Northern
Iroquoian" examines the emergence and development of a new locative
category in Mohawk, though the same types of changes apparently occur
in other Iroquoian languages. The locative markers in question, such
as *-ke/-hne* 'place', *-kon* 'inside', *-okon* 'underneath', *-akta*
'near, beside', *-(i)ken* 'middle', *-ti* 'beyond', have evolved at a
different rate in accordance with their degree of markedness. Thus,
for example, the most grammaticalized marker, the one for 'place'
(*-ke/-hne*), is also the most general in meaning, the most frequent
in occurrence, and the only one to show significant allomorphy, a
feature that has been cited as characteristic of unmarked elements.
	
The gist of Lene Schosler's "From Latin to Modern French:
Actualization and markedness" is that a nominal markedness hierarchy
proposed by Andersen in the article outlined above is partly violated
by the evolution of the Latin noun case system in French. The
hierarchy in question is as follows:

	 Unmarked Marked
	 -------- ------
	 (a) proper common
	 (b) human non-human
	 (c) animate inanimate
	 (d) concrete abstract
	 (e) singular plural
	 (f) definite indefinite

and this seems to create a dilemma. On the one hand, categories like
plural and non-human lose case first which might indicate that in Old
French the hierarchy was reversed given that "Andersen suggests that
hierarchies may be language specific". On the other hand, however,
"even then proper nouns remain a problem, because proper nouns lose
case first instead of last" (p. 174). In commenting on this problem,
Andersen notes that "quite unlike common nouns, names have no
descriptive content [which] suggests the possibility that [they] may
be categorized (in some languages or universally) as a subclass of
pronouns - in which case their role in the hierarchy of categories
that condition the progression of case loss in Old French is in accord
with the Principle of Markedness Agreement" (p. 14).
	
"Markedness, causation, and linguistic change: A semiotic perspective"
opens with a reflection on how differently philosophers and linguists
generally approach the study of language, in response to which Michael
Shapiro states his goal as follows: "Perhaps a bridging of the gap
between the two disciplines can be essayed here by way of approaching
the several points I would like to make about markedness, causation,
and linguistic change" (p. 189). His paper is divided into four
sections, the first two of which - a philosopher's view of language,
and nominalism and realism in linguistics - are only peripherally
related to the issues at hand. While the other two do address the
topics mentioned in the title, the discussion remains philosophically
oriented and no actual language data are introduced to illustrate his
point that "markedness must be viewed as a final cause in linguistic
change" (p. 199).
	
In "Markedness, functionality, and perseveration in the actualization
of a morphosyntactic change", John Charles Smith attempts to assess
the influence of these factors on the progressive disappearance of
agreement between a past participle and a direct object in the Romance
compound past tenses formed with the auxiliary *have*. For example,
synchronic and diachronic data from Catalan show that the plural past
participle forms *vistes*/*vists* in sentences like:

	(a) He vistes les pellicules 'I've seen the films'
	(b) Quines pellicules he vistes? 'What films have I seen?'
	(c) Les pellicules que he vistes 'The films I've seen'
	(d) Us he vistes 'I've seen you (fem. plur.)'
	(e) Els he vists 'I've seen them (masc.)'
	(f) Les he vistes 'I've seen them (fem.)'
	
have gradually been reduced to singular *vist* in accordance with a
set of implicational hierarchies having to do with:

	(1) the position of the direct object;
	(2) the identity of the preceding direct object;
	(3) the person of the clitic pronoun;
	(4) the number and gender of the third-person nonreflexive clitic 
 pronoun.
	
The end result is that hierarchies (2)-(4) fail to account for the
differential disappearance of agreement in terms of markedness if the
latter is identified with frequency (a connection Andersen argues
against in his "Introduction" (pp. 1-20) wherein he also addresses the
troublesome aspects of Smith's analysis). Instead, Smith proposes that
"this particular instance of actualization appears to be sensitive to
functionality, rather than markedness, in respect of morphosyntactic
environment" (p. 217), the basic premise of functional change being
that "the need to preserve information is an influence on how language
develops" (p. 206).
	
The closing article is Andersen's "Actualization and the
(uni)directionality of change" which he himself summarizes concisely
in his "Introduction": "[This] paper . . . describes the place of
actualization - the only observable aspect of change - in a theory of
change; shows how the theory of Markedness proposed in [the first
article in this volume] makes it possible to understand change as a
projection of synchronic variation onto the diachronic axis; and tries
to clarify the relation between historical change events, the domain
of the language historian, and the generalized 'change schemas' that
the historical linguist can use to advantage in investigating the
origins of types of linguistic change" (p. 10).
	
This is not an easy read by any means, even for a seasoned historical
linguist. One reason is the range of complex and disparate data one
has to contend with for it is no easy matter to critically evaluate
the validity of various syntactic and morphological markedness
hierarchies in such diverse language groups and families as Iroquoian
(Mohawk), Germanic (Norwegian, Old English, Early Modern English),
Indo-Aryan (Prakrit), Italic (Latin), and Romance (Catalan, Old
French). Another reason this off-the-beaten-track material may be
fraught with difficulty for many a linguist is that markedness is such
a tenuous and elusive concept, one that is not easily amenable to
neat, consistent and straightforward analyses. There is simply no
easy, once-and-for-all way of determining whether such and such a
phenomenon is marked or unmarked.
	
In phonology, for example, no one would dispute the fact that
voiceless stops are unmarked in relation to their voiced counterparts
(many languages have only voiceless stops, no languages have only
voiced stops). Intervocalically, however, voiced stops are the
unmarked variants (languages with both series may have only voiced
stops but not only voiceless stops in that environment). In syntax,
there seems to be a general agreement that main clauses are unmarked
in relation to subordinate clauses since changes seemingly occur there
first, e.g., SOV > SVO in many Germanic languages. However, as
reported by Smith in this volume (p. 205), the merger of attributive
and predicative forms in Old Japanese occurs in dependent clauses
before main clauses. Consequent on this, he observes that "there is an
abiding problem with any analysis based on markedness: the definition
of the concept is not unproblematic, and in many cases (although not
all) the choice of one or other member of an opposition as the marked
term can appear arbitrary" (p. 205). Still and all, attempts to
provide principled and systematic accounts of the actualization of
linguistic change, whether it be in terms of markedness, functionality
or some other governing principle, should continue to be made, and
Andersen's extensive investigation of the subject will assuredly serve
as a catalyst for the further exploration of these important and
fascinating issues.
	
Marc Picard teaches phonetics, phonology and general linguistics at
Concordia University in Montreal. He is the author of "Principles and
Methods in Historical Phonology: From Proto-Algonkian to Arapaho"
(McGill-Queen's University Press, 1994) and has also published a
number of articles on historical phonology and morphology in various
North American and European linguistics journals. The most recent are
"On the fricativization of /r/ and the French-Cree connection" in
Folia Linguistica Historica 22:137-147 (2001) and "Aspects
synchroniques et diachroniques du hiatus: le cas du determinant /la/
en creole haitien" which will appear in an upcoming issue of La
Revue quebecoise de linguistique.
	 
	
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