LINGUIST List 14.2841

Fri Oct 17 2003

Review: Historical Ling: Joseph & Janda, ed. (2003)

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  1. ''Greenberg, Marc L'', The Handbook of Historical Linguistics

Message 1: The Handbook of Historical Linguistics

Date: Fri, 17 Oct 2003 13:45:59 +0000
From: ''Greenberg, Marc L'' <>
Subject: The Handbook of Historical Linguistics

Joseph, Brian D. and Richard D. Janda, ed. (2003) The Handbook of
Historical Linguistics, Blackwell Publishing, Blackwell Handbooks in

Announced at

Marc L. Greenberg, University of Kansas

[Because of technical problems with the LINGUIST List server this
review was not posted when it was received. We apologize for the
delay. --Eds.]


This book presents the state of the art of diachronic linguistics with
a collection of twenty-six essays by leading practitioners in North
America (20), Europe (4), Australia (1) and New Zealand (1). Its
primary audiences are students of and specialists in linguistics who
wish to gain a command of current issues in diachronic linguistics.
Although not intended as a textbook per se, it could be used as such
with a sufficiently bright group of students. Moreover, specialists
in non-linguistic historical disciplines will find at least the
lengthy introductory article useful and enlightening. Most of the
articles are written in a non-technical manner, or at least the
narrowly technical terms are defined in the text, making them
accessible to the general educated reader. The introductory essay in
Part I ties together the issues dealt with in the papers, as well as
embeds the discussion of the enterprise of diachronic linguistics in
other historically oriented sciences. Part II deals with methods for
studying language change (essays 1 - 5), Part III with phonology (6 -
9), Part IV with morphology and lexicon (10 - 13), Part V with syntax
(14 - 17), Part VI with pragmatics and semantics (18 - 21), and Part
VII with issues of explanation in diachronic linguistics (22 -
25). The collective bibliography (pp. 744 - 842) is followed by a
Subject Index (843 - 855), Name Index (856 - 878) and a Language Index
(879 - 881).

The choice of topics to be included was informed by the program
outlined, according to the editors, in Weinreich, Labov and Herzog
1968, and are summarized in 5 broad themes: (1) the extent (minor or
major) of the role played by children in linguistic change, (2) the
relationship between externally and internally motivated changes, (3)
the relationship of linguistic theory to views of language change, (4)
the question of when change can be said to (have) occur(ed), and (5)
causation of change (119 - 125). Topics that fall outside of the
purview of the volume, at least as separate chapters, are lexical
diffusion, typology per se, the origins of human speech, diachronic
pragmatics (per se, though pragmatic issues are at least touched upon
in chapters on grammaticalization), prosodic change, and linguistic
paleontology (115 - 119).

Most of these matters are treated within a number of the individual
chapters. Rather than have each of the seven major sections written by
an individual author, the editors commissioned articles by researchers
with various and sometimes conflicting theoretical viewpoints in order
to give a sense of the range of ideas and approaches currently at the
forefront of the field (120 - 123). An attempt was made to pay
sufficient attention to the achievements of research on Indo-European
languages as well as to balance Indo-European material with
consideration of work based on other world languages. The editors
point out that the resulting balance is evident in the language index,
which is ''quite robust'' (126).

Part I: Introduction: 

Richard D. Janda's & Brian D. Joseph's introductory essay ''On
Language, Change, and Language Change - Or, Of History, Linguistics,
and Historical Linguistics'' (4 - 180) discusses broad questions of
language change in relation to history and other historically oriented
disciplines, such as evolutionary biology, paleontology, and
geology. These parallels help to illuminate and contextualize debates
on broad issues such as uniformitarianism and punctuated
equilibrium. These broad issues help to tie together the more narrowly
focused topics in the chapters as well as frame meta-theoretically the
controversies that arise in the dialogues among different approaches,
those exhibited in the book and otherwise. In their own writing and,
to an extent, the selection of authors, the editors espouse an
aversion to too literal interpretations of the parallels between
diachronic linguistics and other diachronically-oriented disciplines
in (especially) the natural sciences. A prominent place in this regard
is given to controverting the (''pseudo-organicist'') views of Roger
Lass (such as the following: ''[... L]anguages [...] ought to be
viewed as potentially having extended (trans-individual,
trans-generation) 'lives of their own''' [9]): ''we see this book as a
whole - and especially this introductory essay - as an answer to his
claims'' (121, 175 n. 137).

Part II: Methods for Studying Language Change: 

The main body of the book begins with the cornerstone of historical
linguistics, ''The Comparative Method'' (183 - 212) by Robert
L. Rankin, refreshingly presented on Native American illustrative
material. Just as refreshingly, Rankin demonstrates the application of
the method across all components of grammar, from phonology through
morphology and semantics to syntax, rather than focusing primarily on
the first of these, as is often the case in textbook treatments of the
method. Certain of the limitations of the method are dealt with,
including the pitfalls arising from the loss or merger of phonological
segments, naturalness in syntax (vs. phonology), the perception of
excessive uniformity in the reconstruction of proto-languages, and
temporal limits on the method itself. Rankin's article segues
naturally into S. P. Harrison's ''On the Limits of the Comparative
Method'' (213 - 243), limitations, the author hastens to add,
''determined by the very properties of the method that make it work''
(213). ''Internal Reconstruction'' (244 - 261) by Don Ringe
illustrates, primarily on Indo-European material, the weaker auxiliary
method to the comparative method. In ''How to Show Languages are
Related: Methods for Distant Genetic Relationship'' (262 - 282) Lyle
Campbell takes on the problems of distant genetic relationship (DGR),
which has received a greater share of attention in the popular press
than other areas of linguistics. The article is in part a review of
the epistemological underpinnings of established methods for showing
language relatedness (covered to a large extent in the previous
chapters) and in part an admonition to avoid ''excessive zeal for
long-range relationships [that] can lead to methodological excesses''
(263). As illustrative material spurious results in the works of
Joseph Greenberg (no relation to the reviewer - well, perhaps a
distant one) are a leitmotif, though others' work is taken apart as
well. ''Diversity and Stability in Language'' (282 - 310) by Johanna
Nichols treats the problem of what elements of language tend to be
stable vs. unstable (i.e., leads to diversity) over time. In contrast
to some of the more traditional topics in the volume, this essay is of
a programmatic nature ''intended to spur the kind of cross-linguistic
work required to estimate stability and identify recurrent strong and
weak points in linguistic structure'' (282). Nichols sets out four
measures of stability, graded scalarly, whether an element of grammar
is prone to inheritance (or loss), borrowing, substratum effects or
''selection,'' i.e., ''the process whereby elements that embody
language universals, cross- categorial harmony, unmarked terms, and
other typological desiderata are incorporated into a language'' (286 -

Part III: Phonological Change: 

''The Phonological Basis of Sound Change'' (313 - 342) by Paul
Kiparsky takes issue with the Neogrammarian notion of
exceptionlessness of phonetic sound change, demonstrating his views on
top-down, abstract organization of phonology. The article is a
slightly revised republication of Kiparsky's article in Goldsmith's
Handbook of Phonological Theory, also in the Blackwell
series. Kiparsky's arguments are reviewed and amplified in Mark Hale's
''Neogrammarian Sound Change'' (343 - 368). ''Variationist Approaches
to Phonological Change'' (369 - 400) by Gregory R. Guy reviews the
approach to observation and analysis of sound change in progress in
the sociolinguistic variation school begun by William Labov. This
article, as the previous two, discusses the relationship between
Neogrammarian phonetics and phonology. About half of the article is
devoted to the examination of sociolinguistic factors in sound change
and concludes with reflections on the purposeful blurring of the
Saussurean distinction between synchrony and diachrony inherent in the
approach of viewing change in progress. '''Phonologization' as the
Start of Dephoneticization - Or, On Sound-Change and its Aftermath: Of
Extension, Generalization, Lexicalization, and Morphologization'' (401
- 422) by Richard D. Janda attempts to reconcile the heterogeneity of
views reflected in debates on sound change, in part represented in the
Phonological Change section of this book, and deals with the seemingly
intractable problem of causation in change. Towards a solution, Janda
offers a phonological parallel to the ''Big Bang'' model of the origin
of the universe (op. rev.: one longs for a domestic term, such as the
''Primordial Plosion,'' but, alas, there is not the same ring to
it). The ''Big Bang'' theory proposes that purely phonetic conditions
hold for a brief moment, after which higher-order phonological and
sociolinguistic conditions shape the further outcome of phonological
processes of change.

Part IV: Morphological and Lexical Change: 

Raimo Anttila's ''Analogy: The Warp and Woof of Cognition'' (425 -
440) treats the meta-theoretical notion of analogy, a treatment
grounded in gestalt psychology and Piercian semiotics, as the template
for human cognition and the innate vehicle for all linguistic
change. Though the author points out that since 1980 ''analogy had
been pretty much banned in America'' (438), his not infrequent
references to Finnish research indicate that the notion has not been
there so maligned. A complement to Anttila's chapter is Hans Henrich
Hock's ''Analogical Change'' (441 - 460), which presents an overview
of linguistic applications of analogy, especially as regards language
change in morphology and phonology. Here, as in the chapters in the
previous part on phonology, a portion of the chapter is devoted to the
''Neogrammarian controversy'' (453). ''Naturalness and Morphological
Change'' (461 - 471) by Wolfgang U. Dressler addresses the primarily
Central-European-based approach to language structure and language
change expressed in terms of relative statements such as ''phenomenon
X is more or less natural than Y.'' The theory has its origins in
Prague Structuralism, i.e., the notion of markedness, and developed in
the late 1970s among German-speaking linguistics, such as the
Dressler, Willi Mayerthaler, Wolfgang Wurzel and Ozwald Panagl
(incidentally, the theory has recently returned to the Slavic world,
as evidenced by the works of Janez Oresnik and his students, e.g.,
Oresnik 2001). Functionalist in approach, the theory offers
explanation of change through grading of preferences and derives
probabilities of types of change. ''Morphologization from Syntax''
(472 - 492) by Brian D. Joseph discusses how matters of syntax become
matters of morphology, e.g., a syntactic construction such Latin clara
mente 'with a clear mind' (a noun phrase in ablative singular
masculine agreement) gives rise to the French adverb-forming suffix
-ment (clairement). The author recognizes the similarities between his
morphologization and grammaticalization (as discussed in the chapters
by Bybee, Fortson, Harrison, Heine, Hock, Mithun, Rankin and
Traugott), but offers a concise discussion of the distinction between
the two approaches, which centers on objections to the putative
inviolability of the cline of grammaticalization (475 - 484).

Part V: Syntactic Change: 

David Lightfoot's article, ''Grammatical Approaches to Syntactic
Change'' (495 - 508), is arguably among the most theory-driven in the
volume, viewing change in the narrow scope of language acquisition in
children from the perspective of the principles and parameters
model. Like the previous chapter, Susan Pintzuk's ''Variationist
Approaches to Syntactic Change'' (509 - 528) operates in the
principles and parameters framework, but the author points out that
this model is not essential to variationist methodology. She shows
that there is evidence to support the hypothesis that parameter
settings do not change abruptly, instead, change occurs as a result of
competition between alternative parameter settings during periods of
syntactic variation. The ideas are demonstrated primarily on Germanic
material, especially Old English. ''Cross-linguistic Perspectives on
Syntactic Change'' (529 - 551) by Alice C. Harris outlines an approach
to universals of syntax that is avowedly data- driven (and, as such,
is a counterweight to Lightfoot's chapter), which applies inductive
methods to arrive at universals of syntactic change. In her view,
change is a three-step process involving (covert) reanalysis,
actualization, and the resultant coexistence of newer and older
structures (''syntactic doublets''). She illustrates the derivation of
a syntactic universal on the example of the development of perfect
constructions in Georgian, Aghul, French and German. Marianne Mithun's
''Functional Perspectives on Syntactic Change'' (552 - 572) approaches
change from the viewpoint of communicative efficacy and makes the case
that diachronic elucidation of grammatical phenomena has greater
explanatory power than synchronic, a product of the functionalist
approach, unconstrained by the rigors of particular theoretical
schools. A Yup'ik case study demonstrates routinization and reanalysis
in the development of a subordinative structure, a type of change that
is treated elsewhere in the volume under the rubric of
grammatic(al)ization (see below), though the author works in a broader
framework, skeptical of the predictive power of grammaticalization
theory. She concludes that ''[s]yntactic change can be stimulated and
facilitated by a wide variety of factors, often working in
concert. Their presence in a language does not guarantee that a given
change will take place, only that it may be rendered more likely''

Part VI: Pragmatico-Semantic Change: 

In ''Grammaticalization'' (575 - 601) Bernd Heine describes
grammaticalization theory as ''neither a theory of language nor of
language change,'' but rather an enterprise with the goal of
describing ''the way grammatical forms arise and develop through space
and time, and to explain why they are structured the way they are''
(575). Some space in the article is given to the history of the line
of inquiry, which he dates to the late eighteenth century with �tienne
Bonnot de Condillac, through the nineteenth-century
historical-comparativists, and, finally, the boom period from the
1970s onward. Both the viewpoints of adherents of grammaticalization,
such as the author, as well as those of opponents are given. Heine
gives an illustration, among others, of the development of the Greek
''tha-future,'' meant to controvert Brian Joseph's assertion that
''there is no process of grammaticalization'' (584). One can compare
Joseph's explanation in chapter 13, given there as an example of
morphologization from syntax (479 - 484). The juxtaposition of the two
views highlights the dialogical approach of the book and,
particularly, the theme, mentioned above, of differing theoretical
perspectives contained in it. Joan Bybee's ''Mechanisms of Change in
Grammaticization: The Role of Frequency'' (602 - 623) examines the way
that extreme frequency in grammatic(al)ization occurs, using a case
study of 'can' in Old and Middle English, and the mechanisms of change
that are associated with frequency increase, including phonological,
morphosyntactic, and semantic change. Further, these issues are
discussed with respect to grammaticalized constructions. A logical
sequel to the previous chapter, ''Constructions in
Grammaticalization'' (624 - 647) by Elizabeth Closs Traugott treats
theoretical issues of the gradual development of grammatical morphemes
from combinations of lexical or grammatical morphemes (i.e.,
constructions), highlighting pragmatic contexts. The author concludes
that grammaticalization is ''[t]he process whereby lexical material in
highly constrained pragmatic and morphosyntactic contexts is assigned
grammatical function, and once grammatical, is assigned increasingly
grammatical, operator- like function'' (645). In ''An Approach to
Semantic Change'' (648 - 666) Benjamin W. Fortson, IV takes a
polemical stand with a number of standard views and practices in the
study of semantic change, claiming that such views and practices have
often ''obscure[d] the nature and our understanding of semantic change
as a non-gradual event'' (660). In particular, he focuses on the
issues of the role of children in semantic change, grammaticalization,
and, in particular, directionality and frequency in

Part VII: Explaining Linguistic Change: 

''Phonetics and Historical Phonology'' (669 - 686) by John J. Ohala
deals with the phonetic basis for sound change, not from the
Neogrammarian analytical perspective, as was discussed in a number of
the chapters mentioned above, but from with regard to ''scientific
phonetics,'' as the author terms his view of experimental empirical
phonetics, i.e., the type of phonetics, in contrast to ''taxonomic
phonetics,'' that continues to develop as new information and
discoveries are integrated into it. The author treats variation in
speech production and perception as factors offering input for sound
change and then asks which of the two constitutes sound change (the
answer is: perception). In ''Contact as a Source of Language Change''
(687 - 712) Sarah Grey Thomason frames contact-induced change, change
across language borders, as different from contact among varieties of
a single speech area only in degree and not type, drawing parallels in
both internally and externally motivated change (sec. 1.1). Sections
are devoted to types and mechanisms of interference (code- switching,
code alternation, passive familiarity, ''negotiation,'' primary and
secondary language acquisition, deliberate decision), sources of
change in language attrition, and contact language genesis vs. contact
induced change. ''Dialectology and Linguistic Diffusion'' (713 - 735)
by Walt Wolfram & Natalie Schilling-Estes discusses models for the
description and analysis of change in dialects. Traditional models of
linguistic diffusion are discussed, and their inadequacies are
highlighted, as well as a more innovative one, the gravity model,
favored by the authors. Sociolinguistic components are discussed in
sections on amplifiers and barriers to diffusion, and contra-
hierarchical diffusion. Their approach, illustrated on the basis of
their work Oklahoma English speech, is multidimensional, considering
''an array of geographical, social, and linguistic factors'' and their
emphasis is on ''a dynamic model of diffusion [that] must encompass
the systematic variability that characterizes language
change''(733). In ''Psycholinguistic Perspectives on Linguistic
Change'' (736 - 743) Jean Aitchison presents her take on issues
connected with psycholinguistic or cognitive matters connected with
language, dividing causation in language change into three overlapping
layers, sociolinguistic, linguistic proper, and, the top layer,
psycholinguistic/cognitive. As such, the chapter is meta- theoretical,
going ''beyond strictly linguistic explanations,'' though the author
modestly notes that an ''Olympian view'' of the situation is
unattainable. She deals with the problem of child language, touched
upon in several of the preceding chapters, and demonstrates the
fallacy of the reductive view that all change takes place in children
(''babies do not initiate changes. Groups of interacting speakers do,
particularly adolescents'' [739]). Another section is devoted to
speech processing, a considerable part of which is given to John
Hawkins' questions/observations on processing issues with implications
for historical linguistics, e.g., ''if languages are striving toward
cross- category harmony, why do they then not achieve their goal? Why
do some become inconsistent and change their word order?'' (742).


This book has arguably earned the definite article in its title - to
my mind it summarizes much of the best thinking in diachronic
linguistics today. (On the other hand, one presumes diachronists are
acutely aware of the passing of time, making inevitable a later moment
when the views contained in it will become superannuated and another
[i.e., ''a''] handbook will need to be written. Alternatively, perhaps
''The Handbook...'' is to be understood, less presumptuously, as ''The
Blackwell Handbook...''? That the latter interpretation is correct is
implied in the editors' reflection on the title, in which they refer
to the work as ''a handbook'' or ''a manual'' [125].) The articles are
engagingly written, in particular, the introductory essay by Joseph
and Janda, which is enlivened by the most eclectic of quotations and a
fair dollop of wordplay, the latter of which range from the merely
dreadful (''holy ... holey ... wholly'' [20]) to what should carry a
heavy sentence (''...let us cease any and all uninform'd tarryin' in
-isms'' [37, a play on 'uniformitarianism']).

The quotations often underscore the common-sense bias (with regard to
theory, not wordplay) of the authors. Among my favorites is that of
Confederate General George Pickett, who, in response to the question
of who was responsible for his defeat at the battle of Gettysburg
replied ''I think the Union Army had something to do with it'' (9),
parallel to Joseph and Janda's view that it is not grammar itself that
effects change, but that ''speakers have something to do with it''
(10). These rhetorical treats - for the linguist, in any case (for
others, perhaps, rhetorical threats) - do not detract from, but,
rather, add to, the weighty topics that the authors cover in a fair
degree of depth. Though they deal extensively with the relative
progress in and the parallelisms (and absence of parallelisms) between
linguistics and evolutionary biology, paleontology, geology, and other
disciplines, the authors magnanimously refrain from belaboring the
point that it was largely Darwin who was the heir to theories of
linguistic evolution and not linguists who took their cue from Darwin
(otherwise discussed in Janda 2001). One of the consequences of
selection of authors for the volume is that non-mainstream theories
tend not to be mentioned. As an example, there is no reference to
relexification theory, an absence echoed in the complaint of
proponents of the theory: ''[...] while the existence of
relexification as a process has been widely accepted [...] there has
been no real attempt to further investigate this curious process on
its own right, in order to determine the linguistic and
sociolinguistic prerequisites for its application, the role of it
might have played in the evolution of various languages, and to
explore its implications for the theory of grammar'' (Horvath and
Wexler 1997: 1 - 2). Of course, no (hand)book can be all things to all

All in all, the volume gives an excellent snapshot of the achievements
to date and the burning issues of the present moment in our
understanding of historical linguistics. Arguably the most exciting
thing that the reader may take away from reading the book are the
notions that there is so much more to do, so much more to understand,
and that, as a consequence, historical linguistics remains a dynamic
and forward-looking field for practitioners today and yet to
come. Further, although the balance of Indo-European with other
languages covered has been duly noted, there is a sense that with the
accretion of knowledge of world languages and understanding of their
historical development, much of what is considered universal to
language (change) may yet be challenged. One notes, for example, a not
uncommon lament from outside of the study of Indo-European languages,
of the following sort: ''[...] only a handful of scholars have worked
in a field that encompasses several hundred Asian languages, while
generations of scholars have polished the field of Indo-
European. Only epistemological faith in the homogeneity of language
and of language evolution can lead us to believe that the same
explanatory principles which have been shown to work in Indo-European
will be vindicated by Asian languages too, given time and
manpower''(Mazaudon and Lowe in press: 4). One may take this statement
not as a lament, but an invitation to exploration.


Kiparsky's chapter on sound change: the author notes that ''Jakobson's
[1929] work ['Remarques sur l'�volution phonologique du russe
compar�e � celle des autres langues slaves'] is rarely
taken notice of in the literature on sound change, and [is] not aware
of any explicit attempts to refute it'' (327). In at least
Slavic-linguistics circles in North America such refutation is
everyday sport, an example of which may be seen in Timberlake 1978.

A suggestion to the series editors: it is commendable that the
endnotes are presented in a point size nearly as large as the main
text and are thus easy on the eyes, however, a few trees could be
saved by justifying the text and thus reducing the white space in the
right margin of the columns. The benefits would be aesthetic as well.


Horvath, Julia and Paul Wexler, eds. 1997. Relexification in Creole
and Non-Creole Languages. With Special Attention to Haitian Creole,
Modern Hebrew, Romani, and Rumanian. Wiesbaden: Harrassowitz Verlag.

Janda, Richard D. 2001. Beyond ''Pathways'' and ''Unidirectionality'':
On the Discontinuity of Language Transmission and the Counterability
of Grammaticalization. Language Sciences 23/2-3, Mar-May, 265-340.

Mazaudon, Martine and John B. Lowe. In press. Regularity and
Exceptions in Sound Change. In Marc Domenici and Didier Demolin, eds.,
Investigations in Sound change, (Actes du congr�s de la
soci�t� de linguistique de Belgique, Bruxelles, 8-11 dec
1993). Oxford University Press

Oresnik, Janez. 2001. A Predictable Aspect of (Morpho)syntactic
Variants. Ljubljana: Slovenska akademija znanosti in umetnosti.

Timberlake, Alan. 1978. On the History of the Velar Phonemes in North
Slavic [in Russian with English synopsis]. In Henrik Birnbaum, ed.,
American Contributions to the Eighth International Congress of
Slavists, vol. 1, Linguistics and Poetics. Columbus, OH: Slavica

Weinreich, Uriel, William Labov and Marvin I. Herzog. 1968. Empirical
Foundations for a Theory of Language Change. In Winfred P. Lehmann
and Yakov Malkiel, eds., Directions for Historical Linguistics: A
Symposium: 95-195. Austin: University of Texas Press.


Marc L. Greenberg holds a Ph.D. from UCLA in Slavic linguistics and is
currently Professor and Chair of the Department of Slavic Languages &
Literatures at the University of Kansas. His interests are in Slavic
historical linguistics and dialectology. His recent book, A Historical
Phonology of the Slovene Language (Heidelberg: Carl Winter
Universit�tsverlag, 2000), was designated the "Best Book in
Slavic Linguistics" in 2002 by the American Association of Teachers of
Slavic and East European Languages. He is a founding editor of
Slovenski jezik / Slovene Linguistic Studies, published by the
Slovenian Academy of Sciences and the University of Kansas.
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