LINGUIST List 15.295

Tue Jan 27 2004

Review: Historical Ling: Blake & Burridge, ed. (2003)

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  1. Marc Pierce, Historical Linguistics 2001

Message 1: Historical Linguistics 2001

Date: Tue, 27 Jan 2004 00:27:54 -0500 (EST)
From: Marc Pierce <>
Subject: Historical Linguistics 2001

Blake, Barry J. and Kate Burridge, ed., with the assistance of Jo
Taylor (2003) Historical Linguistics 2001, John Benjamins Publishing
Company, Current Issues in Linguistic Theory 237.

Announced at

Marc Pierce, University of Michigan


This volume is a collection of selected papers presented at the 15th
International Conference on Historical Linguistics, held in Melbourne
in August 2001. The volume contains 25 papers, along with contact
information for the contributors, a brief preface, and an index of
languages and concepts (but unfortunately no index for names, which
would have made the book more user-friendly).
After the preface, the volume proper begins with Alexandra
Aikhenvald's paper, ''Language contact and language change in
Amazonia,'' (1-20). Aikhenvald examines contact-induced language
change in the Arawak and Tucanoan language families, two genetically
unrelated and typologically different families spoken north of the
Amazon. The discussion focuses on how grammatical relations are
encoded in these two language families; Aikhenvald ultimately
concludes that the languages of these families are becoming more
similar, but that each group is changing in different ways.
The next paper is ''Grammaticalization and the historical development
of the genitive in Mainland Scandinavian'' (21-32), by John Ole
Askedal. Askedal examines the development of the s-genitive in
Scandinavian, concentrating on the twin questions of whether this
development is really a case of ''degrammaticalization'' (as argued by
Norde 1997, 2001), and whether it is an exception to the well-known
''Unidirectionality Hypothesis'' assumed in most work on
grammaticalization (see here Norde 2001, also Janda 2001). Askedal
argues that neither of these questions holds true, suggesting instead
that what is going on is a ''typological restructuring of inflection''
Lyle Campbell then looks at one of the main (and oldest) tools of
historical/comparative linguistics, the comparative method, in
''Beyond the comparative method'' (33-57). Campbell reviews three
recent proposals which attempt to go beyond the limits of the
comparative method, which, as Campbell readily admits, can only reach
so far back in time (see also Fox 1995: 7-14 on the limitations of
comparative reconstruction). Campbell argues that all three of these
proposals, namely (1) multilateral comparison (practiced most notably
by the late Joseph Greenberg, in Greenberg 1987, for example), (2)
Johanna Nichols' work, which relies largely on genetic units,
geographical areas, and typological classes (see, e.g. Nichols 1992),
and (3) the punctuated equilibrium model of R.M.W. Dixon (Dixon 1997),
''turn out to be flawed'' (51), and concludes that the traditional
comparative method cannot be replaced at this point.
Maria Jose Carvalho contributed the next paper, ''The transition from
early to modern Portuguese: An approach from historical
sociolinguistics'' (59-69). Carvalho's paper attempts to more
precisely define early and modern Portuguese. Accordingly, Carvalho
looks at four morphological variables in a corpus of documents from
the 13th to the early 16th centuries. On the basis of this
examination, Carvalho argues that Portuguese was ''already showing
signs of modernity'' (64) by the first quarter of the 15th century,
and suggests that the revolution of 1383-1385 would serve well as ''a
significant historical point indicating a real change from early to
modern Portuguese'' (64). However, Carvalho also notes that any such
division is inherently artificial.
C. Jac Conradie then looks at ''Isomorphism and language change''
(71-85). Conradie suggests that isomorphism is clearest in language
change, and supports this claim with evidence drawn from a comparative
study of Afrikaans verbal strings and the corresponding Dutch forms.
Conradie points out that certain syntactic restrictions, still found
in Dutch, are becoming looser in Afrikaans, which, he argues, leads to
increased isomorphism, even though it is complicating certain other
Alan Dench then examines a shift from purposive to present in his
paper ''From purposive/future to present. Shifting temporal
categories in the Pilbara languages of north west Western Australia''
(87-103). Dench argues that this shift most likely originated in a
''common tendency in Australian languages for dependent purpose
clauses to be used as independent clauses'' (100). When used in such
a way, these clauses tend to assume a number of typically modal
functions. Dench suggests that, in the cases he considers, the
''aspectual characteristics of purposives rather than ... their modal
characteristics'' are extended (100).
Bridget Drinka then discusses ''The formation of periphrastic perfects
and passives in Europe. An areal approach'' (105-128). In other work
on this topic (Drinka 2003), Drinka argues that the ''have perfect''
predominant in Indo-European was originally a Greek innovation, which
then spread to Latin, and thence to the other European languages.
Here Drinka suggests that the emergence of this perfect in Greek was
not an isolated development, but was rather part of a larger set of
developments in the Greek verbal system, triggered by ''a trend
towards more overt voice distinctions throughout the Greek verbal
paradigm'' (106).
Jan Terje Faarlund discusses ''The grammaticalization of movement.
Word order change in Nordic'' (129-142). Faarlund notes that, due to
the role of word order in discourse, changes in word order must always
be analyzed from both a formal and a functional point of view. He
therefore provides such an analysis of certain developments from Old
Norse to Modern Norwegian, and eventually concludes that ''certain
movement rules that were originally functionally conditioned have
become dependent on formal categories instead, and have thus been
grammaticalized'' (140).
Hannele Forsberg's contribution, ''Paths of development for modal
meanings. Evidence from the Finnic potential mood'' (143-161),
outlines the uses of the potential mood in the Finnic languages,
illustrating them with data drawn mainly from Standard Finnish and
various Finnish dialects. Forsberg then discusses the semantic
development of the potential mood, compares the scenario presented
here to that proposed in Bybee, Perkins, and Pagliuca (1994), and
offers some thoughts on the influence of literary languages and
written traditions on the development of modal categories.
Bernd Heine offers a paper ''On degrammaticalization'' (163-179). He
thoroughly reviews various uses of this term in the literature, and
then discusses what he sees as some problems with the concept itself
(as well as its use). He eventually concludes that ''this term is not
of much help for describing or understanding grammatical change,
except for referring to the epiphenomenal effect some of the processes
have in specific situations'' (175).
Patrick Honeybone examines ''Process inhibition in historical
phonology'' (181-203), noting that examining exceptions to
phonological processes can yield valuable insights into historical
phonology (as evidenced as far back as Karl Verner's incisive 1875
discussion of exceptions to Grimm's Law), and then proposes a novel
way to understand exceptions to sound change. Honeybone argues that
sharing autosegmental phonological elements can lead segments to
resist phonological processes.
In ''Reconsidering the canons of sound-change. Towards a 'Big Bang'
theory'' (205-219), Richard D. Janda and Brian D. Joseph argue that,
despite the long history of studying sound change, a number of issues
remain unresolved, e.g. how long a sound change remains active and the
conditioning factors which are relevant at the beginning of a change.
They then sketch a 'Big Bang' theory of sound change, which holds,
among other things, that sound change originates in a ''very 'small',
highly localized context over a relatively short temporal span'' (206)
and that sound change is purely phonetically conditioned at this point
of origin. They illustrate this theory by examing three case studies
from Romance and Germanic.
Eva Skafte Jensen's paper, ''Case in Middle Danish. A double content
system'' (221-236), argues that the case system of Middle Danish, as
spoken in the 14th and 15th centuries, was probably still active, but
in the process of being reinterpreted, leading to the loss of some
functions and characteristics, as well as to the development of
others. Skaft discusses issues such as the use of ''cohesive case,''
which she defines as a system concerning ''the use of grammatical
means in order to create cohesive text'' (225), possible links between
changes in the case system and other changes in Danish, and the role
of the change in stress patterns.
Ritsuko Kikusawa then discusses ''The development of some Indonesian
pronominal systems'' (237-269). Kikusawa begins by describing the
basic sentence structures of some Indonesian languages, and then
offers a comparison of Indonesian pronominal systems and forms. The
next section compares the Indonesian forms with the
Proto-Extra-Formosan system that they developed from. The final
section of the paper summarizes the arguments and suggests some topics
which require further investigation.
Harold Koch looks at ''Morphological reconstruction as an etymological
method'' (271-291). Koch argues that ''morphological reconstruction,
like lexical reconstruction, must go beyond the comparison of forms
that can be easily displayed in comparative tables which simply line
up exact translation equivalents'' (287), because morphological
formatives can undergo changes which leave cognate forms in different
functions in different languages. This claim is illustrated with
discussions of a shift in the Arandic pronominal system and a shift in
the Kaytetye verbal inflectional system.
In ''Labovian principles of vowel shifting revisited. The short vowel
shift in New Zealand English and Southern Chinese'' (293-301), Lau
Chun-fat argues that the different principles proposed to explain long
and short vowel shifts by William Labov (in Labov 1994, for instance),
can be reduced to a ''vowel convection'' rule applying to both long
and short vowels, which Chun-fat summarizes at ''all low vowels rise,
high vowels diphthongize, and the nuclei of diphthongs fall'' (295).
This claim is illustrated by an analysis of data from New Zealand
English and Southern Chinese.
Maria M. Manoliu then analyzes ''Conventional implicature and language
change. The cyclic evolution of the emphatic pronouns in Romanian''
(303-320). Manoliu suggests that there are two major points of
theoretical interest in the history of the Romanian emphatic pronouns,
namely (1) their evolution illustrates the role of homonymic clashes
in the loss of a morphemic paradigm and how new analytical expressions
can replace old forms, and (2) their history offers evidence for
semantic reconstruction based on synchronic variation.
In ''The rise of IPs in the history of English'' (321-337), Fuyo Osawa
argues that ''the development of infinitival clauses in English is due
to the emergence of the functional category INFL within the original
nominal structures'' (321). Issues discussed in this essay include
the emergence of gerunds in the history of English, syntactic evidence
for the non-existence of infinitival clauses in Old English, and
possible counterexamples to Osawa's claims.
Heli Pekkarinen offers a paper entitled ''From subject to object.
Case studies on Finnish'' (339-350). Pekkarinen notes that a
syntactic reanalysis has taken place in the history of Finnish, such
that a number of forms that were originally subjects are now objects
(e.g. forms that were once subjects of passive compounds tenses and
modal verbs of obligation). This change is well-known and has been
the subject of numerous analyses (in Harris and Campbell 1995, for
instance); Pekkarinen proposes a more straightforward analysis of this
development, which he links to a more general grammaticalization
process in Finnish involving impersonal compound forms.
Nick Riemer's ''Meaning change in verbs. The case of strike''
(351-362) is based on an examination of the history of
''Percussion/Impact'' verbs in English, like bang, strike, and thump.
Riemer argues that it could be useful to shift from studying the
denotation of words to studying regularity in metaphor, metonymy, and
various other mechanisms of semantic change.
Elke Ronneberger-Sibold looks at ''Borrowing as a tool for grammatical
optimization in the history of German brand names'' (363-376).
Ronneberger-Sibold focuses on ''luxury borrowings'' from English into
German, e.g., of words used in brand names. She further concludes
that the material she examined supports the idea that it is the target
system which controls linguistic borrowings in some respects.
Kim Schulte's ''Pragmatic relevance as cause for syntactic change.
The emergence of prepositional complementizers in Romance'' (377-389)
contends that the development of prepositional complementizers in
Romance is triggered by the co-occurrence of certain matrix verbs with
particular adjunct types. Schulte draws on data from Latin,
Portuguese, and Romanian in support of this claim, and also comments
on the role of pragmatics in syntactic change.
The next paper is ''Early Nordic language history and modern runology.
With particular reference to reduction and prefix loss'' (391-402), by
Michael Schulte. Schulte's paper is intended to illuminate the dating
of the loss of prefixes in Early Nordic and its chronological relation
to reduction, and is based on evidence drawn largely from early runic
inscriptions and Old Norse poetry. Schulte argues that the evidence
for prefixation in the runic inscriptions must be reexamined in light
of stress patterns, and ultimately, contra the handbooks, that prefix
loss occurred very early in North Germanic.
Gjertrud F. Stenbrenden's ''On the interpretation of early evidence
for ME vowel-change'' (403-415) takes up the written evidence for
various changes which affected long vowels in Middle English. The
Great Vowel Shift remains a controversial issue in English historical
linguistics: was it truly a unified, coherent event, as the
traditional view holds, or it is something constructed by linguists
with the benefit of hindsight? Stenbrenden argues in favor of the
latter view, based on a careful review of spellings in various
manuscripts. Her conclusions remain tentative, though. (She notes
that she is currently preparing a doctoral dissertation on changes in
long vowels in Middle English, which will presumably offer more
definite conclusions.)
The final paper in the volume is ''On the reflexes of Proto-Germanic
ai. The spellings ie, ei, and ey in Middle Dutch'' (417-430), by
Pieter van Reenen and Anke Jongkind. This paper looks at the reflexes
of Proto-Germanic ai in Middle Dutch, focusing on data extracted from
14th century charters. They carefully lay out the evidence and
conclude, among other things, that the spellings of such reflexes can
credibly be interpreted in phonetic terms.


Like all conference volumes, this is a mixed bag, but presumably most
historical linguists will find something of interest. A particularly
strong aspect of the book is the broad range of languages discussed,
especially in light of the overemphasis that is sometimes placed on
Indo-European in historical linguistics. The volume itself is the
usual fine quality that one expects from this publisher.
Typographical errors are few and generally self-correcting, the
printing and layout are clear, and the volume is well and sturdily
bound. A few of the papers could have used more careful editing by a
native speaker of English, however.


Bybee, Joan L., Revere D. Perkins, and William Pagliuca. 1994. The
evolution of grammar: Tense, aspect, and modality in the languages of
the world. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Dixon, R.M.W. 1997. The rise and fall of languages. Cambridge: CUP.

Drinka, Bridget. 2003. Areal factors in the development of the
European periphrastic perfect. Word 54: 1-38.

Fox, Anthony. 1995. Linguistic reconstruction. Oxford: OUP.

Greenberg, Joseph. 1987. Language in the Americas. Stanford:
Stanford University Press.

Harris, Alice C. and Lyle Campbell. 1995. Historical syntax in
cross-linguistic perspective. Cambridge: CUP.

Janda, Richard D. 2001. Beyond 'pathways' and 'unidirectionality':
On the discontinuity of language transmission and the counterability
of grammaticalization. Language Sciences 22: 265-340.

Labov, William. 1994. Principles of linguistic change. Oxford:

Nichols, Johanna. 1992. Linguistic diversity in time and space.
Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Norde, Muriel. 1997. The history of the genitive in Swedish: A case
study in degrammaticalization. Amsterdam: Facultiet der Letteren,
Universiteit van Amsterdam.

_____. 2001. Deflexion as a counterdirectional factor in grammatical
change. Language Sciences 23: 231-264.

Verner, Karl. 1875. Eine Ausnahme der ersten Lautverschiebung.
Zeitschrift fuer vergleichende Sprachforschung 23: 97-130.


Marc Pierce is a lecturer in German and Classics at the University of
Michigan. His research interests include historical linguistics,
phonology, and Germanic linguistics.
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