LINGUIST List 20.2374|
Fri Jul 03 2009
Review: Historical Linguistics: Sihler (2008)
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New Comparative Grammar of Greek and Latin
Message 1: New Comparative Grammar of Greek and Latin
From: Avi Weizmann <francisveismannyahoo.com>
Subject: New Comparative Grammar of Greek and Latin
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Announced at http://linguistlist.org/issues/19/19-3355.html
AUTHOR: Sihler, Andrew L.
TITLE: New Comparative Grammar of Greek and Latin
PUBLISHER: Oxford University Press .
A.Ch.F. Weizmann, Ph.D.
This book has a very attention-grabbing history and background. Within the
modern context of Historical Linguistics, Prof. Andrew L. Sihler, from Wisconsin
University, has written a new detailed and excellent Comparative Grammar of
Greek and Latin, 60 years after the publication of the almost classical and key
''Comparative grammar of Greek and Latin'' by Carl Darling Buck (1933).
Buck's Grammar is still important and useful, as Prof. Sihler rightly remarks,
and generations of people ( scholars, students, scientists, language-lovers or
''fans'', etc) have used and re-used Buck's insights, notwithstanding that today
an update is necessary.
I myself was devoted to Buck's excellent book, but doubtless a revision was
necessary and I think that Sihler has done an excellent effort of rekindling
following the new discoveries and research, in big or little details, concerning
The update by Sihler is not merely a revision but a new comparative grammar.
As Sihler himself recognizes, some parts of this grammar reproduce closely some
layouts of Buck's grammar: for example, the phonology. But the differences
between the two grammars are mainly in the scope and in the arrangement of the
Buck had an ''oracular'' and static feature without any interest to reconstruct
hypothetically or theoretically de novo Proto-Indo European. Sihler, on the
contrary, tries to reconstruct and to find out reasons from specified
reconstructions ( for example, about ablaut, laryngeals, etc.). In this sense,
Sihler affirms clearly that his own New Grammar is ''very different in scope and
aim'' (p.VIII) from Buck's Comparative Grammar.
Another important difference is the presentation of Proto Indo-European
Linguistics independent of the Greek and Latin Grammar and with more detail and
accuracy than Buck.
Andrew L. Sihler was a student and disciple of the late Warren Cogwilland and
certainly his teachings and influence are widely present in his ''New Grammar''.
Also Sihler himself recognizes the influence of other linguists, scholars and
academic institutions: Oswald Szemerenyi, the Graduate School Research Committee
of the University of Wisconsin, etc.
The Grammar is divided in six parts.
Part I: Introduction.
This part is about the Indo-European Family of Languages (Anatolian,
Indo-Iranian, Armenian, Albanian, Celtic, Germanic, Baltic and Slavic,
Tocharian, Satem and Centum Languages). Greek is presented in the central
moments of its historic linguistic evolution and in its dialectal forms. Latin
is studied in relation with the Italian Languages and in its historical outlook.
Sihler offers examples of the principal writers and works of each introduced
The Introduction finishes with the Latin and Greek Signaries (the
Phoenicean-based Alphabets, etc.) and some Notes on Citation and Transcription
(from Sanskrit, Avestan, Lithuanian, etc).
Part II: Phonology.
Sihler presents first of all a table of standard correspondences of vowels and
short diphthongs related to PIE (Proto Indo-European), Greek, Latin, Sanskrit,
Lithuanian and Old Church Slavic, Gothic and Old English. He studies separately
the long diphthongs, the syllabic liquids, nasals and laryngeals as well as the
consonants (and post-consonants). Sihler develops an updated classical outlook
of the main phonological items and offers useful tables (cf. p. 92, the table of
correspondences of syllabic liquids and nasals, cf. also p.102, etc.). The
Ablaut (Vowel Gradation) is carefully studied and many examples help to better
understand his exposition (cf, for example, pp.114-118, etc.). This part
finishes with a brief argument on the Accents.
Part III: Declension.
Sihler classifies the parts of speech (Lat.: Nomen, Verbum, Participium,
Pronomen, Praepositio, Adverbium, Coniuctio, Interiectio and its parallel Greek
and English correspondences).The exposition is enhanced with interesting and
mainly historical clarifications. The declension of nouns, adjectives, pronouns,
numerals, and the conjugation ends this important New Comparative Grammar with a
significant amount of fine points, details and essential subdivision of the
There are several Indexes: Greek, Latin, Avestan and Old Persian, Baltic,
Celtic, Gothic, Hittite, Mycenaean, Old Church Slavic, Old English, Old High
German and Old Saxon, Oscan, Sanskrit, Tocharian and Umbrian.
My personal evaluation of this important Grammar is encouraging for the
a) We could say that Andrew Sihler, Professor Emeritus of Linguistics from
Wisconsin University and author of relevant books and articles, has written a
new grammar of comparative Greek and Latin that now is a standard grammar and
also a handbook.
It is standard because it is not only a simple update of Buck's standard grammar
(in some aspects outdated) but furthermore a revision and truly a new grammar
within the classical expositions of historical linguistics and Indo-European
b) Sihler's book is a handbook because his methodological outlook is intended
for learning and the research, private or at the universities, institutes of
research ,etc. Obviously the reader must know Latin, Greek, PIE (sadly it lacks
an Index of the PIE words and roots) as well as historical and comparative
linguistics in general.
c) This new grammar by Prof. Sihler researches the most important topics of
comparative Greek and Latin grammar within the wider and original framework of
the Proto Indo-European Linguistics, a subject highly debated at present and, in
particular, not easy to synthesize. Concretely, updating the most modern and
recent research, Sihler studies with detail the laryngeals (in phonology and
morphology) and the Indo-European verb structure. It is not hard to agree with
Sihler that the study and investigation of PIE is central to comparing Greek and
Latin: the ''Ur-Form'' of both.
d) The historical background and the cultural-linguistica framework is
represented by non Classical sources: principally Sihler compares masterly (but
alas! without bibliographical references neither as footnote nor in the
concluding bibliography) several examples mostly from Vedic, Sanskrit, Hittite
and Germanic without neglecting some other few and essential suggestions from
Old Irish, Avestan, Baltic and Slavic.
Apparently it presupposes of the reader of this grammar (for example, certain
kinds of students) a solid and more than basic familiarity with comparative
linguistics, and from time to time this is more palpable owed to the lack of
bibliographic references. The debate in most paragraphs is highly technical, but
understandable for people with more than basic training in these linguistically
historical and cultural subjects.
In my own view the lack of bibliography and in addition the lack of subject
matter and author's indexes could be a problem for some readers. Maybe in the
next edition Oxford University press will put in such modest gears of research
Some concluding words about the Laryngeals (p. 165ff) that are, as Sihler
remarks, the latest addition to the PIE register thanks to the reconstruction
rightly completed by the great Linguist Ferdinand de Saussure that marked them
as ''coefficients sonantiques'' (''resonant coefficients''). Saussure also
designated with the same term the glides, liquids and nasals.
Sihler reminds us that we are dealing in this case, as well as in PIE
Linguistics and its reconstruction in general, with theories and they must be
accepted as such ,with an open mind to further improvement and research.
Buck, Carl D.. 1933., _Comparative Grammar of Greek and Latin_. Chicago:
University of Chicago press.
de Saussure, Ferdinand. 1878. _Mémoire sur le système primitif, des voyelles
dans les langues indo-européens_. Leipzig: Teubner.
Szemerényi, O. 1996. _Introduction to Indo-European Linguistics_. Oxford: Oxford
ABOUT THE REVIEWER
With a Ph D in Theology and MA in Law and in Philosophy, A.Ch.F. Weizmann was
Professor of Classics and other related subjects in different institutions. Now
handicapped and retired he spends his time reading and researching about
Linguistics (Semitics and also Classics), Philosophy and Science (particularly
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