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LINGUIST List 24.3297

Sun Aug 18 2013

Review: Historical Linguistics: Campbell (2013)

Editor for this issue: Joseph Salmons <jsalmonslinguistlist.org>

Date: 07-Jul-2013
From: Stefan Hartmann <hartmastuni-mainz.de>
Subject: Historical Linguistics
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Book announced at http://linguistlist.org/issues/24/24-1217.html

AUTHOR: Lyle Campbell
TITLE: Historical Linguistics
SUBTITLE: An Introduction, third edition
YEAR: 2013

REVIEWER: Stefan Hartmann, Johannes Gutenberg-Universität Mainz

AUTHOR: Campbell, Lyle
TITLE: Historical Linguistics
SUBTITLE: An Introduction, third edition
YEAR: 2013

Stefan Hartmann, German Department (Deutsches Institut), University of Mainz

The third edition of Lyle Campbell’s textbook on historical linguistics gives
an overview of a broad range of topics historical linguists are concerned
with. In seventeen chapters, Campbell introduces key notions and methods of
historical linguistics and demonstrates their application with numerous
examples and exercises.

In the introduction (Chapter 1), Campbell clearly defines the scope of
historical-linguistic inquiry and gives some examples of language change from
the history of English. Chapter 2 is dedicated to sound change. He emphasizes
the Neogrammarian hypothesis that sound changes suffer no exceptions and
demonstrates its importance for reconstructing proto-languages on the basis of
the comparative method. It is shown that apparent counterexamples to the
Neogrammarian hypothesis can be interpreted as regular sound changes as well.
Furthermore, Campbell offers a detailed typology of sound changes. He shows
how a relative chronology of sound changes can be obtained and how several
sound changes can be seen as interrelated (e.g. in Grimm’s law: *b > p filling
the gap left behind by *p > f in a pull-chain scenario).

Chapter 3 deals with borrowing not only of lexical items, but of all kinds of
linguistic material, between languages. Campbell discusses motivations for
borrowing words from other languages (e.g., the need to name new concepts and
prestige), how words are borrowed, how they are integrated into the target
language, and how to determine the direction of borrowing. He shows how
loanwords can contribute to reconstructing change as well as to understanding
the relative chronology of changes in a language.

In chapter 4, analogical change is discussed. Campbell distinguishes
analogical levelling, which reduces the number of allomorphs a form has (e.g.
English old/elder/eldest > old/older/oldest), from analogical extension, which
extends an existing alternation of a pattern to new cases (e.g. English
dive/dived > dive/dove, in analogy with strong verbs such as drive/drove).

Chapter 5 introduces one of the central techniques of historical linguistics,
the comparative method, showing how a proto-language can be reconstructed from
a family of genetically related languages. Campbell offers step-by-step
instruction on how the comparative method can be applied in practice and
analyses a case study from the Finno-Ugric family.

Chapter 6 deals with linguistic classification, i.e. grouping languages into
language families and determining which languages within one language family
are more closely related to each other. The notion of language isolates is
introduced and distinguished from language families with only one surviving
member. Campbell shows how knowledge about the history of language isolates
can be obtained in the absence of related languages by means of, among other
ways, internal reconstruction, philological studies, and considering evidence
from loanwords and toponyms. Then he discusses several examples of
subgrouping, i.e. the internal classification of language families.

Chapter 7 is dedicated to models of linguistic change. Addressing the
well-known debate between proponents of the “family-tree model” and the “wave
theory”, he aims to show that these can be reconciled. While the family-tree
model assumes a single proto-language that splits up into daughter languages
through continued linguistic change, the “wave theory” assumes that linguistic
changes spread outward concentrically, becoming weaker with the distance from
their central point. While the former approach is guided by the Neogrammarian
hypothesis that sound laws suffer no exceptions, the latter contests this by
postulating that each word has its own history. Reviewing evidence from
dialectology and sociolinguistics, and what has been discussed under the label
of ‘lexical diffusion’, he arrives at the conclusion that “sound change is
regular within its own system, though dialect borrowing and various influences
from outside the system can result in changes which are less like regular
exceptionless sound change.” (p. 197) Therefore, he argues that both
hypotheses complement each other and are needed to explain sound change.

Chapter 8 introduces another key method of historical linguistics, namely
internal reconstruction, i.e. the reconstruction of a so-called pre-language
(as opposed to the proto-language obtained from the comparative method)
exclusively from evidence within one single language. Again, step-by-step
instruction is offered and illustrated with examples from different languages,
e.g. Tojolabal (Mayan), Nahuatl (Uto-Aztecan), and Classical Greek.
Importantly, the limitations of internal reconstruction are also pointed out
by applying the method to languages such as English and German, for which
evidence obtained by means of the comparative method is available.

Chapters 9 through 11 deal with semantic and lexical, morphological, and
syntactic change, respectively. Chapter 9 offers an extensive typology of
semantic and lexical changes and discusses attempts to explain semantic change
with regard to cognitive and sociocultural considerations. Chapter 10
discusses numerous cases of morphological change as well as explanatory
approaches and the question of how morphology can be reconstructed with the
help of the comparative method. In Chapter 11, reanalysis, extension, and
syntactic borrowing are discussed as mechanisms of syntactic change. In this
connection, generative approaches and grammaticalization theory are discussed.
Campbell shows that many cases of syntactic change cast doubt on the
generative assumption that language acquisition can be considered the primary
locus of language change. Concerning grammaticalization, he questions its
independent status as a mechanism of change in its own right. Chapter 11
concludes with a discussion of syntactic reconstruction.

Chapter 12 is concerned with language contact and areal linguistics. The main
tenets and methods of areal linguistics are introduced and the notions of
pidgins, creoles, and mixed languages are discussed with regard to language
change. The last subchapter is dedicated to language extinction. Campbell
lists the structural changes that endangered languages tend to undergo and
points out the importance of studying these languages: “To understand fully
what is possible in human languages, we need reliable descriptions of
languages representing the full range of independent language families” (p.

A variety of attempts to explain language change are introduced in Chapter 13,
starting with “the ones we can safely eliminate from any theory of linguistic
change” (p. 323), e.g. climatic or geographical determinism and racial or
anatomic determinism. Furthermore, he rejects the view that societal structure
determines linguistic change, leading to a correlation between society type
and the complexity of a language. Distinguishing between internal and external
causes, Campbell mentions physical and psychological factors such as the
limitations of human muscle control or constraints on perception, processing
and learning as possible internal causes, while external factors include
social evaluation, literacy, language planning, and language contact. With
examples from different languages, he shows how various causal factors can

Chapter 14 on “Distant Genetic Relationship” also offers an overview of how
words can be falsely identified as cognates in lexical comparison. For
example, onomatopoeic words and nursery forms (such as ‘mama’, ‘papa’) tend to
be similar across languages. Moreover, words identified as cognates can turn
out to be borrowed forms, and in some cases, their similarity may be due to
chance. Campbell argues that many hypotheses proposing distant genetic
relationships between languages do not hold up to methodological scrutiny. The
Altaic hypothesis, for example, which would group Turkic, Mongolian, and
Tungusic, rests on shared features frequently occurring in unrelated

The role of written records is treated in Chapter 15. After a brief survey of
different writing systems and their origins, Campbell demonstrates how
different kinds of linguistic change can be reconstructed from philological
investigations and how phonetic information can be derived from written
records by considering, among others, rhymes, spelling variants, and the
integration of material from foreign languages.

Chapter 16 deals with the study of linguistic prehistory, also known as
linguistic palaeontology. With the example of Proto-Indo-European, Campbell
shows how aspects of its cultural inventory can be reconstructed from its
reconstructed vocabulary and how these insights can be linked up with
archaeological findings to obtain clues as to the geographical location of the
speakers of the proto-language (their “homeland”).

The last chapter deals with quantitative approaches to historical linguistics.
The method of glottochronology as well as other, more recent approaches such
as probability models and network models are introduced. However, Campbell
remains sceptical of the majority of these methods, especially given that most
of them rely on lexical data only.

This is the third edition of Lyle Campbell’s well-established textbook, and it
retains the virtues of the previous editions: The main tenets and key methods
of historical linguistics are accurately explained and illustrated with a vast
amount of examples from a broad range of languages. In line with his goal to
give a hands-on introduction to the discipline that focuses on “how to do
historical linguistics” (p. xv), almost every chapter is rounded off with a
number of exercises.

Compared to the first and second editions, the third edition has been
thoroughly revised and extended. New chapters on morphological change and on
quantitative approaches in historical linguistics have been added, and the
chapter on areal linguistics has been integrated into a chapter on language
contact, which also considers the role of pidgins and creoles, mixed
languages, and endangered languages for the study of linguistic change.

Importantly, Campbell succeeds in his attempt “to present a reasonably
unbiased account of opposing opinions” (p. xvi). Most notably, he presents a
fairly comprehensive and balanced account of grammaticalization theory, which
he has severely criticized in earlier publications (e.g. Campbell 2001).

Given Campbell’s inclination towards fine-grained typologies and lists of
examples running many pages, his introduction is not necessarily an easy read,
but it is a very rewarding one. Although the book is written in a style that
is overall very clear and accessible, it requires a solid background in
general linguistics and is therefore hardly recommended as a first encounter
with historical linguistics, let alone with linguistics in general. For
advanced readers, however, it lives up to its reputation as one of the best
and most comprehensive textbooks on historical linguistics.

Campbell, Lyle (2001): What’s wrong with Grammaticalization? In: Language
Sciences 23, 113-161.

Stefan Hartmann is a PhD student in historical linguistics at the University
of Mainz, Germany. He is currently conducting a corpus-based study on
diachronic changes in German nominalization patterns. Apart from historical
and corpus linguistics, his research interests include Cognitive Linguistics,
construction grammar, sociolinguistics, and psycholinguistics.
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