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LINGUIST List 24.475

Sat Jan 26 2013

Review: Historical Ling.; Socioling.: Hernández-Campoy & Conde Silvestre (2012)

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

Date: 26-Jan-2013
From: Chiara Meluzzi <chiara.meluzziyahoo.it>
Subject: The Handbook of Historical Sociolinguistics
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Book announced at http://linguistlist.org/issues/23/23-2459.html

EDITORS: Hernández-Campoy, J.M.; Conde Silvestre, J.M.
TITLE: The Handbook of Historical Sociolinguistics
SERIES TITLE: Blackwell Handbooks in Linguistics
PUBLISHER: Wiley-Blackwell
YEAR: 2012

REVIEWER: Chiara Meluzzi, University of Pavia/Free University of Bozen

This new Blackwell Handbook is devoted to Historical Sociolinguistics, and
testifies to the maturity of this field in the thirty years since the
ground-breaking work of Romaine (1982). Despite the preponderance of studies
on English as object language in this field (p. 7), the Handbook collects the
contributions of scholars from 30 different universities, working on different
languages and data. The Handbook contains a preface by Teresa Fanego, a short
introduction by the two editors, Hernández-Campoy and Conde Silvestre, and
five sections with a total of 35 chapters. Each chapter has its own
references, and a final general index of both subjects and authors cited is

In their introduction, the editors state that the main aim is “to present an
up-to-date and in-depth exploration of the extent to which sociolinguistic
theoretical models, methods, findings, and expertise can be applied to the
process of reconstruction of the past of languages in order to account for
diachronic linguistic changes and developments” (p. 4). In this respect, each
section is devoted to different aspects of the discipline: part 1 (Origins and
Theoretical Assumptions) addresses the main concepts and theoretical goals of
the field, and provides a short history of the discipline since Romaine
(1982); part 2 (Methods for the Sociolinguistic Study of the History of
Languages) deals with the data used in historical sociolinguistics and
problems of data collection; part 3 (Linguistic and Socio-demographic
Variables) discusses the main levels of variation that could be analyzed,
providing both theoretical considerations and specific case-studies on
different linguistic data; part 4 (Historical Dialectology, Language Contact,
Change and Diffusion) discusses the key notions of language variation and
change, and language contact in the light of the findings in Historical
Sociolinguistics; finally, part 5 (Attitudes to Language) problematizes the
use of common labels such as “prestige” and “standard variety”, by dealing
with present and past ideologies that, directly or indirectly, inform
linguistic research.

Part 1 (Origins and Theoretical Assumptions) consists of three chapters. Jean
Aitchison (Diachrony vs Synchrony: the Complementary Evolution of Two
(Ir)reconcilable Dimensions) explores the opposition between synchrony and
diachrony, trying to find a conciliatory position between the two poles, as
for instance within in work within Grammaticalization). The second chapter by
Terttu Nevalainen and Helena Raumolin-Brunberg (Historical Sociolinguistics:
Origins, Motivations, and Paradigms) is a dense and precise summary of the
main theoretical and methodological assumptions of Historical
Sociolinguistics, with the purpose of “establishing the field” (p. 22).
Firstly, the authors briefly discuss the label “historical sociolinguistics”
itself, and the goals of the discipline. The field is multidisciplinary in
nature and could be seen as the intersection between various fields of
research, even if it maintains a primary link with sociolinguistics. They then
analyze the problem of data collection in historical sociolinguistics: in
dealing with written data, the researcher must always consider the context of
documents, as well as the mechanisms that underlie the productions of texts in
a specific place and age (e.g. the print process, the written materials
available, the writing and reading practices of the time). In this respect,
historical sociolinguistics is linked with philology, along with dialectology
and variationist sociolinguistics. The role of context, and in particular of
social context, is also emphasized in McColl Millar’s contribution (Social
History and the Sociology of Language), in which the author provides numerous
examples of studies both on English and non-English data to stress the
importance of the link between linguistic and socio-historical features.

Part 2 (Methods for the Sociolinguistic Study of the History of Languages) is
composed of 8 chapters. Juan M. Hernández-Campoy and Natalie Schilling-Estes’
contribution (The Application of the Quantitative Paradigm to Historical
Sociolinguistics: Problems with the Generalizability Principle) deals with the
“bad data problem” in historical linguistics. This problem was clearly
explained by Labov (1972: 98), who states that “the great art of the
historical linguists is to make the best of this bad data, ‘bad’ in the sense
that it may be fragmentary, corrupted or many times removed from the actual
productions of native speakers”. The “bad data problem” is a central theme in
historical sociolinguistics research, even if Hernández-Campoy and
Schilling-Estes point out how “developments in information technology and
sociohistorical study” (p. 74) could help improve empirical validity and
accuracy of research. Alexander Bergs (The Uniformitarian Principle and the
Risk of Anachronisms in Language and Social History) explores the usefulness
of the Uniformitarian Principle (UP) for (socio)historical linguistic
research: namely, the UP states that “the processes which we observe in the
present can help us to gain knowledge about processes in the past” (p. 80).
The UP could also be expressed in a more probabilistic way in the so-called
Uniform Probabilities Principle (see Lass 1997), which expressed “the
likelihood of any linguistic state of affairs has always been roughly the same
as it is now” (p. 82). Bergs discusses anachronism, always a possible source
of trouble in (socio)historical linguistics, even if it has not been
extensively discussed yet (p. 83). For instance, the conceptualization of
“social class” varies through time, thus it will be awkward to apply a modern
definition of this category to ancient data without detailed account (p. 83).
The data problem and use of linguistic corpora are also at the core of Pascual
Cantos’s chapter (The Use of Linguistic Corpora for the Study of Linguistic
Variation and Change: Types and Computational Applications), in which the
author deals with the annotation and tagging problems in preparing a corpus up
to diachronic investigations. Practical examples of research in this field are
provided in the remaining chapters of the section. Nila Vázquez and Teresa
Marqués-Aguado (Editing the Medieval Manuscript in its Social Context) study
Middle English manuscripts, especially at a phono-morphological level; Laura
Esteban-Segura (Medical, Official, and Monastic Documents in Sociolinguistic
Research) analyses the use of English, Latin, and French in medieval
documents; Stephan Elspass (The Use of Private Letters and Diaries in
Sociolinguistic Investigation) moves outside the official documents, by
considering the “ego-documents” and the related problem of authorship (see
also Oesterreicher 1997); K. Anipa (The Use of Literary Sources in Historical
Sociolinguistic Research) offers a detailed review of the state of the art on
sociolinguistic research using literary texts, and presents a case study on
Shakespearian language and spelling problems; finally, Carol Percy (Early
Advertising and Newspapers as Sources of Sociolinguistic Investigation)
illustrates the materials and corpora already available for both synchronic
and diachronic studies on language of newspapers and advertisements.

Part 3 (Linguistic and Sociodemographic Variables) consists of 8 chapters,
each taking into account one different linguistic or social variable.
“Orthographic Variables” are the topic and title of Hanna Rutkowska and Paul
Rössler’s chapter, which represents a starting point for research considering
orthography as an independent variable, whereas previous literature has
considered it only as index of the degree of accuracy of a text. Anna Hebda’s
contribution (Phonological Variables) considers phonological variation in both
the English and Arabic of Jordanian women. Anita Auer and Anja Voeste
(Grammatical Variables) consider the classification of variables in linguistic
research and how this could be specifically applied in historical
sociolinguistic analysis; the authors also propose an apparent-time approach
to circumvent the problem of lack of data in historical studies, as has
already been done for English and French (e.g. Bailey 1989). Joachim Grzega
(Lexical-Semantic Variables) explores the complex theme of lexical change and
borrowing, by referring in particular to his own CoSMOS model (Grzega 2007),
together with the main work on lexical borrowing (e.g. Haugen 1950, Weinreich
1953). Andreas H. Jucker and Irma Taavitsainen (Pragmatic Variables) explore
the role of pragmatics, and how to detect pragmatic variables in historical
linguistic studies, especially in the analysis of personal pronouns,
insertions, and utterances in different languages. The remaining chapters of
this section explore different social variables. Agnieska Kiełkiewicz-Janowiak
(Class, Age and Gender-based Patterns) discusses the representativeness of
social variables in the corpora usually used for historical sociolinguistic
analysis, emphasizing how these corpora are often “stylistically unbalanced,
with informal styles under-represented” (p. 309). Juan Camilo Conde-Silvestre
(The Role of Social Networks and Mobility in Diachronic Sociolinguistics)
proposes examples of application of networks analysis in historical
sociolinguistic researches, by referring to the division between “ego-centric”
and “socio-centric” networks introduced by Barnes (1972). Finally, Rajend
Mesthrie (Race, Ethnicity, Religion, and Castes) considers the use of labels
like “race” and “ethnicity” in past and present research.

The fourth part (Historical Dialectology, Language Contact, Change and
Diffusion) is the longest, with 11 chapters devoted both to theoretical and
practical issues emerging from the intersection between historical
sociolinguistics and studies on language variation and change. Paul T.
Roberge’s chapter (The Teleology of Change: Functional and Non-Functional
Explanations for Language Variation and Change) is almost theoretical in
nature, and tries to define a theoretical frameworks that fits for historical
sociolinguistics. Raymond Hickey’s contribution (Internally- and Externally-
Motivated Language Change) also discusses the theory of language change,
together with some examples where a mixture of internal and external
motivations leads to language change. Brian D. Joseph (Lexical Diffusion and
the Regular Transmission of Language) explores the concepts of “diffusion”,
“transmission” and “language change”, by emphasizing how the first two are
“crucial notions in historical linguistic investigations: transmission and
diffusion together, in a sense, give the historical dimension to language” (p.
421): indeed, one of the main goals of the historical sociolinguistic paradigm
is to understand the different mechanisms of language change. Different models
of “lexical diffusion” are then analyzed by Mieko Ogura (The Timing of
Language Change), who also offers many examples almost exclusively in English.
A similar theme is also analyzed by David Britain (Innovation Diffusion in
Sociohistorical Linguistics), who refers back to the Milroyian difference
between “diffusion” and “change” (Milroy & Milroy 1982). Anneli
Meurman-Solin’s contribution (Historical Dialectology: Space as a Variable in
the Reconstruction of Regional Dialects) moves back to the problem of
variables, by dealing with the complex notion of “space” in sociolinguistic
and dialectological research: the author refers to Britain (2002) division of
“space” into the three dimensions of Euclidean (i.e. objective), social and
perceived space, and she also states that “the validity of the variable
‘space’ can be usefully assessed by relating it to other variables” (p. 469).
Space variable is also the topic of Roland Kehrein’s chapter (Linguistic
Atlases: Empirical Evidence for Dialect Change), which traces the history of
dialectology and language atlases, and introduces the Digitaler Wenker-Atlas
(DiWA) framework. The relation between the variables “place” and “time” is
explored by Matthew Toulmin (Historical Sociolinguistic Reconstruction Beyond
Europe: Case Studies from South Asia and Fiji), who provides two practical
examples of reconstruction of phylogenetic relations of dialects and languages
from South Asia and Fiji by using the Comparative Method (CM). Moving back to
English, the chapters by Herbert Schendl (Multilingualism, Code-Switching, and
Language Contact in Historical Sociolinguistics) and Daniel Schreier (The
Impact of Migratory Movements on Linguistic Systems: Transplanted Speech
Communities and Varieties from a Historical Sociolinguistic Perspective)
analyze the emergence of Middle English and of New Zealand English
respectively. The final chapter of the section by Roger Wright (Convergence
and Divergence in World Languages) examines the notions of “divergence”,
“fragmentation” and “convergence”, applying them to the situation in the
Latin-speaking area and to subsequent emergence of Romance varieties; the
author then surveys the possible development lines of modern “diffused”
languages, namely Spanish, Portuguese, French, and English.

The fifth and final part (Attitudes to Languages) presents five remarkable
contributions. James Milroy (Sociolinguistics and Ideologies in Language
History) considers the problematic notion of “prestige”, and how it has
influenced the conceptualization of language change triggered only internally
by traditional historical linguistics (p. 573). He also remarks on how the
notion of “standard variety” itself is an ideological concept, since the
standard variety of a language is often assumed to be the most prestigious.
Richard J. Watts (Language Myths) also moves from similar considerations, and
he discusses the so-called “myths” of “linguistic homogeneity” and “pure
language”. “Pure language” is then the main topic of Nils Langer and Agnete
Nesse’s contribution (Linguistic Purism): the authors refer to van der Sijs
(1999), pointing out how “linguistic purism only occurs in standardized
languages or in languages in the process of standardization”, since standard
language is “not just a vehicle for supraregional communication but also a
social norm” (p. 612). Anni Sairio and Minna Palander-Collins’s chapter (The
Reconstruction of Prestige Patterns in Language History) also relate to the
notion of standard, and more specifically of prestige, by referring to the
“ecology of language” paradigm (see Haugen 1972). Finally, the last
contribution by Catharina Peersman (Written Vernaculars in Medieval and
Renaissance Times) is a summary of the theoretical and methodological problems
discussed in the Handbook, applied to the practical case of medieval
manuscripts and corpora available for the analysis of early romance languages.

The Handbook of Historical Sociolinguistics represents a huge effort to bring
order to the theoretical and methodological foundations of this new
discipline, but at the same time it prepares the field for further systematic
research. The large set of contributions has been well organized by the
editors, who offer a systematic survey of theory, method, and still open
problems together with practical examples of work carried out in the paradigm.
At the core of past, present and future research there is still the so-called
“bad data problem”, a central theme for scholars working in historical
sociolinguistics. The “bad data problem” directly refers to the level of
philological awareness of the researcher working on historical written texts.
However, the role of philology and its possible contribution to this field are
not always emphasized by contributors, and that could be a potential source of
trouble, especially for scholars coming from (modern) sociolinguistics and
approaching the analysis of historical data. Also related to the problem of
data collection is the role of corpora in historical (socio)linguistic
analysis: as the contributions in this handbook show, English remains the most
studied language within historical sociolinguistics, in part because of the
large amount of corpora already available for the study of this language and
its varieties. One of the main objectives for future scholars in this and
other related fields of research must be the creation of new corpora of
written texts of different languages from different periods, and also to
expand the preexisting ones for historical sociolinguistics research.

In conclusion, the Handbook of Historical Sociolinguistics represents an
important contribution to linguistic research, providing tools and models of
explanation, together with case studies to exemplify work in the field. This
handbook, then, helps clarify the main theoretical and methodological aims of
the discipline, as well as possible connections with different linguistic
fields (e.g. corpus linguistics). In this respect, the Handbook represents
both an excellent summary of the state of the art in historical
sociolinguistics and a good starting point for further research.

Bailey. Guy. 1989. Sociolinguistic Constraints on Language Change and the
Evolution of ‘Are’ in Early Modern English. In J.B. Trahern, Jr. (ed.).
Standardizing English. Essays in the History of Language Change. In Honour of
John Hurt Fisher. Knoxville: University of Tennessee Press. 158-71.

Barnes. John. A. 1972. Social Networks. Module in Anthropology 26. 1-29.

Britain. David. 2002. Space and Spatial Diffusion. In J.K. Chambers, P.
Trudgill & N. Schilling-Estes (eds.). The Handbook of Language Variation and
Change. Oxford: Blackwell. 603-37.

Grzega. Joachim. 2007. Summary, Supplement and Index for J. Grzega (2004).
Onomasiology Online 8. 18-196. www.onomasiology.de.

Haugen. Einar. 1950. The Analysis of Linguistic Borrowing. Language 26.

Haugen. Einar. 1972. The Ecology of Language. Stanford: Stanford University

Labov, William. 1972. Sociolinguistic Patterns. Philadelphia: University of
Pennsylvania Press.

Labov, William. 1994. Principles of Linguistic Change. Vol. 1. Internal
Factors. Oxford: Blackwell.

Lass, Roger. 1997. On Explaining Language Change. Cambridge: Cambridge
University Press.

Milroy, James & Milroy, Lesley. 1985. Linguistic Change, Social Network and
Speaker Innovation. Journal of Linguistics 21. 339-84.

Nevalainen, Terttu. & Raumolin-Brunberg, Helena. 2003. Historical
Sociolinguistics. Language Change in Tudor and Stuart England, London:
Longman/Pearson Education.

Oesterreicher, Wulf. 1997. Types of Orality in Text. In E. Bakker & A. Kahane
(eds.). Written Voices, Spoken Signs, Cambridge: Harvard University Press,

Romaine, Suzanne. 1982. Socio-historical Linguistics: its Status and
Methodology. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Saussure, Ferdinand de. 1916. Cours de Linguistique Générale. Paris. Payot &

Sijs. Nicoline. van der. 1999. Taaltrots. Amsterdam: Uitgeverij Contact.

Weinreich. Uriel. 1953. Languages in Contact: Findings and Problems. The
Hague: Mouton.

Chiara Meluzzi is a PhD student in Linguistics at University of Pavia and Free
University of Bozen (Italy). After an MA dissertation on the sociolinguistics
of Ancient Greek comedy (University of Eastern Piedmont-Vercelli), her PhD
thesis provides a sociophonetic analysis of the Italian variety spoken in
Bozen (South Tyrol, Italy). Her main research interests include
sociolinguistics, sociophonetics, language variation and change, as well as
historical linguistics and pragmatics.
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