Language Evolution: The Windows Approach addresses the question: "How can we unravel the evolution of language, given that there is no direct evidence about it?"
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EDITORS: van Kemenade, Ans and Bettelou Los TITLE: The Handbook of the History of English SERIES: Blackwell Handbooks in Linguistics PUBLISHER: Blackwell YEAR: 2006
Marc Pierce, University of Michigan
The book reviewed here is another entry in the _Blackwell Handbooks in Linguistics_ series, and in many ways is a companion volume to Aarts and McMahon (2006), reviewed by Andrew McIntyre in Linguist 18.362, as it presents the diachronic counterpoint to the largely synchronically-oriented articles collected there. This book contains 23 chapters divided into 6 sections, an introduction by the editors, notes on the contributors, an appendix, and an index. In some respects it is not a traditional handbook (as the editors observe in the preface); it does not begin by describing the Indo-European and Germanic roots of English, then progress chronologically through the various stages of English before concluding with a discussion of present-day English (along the lines of works like Fennell 2001). Instead, it is intended to provide 'shortcuts to current thinking for readers who want to become familiar with subjects that are outside their own areas of interest' and to give 'a ''state of the art'' overview of current research' (vii).
The first section of the book, 'Approaches and Issues', contains four papers concentrating on (relatively) new approaches to language change. The first article, 'Change for the Better? Optimality Theory versus History' (3-23), by April McMahon, critically assesses the use of Optimality Theory (OT) in the analysis of sound change, with a focus on OT analyses of the Great Vowel Shift. (See McMahon 2000, among other works, for earlier discussions along similar lines.) McMahon concentrates on two major issues: developments in OT approaches to sound change and what she sees as 'some of the areas of inclarity in the current formulation of OT' and their 'relevance and concern for analyses of change' (4). David Lightfoot discusses 'Cuing a New Grammar' (24-44). Lightfoot briefly reviews E-language approaches to language change, contrasts them with I-language approaches, and then looks at the emergence of new grammars, grounding his arguments on studies of development of auxiliary verbs in English and the syntactic effects of case loss in English. The next paper, 'Variation and the Interpretation of Change in Periphrastic do' (45-67), is by Anthony Warner, and has two main intentions: to demonstrate 'how an understanding of variation can contribute to our understanding of earlier grammars and of linguistic change' (45), and to clarify some issues regarding the sociolinguistics of dead languages. These issues are then discussed as they pertain to the history of auxiliaries in English, especially the emergence and development of the 'periphrastic do' construction. The section concludes with a chapter titled 'Evolutionary Models and Functional-Typological Theories of Language Change' (68-91), by William Croft (see also Croft 2000), which outlines 'an evolutionary framework for analyzing language change ... that integrates functional-typological and variationist sociolinguistic approaches to historical linguistics' (68). Issues discussed in this chapter include the definition of 'functionalism' and the role of convention in functional-typological approaches to language change.
The second section, 'Words: Derivation and Prosody,' contains four papers. Donka Minkova discusses 'Old and Middle English Prosody' (95-124), first outlining the facts of main stress assignment in Old English and presenting an OT analysis of them, then treating Old English secondary stress in a similar matter before turning to Middle English. Minkova also examines the evidence for 'the Romance Stress Rule' (RSR) in Middle English (Halle and Keyser 1971), and argues that 'dating the RSR to Middle English is premature' (116), since its effects can generally be modeled without special constraints. The next paper is titled 'Prosodic Preferences: From Old English to Early Modern English' (125-150), and is by Paula Fikkert, B. Elan Dresher, and Aditi Lahiri. (In one of the few substantial typos found in the book, Dresher's name is consistently given as 'Elan B. Dresher' in this chapter.) This chapter focuses on prosodic change, including changes from West Germanic to Old English (e.g. Sievers' Law and High Vowel Deletion), changes from Old English to Middle English (e.g. the elimination of quantity distinctions in nominal paradigms), and changes from Middle English to Early Modern English (specifically changes in stress patterns; like Minkova in the preceding chapter, they argue that these changes occurred later than Halle and Keyser 1971 claim). The scene then shifts to morphology for Dieter Kastovsky's contribution, 'Typological Changes in Derivational Morphology' (151-176). The paper begins with some preliminary commentary on issues like word formation and morphological typology, before sketching the Modern English situation and its development. The final paper in this section is 'Competition in English Word Formation' (177-198), by Laurie Bauer, which focuses on the emergence of word formation patterns in the history of English, with special attention paid to competing patterns (e.g. -ster vs. -ess as a feminine gender marker, as in 'spinster' vs. 'seamstress').
The next section, 'Inflectional Morphology and Syntax', opens with Cynthia L. Allen's 'Case Syncretism and Word Order Change' (201-223). Allen addresses the traditional argument that case loss in the history of English resulted in fixed word order, and ultimately proposes that fixed word order in English is not solely the result of case loss, but that pragmatic considerations also played a role. This claim is supported by case studies of ditransitive verbs and the genitive case. Next, Ans van Kemenade and Bettelou Los discuss 'Discourse Adjectives and Clausal Syntax in Old and Middle English' (224-248), focusing on þat and þonne, two words meaning 'then'. They contend that these adverbs can 'reveal a good deal about the changing organization of clause structure and discourse during the Old English period and the transition to Middle English' (224), and therefore discuss the use of these adverbs in various syntactic contexts. They conclude that clauses in Old English are significantly more closely connected to discourse patterns than has generally been thought and that in Middle English this connection has been somewhat abandoned in favor of a 'more strictly syntactic organization of the clause' (224). Susan Pintzuk and Ann Taylor then address one of the classic questions of historical English syntax, the change from Object-Verb (OV) order in Old English to Verb-Object (VO) order in Modern English, in 'The Loss of OV Order in the History of English' (249-278). Pintzuk and Taylor argue that the loss of OV order was not a sudden change during the Middle English period, but instead link it to various long-term changes from the Old English period onwards, especially developments in the postposing and preposing of objects. The final paper in this section is 'Category Change and Gradience in the Determiner System' (279-304), by David Denison, which examines the determiner/adjective distinction. Denison contends that the line dividing determiners from adjectives is substantially fuzzier than has generally been assumed. He also suggests that one can argue against the existence of a separate category Determiner in Old English, since determiners can possibly be lumped together with pronouns. By the end of the Middle English period, though, this claim can no longer be supported.
The fourth section, 'Pragmatics', begins with 'Pathways in the Development of Pragmatic Markers in English' (307-334), by Laurel Brinton, which concentrates on 'a number of syntactic clines, or pathways, of grammaticalization that arise, either explicitly or implicitly, in the study of individual discourse markers' (309). Brinton argues that 'there exist at least three distinct syntactic trajectories for pragmatic markers' (328), namely adverb/preposition > conjunction > pragmatic marker, predicate adverb > sentence adverb > pragmatic marker, and matrix clause > matrix clause/parenthetical disjunct > pragmatic marker (other possible sources and clines, e.g. imperatives and relative clauses, are discussed in somewhat less detail), and explicates these clines in terms of the development of forms like 'so'/'now', 'only', and 'I think', respectively. Elizabeth Closs Traugott then discusses a group of adverbials like 'very', 'purely', and 'rather', apparently first investigated in detail by Stoffel (1901), in 'The Semantic Development of Scalar Focus Modifiers' (335-359). Traugott first examines the distinctions between various types of adverbials (e.g. degree modifiers like 'so' vs. focus modifiers like 'also') and then offers some general remarks on their historical development before offering more detailed sketches of the history of two English scalar focus modifiers, 'even' and 'barely'. The chapter concludes with an outline of some issues that require further research. The last chapter in this section is 'Information Structure and Word Order Change: The Passive as an Information-rearranging Strategy in the History of English' (360-391), by Elena Seoane. Seoane contends that changes in word order can be traced to a combination of syntactic and pragmatic factors, and supports this proposal with an investigation of the diachronic development of English passive constructions. Seoane first debunks claims that word order change is purely syntactically motivated and then reviews some pragmatic considerations relevant to English word order, and then turns to the passive, which she views as 'an argument-reversing strategy' (370), as it backgrounds the subject and foregrounds the object.
The next section is on 'Pre- and Post-colonial Varieties' and contains five papers, beginning with 'Old English Dialectology' (395-416) by Richard Hogg. Hogg first provides a brief historiographical overview of Old English dialectology and then discusses four case studies -- West Saxon (viewed by some earlier scholars, e.g. Sweet 1885, as a form of 'Standard Old English'; Hogg rejects this view), Mercian, Northumbrian, and Kentish -- in order to 'consider the status of recent and current work in Old English dialectology' (399). Syntactic features like negative contraction, as well as dialect vocabulary, are also discussed. This chapter is followed by 'Early Middle English Dialectology: Problems and Prospects' (417-451), by Margaret Laing and Roger Lass. This chapter, much of which is based on Laing and Lass (in preparation), begins with a discussion of the goals of historical dialectology, followed by a review of the sources of evidence for Early Middle English dialectology (local documents, glosses, etc.). The methodology used in Laing and Lass (in preparation) is then explicated, along with various questions involving interpretation of the data, the corpus, and prospects for future research. In a chapter based on an ongoing long-term research project (the source of works like Poplack and Tagliamonte 2001, among others), Shana Poplack then discusses 'How English became African American English' (452-476). The origins of African American English remain controversial: is it a dialect of English or 'descended from a relexified West African language or a prior creole' (452)? After utilizing methods from traditional historical linguistics and variationist sociolinguistics to reconstruct an earlier stage of African American English, Poplack 'situate[s] this [reconstructed] stage with respect to Colonial (and on occasion, Middle) English, English-based Creoles, and contemporary' African American English (453), and eventually concludes that many of the features of current African American English can in fact be traced to various source dialects. The next chapter is 'Historical Change in Synchronic Perspective: The Legacy of British Dialects' (477-506), by Sali A. Tagliamonte. This article concentrates on the following three topics: (1) 'the value of synchronic dialect study to the study of ... language changes in English', (2) 'the utilization of grammaticalization theory for the study of morpho-syntactic developments in English', and (3) 'the utility of variationist sociolinguistic methods in the analysis and interpretation of linguistic patterns and the critical role it serves in their evaluation' (478-479). The section concludes with a chapter on 'The Making of Hiberno-English and Other ''Celtic Englishes''' (507-536), by Markku Filppula. In this paper, issues like the spread of English to formerly Celtic-speaking areas like Ireland and Wales are discussed, followed by a description of the linguistic characteristics of the various Celtic Englishes, as well as areas where they diverge from each other (e.g. the presence of the so-called 'after'-perfect in Ireland vs. its absence in Wales). The last section of the chapter outlines some directions for future research.
The final section of the book, 'Standardization and Globalization', contains three papers, beginning with 'Eighteenth-century Prescriptivism and the Norm of Correctness' (539-557), by Ingrid Tieken-Boon van Ostade. This chapter concentrates generally on a 1762 grammar of English by Robert Lowth and discusses Lowth's linguistic norm, his social networks, and his actual usage, among other issues. The next chapter is 'Historical Sociolinguistics and Language Change' (558-588), by Terttu Nevalainen, and describes how historical sociolinguistics can contribute to historical linguistics in general and to historical dialectology in particular. The empirical foundations of historical sociolinguistics, its research scope, and the question of time depth receive special attention. The final thematic paper in the book, 'Global English: From Island Tongue to World Language' (589-608), is by Suzanne Romaine. Romaine discusses the rise of English to its current status as a world language, as well as certain characteristics of international varieties of English, innovations in international varieties of English, and raises the question of whether English will remain a world language. The volume concludes with a brief appendix listing 'corpora that are useful for research in English historical linguistics' (609), e.g. the Toronto Corpus and the Helsinki Corpus, and an extensive index.
This is a very good and useful book. The blurbs on the back cover set the bar high (it is described as 'ground-breaking' and a 'wonderful encapsulation of the field', among other things), and the book indeed generally lives up to this standard. The individual chapters pack a good deal of interesting data and analysis into a limited space, and the attention paid to areas that are sometimes neglected in more traditional works on the history of English (e.g. African American English) is also laudable. It is particularly gratifying to see how many of the authors synthesized current approaches to linguistics with more traditional ideas about philology.
There are, however, a handful of changes I would like to see in any future editions, including the following: as one who is more optimistic about OT approaches to sound change than McMahon, I would have liked to have seen a chapter defending OT analyses of sound change; I would prefer a unified bibliography to individual bibliographies for each chapter, as that would eliminate overlap and consequently save space, and footnotes to endnotes; a few references are missing from the bibliographies and different editions of the same work are occasionally cited; additional references should sometimes be cited (as in the discussion of Sievers' Law on p. 131, where a reference to Barrack 1998 would have been useful); and a handful of slips like the missing Old English glosses (97) or statements like 'Gothic is not exactly a direct ancestor of the West Germanic languages' (230; Gothic is an East Germanic language, and therefore a sister language to the West Germanic languages, not a parent) should be corrected.
Despite these objections, this is a very good book, and it will be a handy and valuable resource for students and more experienced scholars alike.
Aarts, Bas and April McMahon. (eds.) 2006. The Handbook of English Linguistics. Malden, MA: Blackwell.
Barrack, Charles M. 1998. Sievers' Law in Germanic. Bern: Peter Lang.
Croft, William. 2000. Explaining Language Change: An Evolutionary Approach. Harlow: Longman.
Fennell, Barbara. 2001. A History of English: A Sociolinguistic Approach. Malden, MA: Blackwell.
Halle, Morris and Samuel J. Keyser. 1971. English Stress: Its Form, Its Growth, and Its Role in Verse. New York: Harper and Row.
Laing, Margaret and Roger Lass. in preparation. A Linguistic Atlas of Early Middle English.
McMahon, April. 2000. Change, Chance, and Optimality. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Poplack, Shana and Sali A. Tagliamonte. 2001. African American English in the Diaspora. Malden, MA: Blackwell.
Stoffel, Cornelis. 1901. Intensives and Down-Toners: A Study in English Adverbs. Heidelberg: Carl Winter.
Sweet, Henry. 1885. The Oldest English Texts. London: Oxford University Press.
ABOUT THE REVIEWER:
ABOUT THE REVIEWER:
Marc Pierce is a lecturer in German and Classical Studies at the University of Michigan. His research interests include historical linguistics, Germanic linguistics, and phonology.