EDITORS: van Kemenade, Ans; Los, Bettelou
TITLE: The Handbook of the History of English
PUBLISHER: Blackwell Publishing
Fredrik Heinat, Göteborg University
The Handbook of the History of English contains 23 chapters and an appendix with
a list of useful corpora for research on the history of English as well as
modern English. The chapters are divided into six parts: I: Approaches and
issues; II: Words: derivation and prosody; III: Inflectional morphology and
syntax; IV: Pragmatics; V: Pre- and Post-colonial varieties; VI: standardization
and Globalization. The stated claim of the editors is that the book should
provide a ''shortcut to current thinking'' in addition to overviews of recent and
current research. As is evident from the six parts this is not done in any
systematic way regarding chronology, theorizing, or linguistic subdiscipline.
The following is a short summary of each chapter. The review is concluded with a
short critical evaluation.
Chapter 1: Change for the better? Optimality theory versus History, by April
McMahon. 1-23. McMahon's chapter is an evaluation of optimality theory and a
description of the changes it has gone through since its inception in the 90's.
The chapter focuses on various analyses of the Great Vowel Shift. Her conclusion
is that under the assumption that historical factors can explain synchronic
systems, there doesn't seem to be any room for synchronic models of an OT-kind.
She gives no suggestion for an alternative, though.
Chapter 2: Cuing a new grammar, by David W. Lightfoot. 24-44. Lightfoot's
chapter is a short piece on his approach to language acquisition as cue-based.
The gist of his argument is that language change takes place in the acquisition
process. The approach is applied to the English auxiliary system and the loss of
case in English noun phrases. Lightfoot ends the chapter with the conclusion
that language change must be seen as local changes from the perspective of the
emergence of a grammar in the language learner. These changes are triggered by
variation in the linguistic input.
Chapter 3: Variation and the interpretation of change in the periphrastic 'do',
by Anthony Warner. 45-67. Warner is also concerned with theoretical issues
pertaining to language change. In addition he discusses methodological issues
concerning historical data. The bulk of the chapter is a statistical break down
of the occurrence of periphrastic 'do' in different clause types from different
time periods. One of the questions Warner wants to answer is why the use of 'do'
varies with clause types. His conclusion is that through meticulous study of the
data it is possible to show that some uses of 'do' depend on stylistic
Chapter 4: Evolutionary models and functional-typological theories of language
change, by William Croft. 68-91. In his chapter Croft outlines his own approach
to language change. Croft sees language as a historical entity and claims that
there are three levels of change in it. First-order variation is variation in
the use of language in particular individuals (from sound to syntactic
structure). Second-order variation is based on first-order variation. It is the
first-order variation that has sociolinguistic values. Certain choices are made
on the basis of social context. Third-order variation is also based on the next
lower level. It is the second-order variation that has become ''fixed
convention''. The difference between various dialects and British and American
English is variation of the third order. Croft claims that change in the
replication of linguistic utterances and the use of language generate variation.
Selection (the speaker's choice of what to say) is responsible for change and
this is why speech communities diverge over time. Croft also claims that the
''innovations'' we see are ''motivated by a series of principles or maxims for
achieving successful communication.''
Chapter 5: Old and Middle English prosody, by Donka Minkova. 95-124. Minkova
gives a simplified optimality theory account of stress patterns in Old English
and how these patterns change, largely because of Romance influence during the
Middle English period. Her conclusion is that stress in Old English was
morphologically assigned, the prosodic prominence was assigned to the left edge
of a root or stem. This assignment was prevalent in Middle English as well, but
the great number of loan words from Latin led to a hybrid system which also
makes use of weight driven distinctions. This system is the one used in
Chapter 6: Prosodic preferences: From Old English to Early Modern English, by
Paula Fikkert, Elan B. Dresher and Aditi Lahiri. 125-150. This chapter deals
with more or less the same thing as the previous one, but Fikkert et al. go all
the way back to West Germanic and discuss the changes that took place in its
transition to Old English. They assume that weight had more influence in Old
English but that morphological factors were nevertheless important. Their
conclusion is in line with Minkova's, that the great number of loan words
influenced the language learners' possibilities to see through a system that
became increasingly opaque. In the end this opaqueness led to structural changes.
Chapter 7: Typological changes in derivational morphology, by Dieter Kastovsky.
151-176. Kastovsky's chapter deals with the interaction between inflectional and
derivational morphology from Old English to Modern English. In addition to the
distinction made between isolating, agglutinating, inflectional and
incorporating languages, Kastovsky introduces another four parameters which he
claims are necessary to characterize inflectional and derivational morphology.
These parameters are: 1. the morphological input to morphological processes
(word, stem or root), 2. the existence and status of morphological levels/strata
(native vs. non-native), 3. the status and function of morphophonemic
alternations, and 4. the position of affixes. Each of the first three
parameters is examined from a diachronic perspective. Kastovsky's conclusion is
that from a diachronic point of view it is impossible to treat inflection and
derivation as two separate processes, they are interacting.
Chapter 8: Competition in English word formation, by Laurie Bauer. 177-198.
Bauer looks at the competition between different derivational morphemes in the
history of English. He uses the online version of the Oxford English Dictionary
for his searches and looks at the rise and fall of the -'ster'-affix, originally
a marker of feminine gender. The other case study concerns nominalizations. The
last part deals with speculations of how word formation processes ''settle''.
Chapter 9. Case syncretism and word order change, by Cynthia Allen. 201-223.
Allen's chapter contains two case studies that test three different hypotheses
regarding the connection between overt case marking and fixed word order. The
data concern double object constructions and post-head genitives. She also
discusses the material she has used and points out methodological issues with
working with historical texts. Her conclusion is that the loss of case and fixed
word order influenced each other rather than one triggering the other.
Chapter 10. Discourse adverbs and clausal syntax in Old and Middle English, by
Ans van Kemenade and Bettelou Los. 224-248. van Kemenade and Los discuss the
discourse adverbs/particles 'tha' and 'thonne' in Old English, both meaning
approximately 'then'. They claim that if these adverbs are seen as focus
particles with a fixed position in the clause structure, with a topic area to
the left of the particle and a focus area to the right, syntactic factors and
discourse factors can be viewed from a new perspective. They also discuss how
the particles can shed light on the transition from a largely paratactic
language to a hypotactic.
Chapter 11. The loss of OV order in the history of English, by Susan Pintzuk and
Ann Taylor. 249-278. Pintzuk and Taylor investigate the shift from object-verb
to verb-object word order in the history of English based on a study of nominal
objects. They look at three types of object: positive, quantified and negative.
Their conclusion is that the objects' position is influenced by the same
factors: the object's length, its thematic role, the clause type it occurs in,
and the time period. The frequencies of the different types are different,
though. This difference in frequency is attributed to competing head parameters
in the verb phrase: object-verb or verb-object, and other factors that influence
the different type of object differently.
Chapter 12. Category change and gradience in the determiner system, by David
Denison. 279-304. Denison argues against a ''clean'' categorization of determiners
in English and advocates an approach that allows fuzzy boundaries between
determiner and adjacent categories, such as adjective and pronoun. He bases his
arguments on three types of gradient categorization in the history of English:
possessives as determiner or pronoun, the similarity between determiner and
adjective, the semantics and syntax of these two categories. One of his
conclusions is that it seems as if diachronic category change proceeds stepwise
rather than wholesale, i.e. properties associated with a category is acquired
one by one rather than all at once with an abrupt change of category as consequence.
Chapter 13. Pathways in the development of pragmatic markers in English, by
Laurel Brinton. 307-334. Brinton discusses the syntactic clines that are
involved in the historical development of discourse markers. Many of them
develop from adverbs/prepositions, predicate adverbs or matrix and relative
clauses. His conclusion is that there are three pathways for pragmatic markers
(PM): 1. adverb > (conjunction or sentence adverb) > PM. 2. clause >
parenthetical disjunct > PM. and 3. the deletion of a complementizer gives a
parenthetical disjunct which over time acquires positional mobility.
Chapter 14. The semantic development of scalar focus modifiers, by Elizabeth
Closs Traugott. 335-359. Traugott's chapter is concerned with theoretical issues
of a more general kind (cf. Ch 13) in the study of modifiers. She starts with a
general introduction followed by section on degree and focus modifiers. Next she
discusses some general patterns of historical developments. The chapter finishes
with a case study of two modifiers: 'even' and 'barely'.
Chapter 15. Information structure and word order change: the passive as an
information-rearranging strategy in the history of English, by Elena Seoane.
360-391. Seoane discusses the increase of passives in historical texts (without
showing whether this minimal increase is statistically significant or not). Her
thesis is that pragmatic factors must be taken into account for explaining word
order changes. She tries to show this in a classic corpus study, i.e. pure
''number crunching'' (Aarts, 2000). I leave it to the reader to judge the success
of her efforts.
Chapter 16. Old English Dialectology, by Richard Hogg. 395-416. Hogg starts his
chapter with a discussion of methodological issues and points out the
difficulties of doing dialect studies (or studies in general) on Old English.
Next he gives a short survey of historical dialect studies. The following
sections are a discussion about West Saxon and ''standard Old English'', Mercian,
Northumbrian, and Kentish. There is also a short section on syntax, which,
according to Hogg, is more or less uninteresting since most of the very few
existing texts are word-to-word translations from Latin. Instead, Hogg argues,
the lexis is more fruitful to examine. His conclusion is that there has been a
renewed interest in the study of Old English dialects and the future looks
bright, especially since new methodologies are used.
Chapter 17. Early Middle English dialectology: problems and prospects, by
Margaret Laing and Roger Lass. 416-451. Laing and Lass start with a discussion
similar to Hogg's in chapter 17. The rest of the chapter is a description of a
corpus, a Linguistic Atlas of Early Middle English, and the methodological
issues of compiling a historical dialect corpus.
Chapter 18. How English became African American English, by Shana Poplack.
452-476. Poplack investigates African American from a variationist and
historical perspective. She looks at the language of three ''diaspora''
communities and compares with British English as described in grammars and usage
manuals from 1577-1898. She looks at differences in tense morphology on verbs
and -'s' marking on present tense verbs. Her conclusion is that African American
English has probably not developed from some kind of creole, which has been
claimed, but is rather a very conservative form of the English spoken by the
first British settlers in the US.
Chapter 19. Historical change in synchronic perspective: the legacy of British
dialects, by Sali A. Tagliamonte. 477-506. Tagliamonte looks at four different
linguistic characteristics from a diachronic and dialectal perspective. The
approach is variationist sociolinguistic. A number of contemporary British
dialects are investigated for use of: deontic modality ('have to'/'got to
(gotta)'/'must'/''ve/'s got to'), possessive 'have' and 'have got',
relativization (use of 'that'/'who'/'which') and finally zero form adverbs (uses
of 'quick' compared to uses of 'quickly'). Tagliamonte's conclusion is that
patterns of change emerge between different age groups as well as between
different dialects and that it is fruitful to look at diachronic change from a
synchronic ''cross-variety'' perspective. This approach also shows that linguistic
change does not proceed with the same rate across generations and speech
Chapter 20. The making of Hiberno-English and other ''Celtic languages'', by
Markku Filppula. 507-536. Filpulla discusses the ''Englishes'' that have emerged
through contact with Celtic languages. He starts with a historical overview of
the spread of English into the Celtic speaking areas, and then he looks at the
similarities and differences between the different Celtic Englishes and standard
English. His conclusion is that many of the characteristics can be attributed to
older forms of English (such as the use of long vowels instead of diphthongs),
but others (certain syntactic forms and a special kind of topicalization) must
probably be due to Celtic.
Chapter 21. Eighteenth-century prescriptivism and the norm of correctness, by
Ingrid Tieken-Boon van Ostade. 539-557. Tieken-Boon van Ostade investigates
eighteenth-century grammars and their writers. The purpose and conclusion are,
according to Tieken-Boon van Ostade, to get a clearer picture of why usage
differed (and differs) from the prescriptive rules.
Chapter 22. Historical sociolinguistics and language change, by Terttu
Nevalainen. 558-588. In her chapter Nevalainen outlines the merging of
sociolinguistics and historical linguistics. She discusses data and methods
before she gives a few case studies. Her conclusion is that new and more
detailed corpora will invariably help to address the questions raised by this
approach to language.
Chapter 23. Global English: from island tongue to world language, by Suzanne
Romaine. 589-608. Romaine discusses English from a global perspective and makes
predictions about its future as a global lingua franca. She seems to doubt that
it will prevail as a world language.
My previous experience of Blackwell's handbooks is that they present good
overviews of the intended topics. Even though this is the aim in this book too,
only few chapters actually do that. Instead most of them presuppose quite a good
familiarity with the research presented. Many chapters miss the editors' stated
aim: that the chapters should be ''shortcuts to current thinking for readers who
want to become familiar with subjects that are outside their own areas of
interest.'' Of course this doesn't make the chapters bad in themselves, but it
would perhaps have been better to name the book ''advances in the history of
English.'' Almost all chapters are really good and present new analyses and
methodologies that are interesting to anyone interested in (and preferably
already familiar with) for example historical- or socio-linguistics. However,
there are a couple of chapters that make me wonder what the criteria were for
including them since they seem to meet none of the aims set up by the editors.
The overall impression of the book is that there is no real thread and the level
and quality of the chapters make it difficult to see who the intended audience
is. This is probably why the editors don't specify their intended audience. Some
chapters are what the editors aimed at (background and state-of-the-art),
whereas others are just state-of-the-art (and a few neither of the two).
Aarts, Bas. 2000. Corpus linguistics, Chomsky and fuzzy tree fragments. In Mair
and Hundt. (eds) _Corpus linguistics and linguistic theory_. Amsterdam: Rodopi.
ABOUT THE REVIEWER
Fredrik Heinat is currently working as a postdoc on a project on light verbs at
Göteborg University. The approach is generative in broad terms, including
derivational and representational frameworks.