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Review of  Sounds, Words, Texts and Change

Reviewer: Anthony P. Grant
Book Title: Sounds, Words, Texts and Change
Book Author: Teresa Fanego Belén Méndez-Naya Elena Seoane
Publisher: John Benjamins
Linguistic Field(s): Historical Linguistics
Subject Language(s): English
Language Family(ies): Germanic
New English
Book Announcement: 15.300

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Fanego, Teresa, Belén Méndez-Naya and Elena Seoane, ed. (2002)
Sounds, Words, Texts and Changes: Selected Papers from the 11th
International Conference on English Historical Linguistics, Santiago
de Compostela, 7-11 September 2000. John Benjamins Publishing Company,
Current Issues in Linguistic Theory 224.

Announced at

Anthony Grant, Edge Hill College of Higher Education


This book is one of the fruits of the International Conference on
English Historical Linguistics (ICEHL) that is mentioned in the title,
and the editors are all members of its host institution, the
Universidad de Santiago de Compostela. A number of other papers which
had been presented there (out of some 120 that were given at the
conference) have been collected in the volume English Historical
Syntax and Morphology: Selected Papers from the 11th ICEHL, Santiago
de Compostela, 7- 11 September 2000, edited by Teresa Fanego,
María-José López-Couso aný Javier Pérez-Guerra, which is
also published in this series as volume 223. That book collects
selected papers from the conference that dealt with aspects of
historical syntax and morphology. A review appears in

The present volume contains 13 papers of varying lengths, arranged
alphabetically according to the first author's surname, and a
summarising introduction (1-8), which outlines the contributions and
which was penned by the first editor. The distribution of
institutional affiliations among the authors ranges from the UK to
Japan, though none of them give North American academic addresses.

Space limitation in this review permits closer commentary only on a
few of the papers, though this should not be misconstrued as
suggesting that the other papers in the collection are inferior; the
editors have chosen their selection wisely from the 120 papers that
were presented. My choice here reflects my major interests in English
historical linguistics. The papers not reviewed here are the
following: Randy C. Bax, 'Linguistic accommodation: The
correspondence between Samuel Johnson and Hester Lynch Thrale';
Claudia Claridge and Andrew Wilson, 'Style evolution in the English
sermon'; Jonathan Culpeper and Merja Kytö, 'Lexical bundles in Early
Modern English dialogues: a window into the speech-related language of
the past'; Manfred Görlach, 'A linguistic history of advertising,
1700-1890'; Raymond Hickey, 'Ebb and flow: a cautionary tale of
language change'; Christian Kay and Irené Wotherspoon, 'Wreak,
wrack, rack and (w)ruin: the history of some confused spellings';
C. B. McCully, 'What's afoot with word-final C? Metrical coherence
and the history of English'; John Scahill, 'Dan Michel: fossil or
innovator?'; and Irma Taavitsainen, 'Historical discourse analysis:
scientific language and changing thought-styles'.

Philip Durkin's paper 'Changing documentation in the Third Edition of
the Oxford English Dictionary: Sixteenth-century vocabulary as a test
case' is a contribution to the documentation of the processes
underpinning the continuing revision of the OED, of which the third
edition is currently being prepared, and for which Durkin is Chief
Etymologist. He focuses on changes relating to first attestations and
etymologies for words beginning with MA- that are (or were) first
attested in the sixteenth century; I will only allude to the first
attestations here. Some words that were provided with a 16th century
source in the second edition of the OED have subsequently been found
to have their first attestation from a previous century, sometimes
dating as far back as the 13th century, because of the fresh
availability of previously unknown mediaeval texts. Numerous other
words that were previously dated as first being attested in English
after 1600 have subsequently been found to occur in a 16th century
English source. Furthermore, three words that were first attested in
the 16th century have been postdated to 1600 or after because of the
redating of the source of its first attestation.

Angelika Lutz's paper 'When did English begin?' has one of the most
ambitious titles in the whole collection. She examines traditional
(and famously porous) periodisations of the history of English, and
concludes that the major structural changes and lexical changes that
have characterised the history of English, and that are associated in
the first instance with the work of Henry Sweet, did not occur
simultaneously. Drawing upon a number of brief texts from the Middle
English period, Lutz demonstrates that in regard to lexicon there is
not a tripartite division within the history of English, but a
bipartite one. In Lutz's view, with which I concur, the predominantly
Anglo-Saxon vocabulary of Old and Early Middle English sets these
periods apart from what we find in later stages of English, including
later forms of Middle English, which have absorbed thousands of words
from French and Latin, many of which reflect the massive cultural
changes that were wrought on English life after the Norman Conquest.
The consequences that such a view may have for future theoretically-
informed studies of language contact throughout the history of
English, and for the idea that contact-induced change in lexicon
precedes contact-induced change in structure, need hardly be

Keith Williamson's paper 'The dialectology of ''English'' north of the
Humber, c. 1380-1500', which is lavishly furnished with seventeen maps
and four bar-charts that add considerably to its number of pages,
looks at the dialectology of English as it was spoken during the 15th
century in the area from the Wirral, the Wrekin and the Humber as far
north as Deeside and Speyside. He examines the dialectal distribution
of four sets of variables: third-person plural pronouns, distal
demonstrative adjectives, IF/GIF constructions and the form of the
marker (AT/TO/TIL) preceding the verbal infinitive. Williamson sees
important differences being manifested not just between Scottish and
Northern English varieties (for instance increasing Scottish use of
gef versus Northern English gif 'if') but between the English of
literary and 'non- literary' texts (the latter including record-books
and such personal documents that have survived), and calls (p. 281)
for an extension to Northern English of the taxonomy that has been
used in analysing Older Scots and Early Middle English texts.

Finally, Theo Vennemann's paper 'Key issues in English etymology', the
most far-reaching in the whole collection, is the latest in his
continuing research project that explores his hypothesis about the
influence of unrecorded non-Indo-European languages upon certain Indo-
European languages of Western Europe at various stages. Vennemann sees
two genera of substratum languages as being important in this regard,
namely Semitidic, or a language or languages related to Semitic and
thence to other Afroasiatic languages, and Vasconic, a term referring
to a language or languages genetically related to Basque. The fact
that evidence for pre-Indo-European populations speaking specifically
such languages and living in areas where Germanic-speakers have lived
for 1500+ years is nil does not seem to deter Vennemann, who sees the
effects of such languages upon Frisian and English as being especially
strong. Vennemann states that there are some 4,696 main entries in the
second edition of the Oxford English Dictionary which cannot be traced
to a clear etymology, and he asserts that Vasconic and Semitidic are
plausible sources for a goodly proportion of such words. Several such
words are the foci of his present paper; one is English fallow (which
Vennemann attributes to a Semitidic root *p-l-g which is also in his
view the source of English plough and also folk), while other
Semitidic forms that he discusses in this paper are the assumed
sources of German Adel 'noble' and Sippe 'family'. But the most
interesting one for our purposes is English key, Old Frisian kei, kay,
Modern West Frisian koi. (I thank Liefke Rietsma for providing me
with this modern form.) Vennemann points out that in earlier times
the form of a key was hook- like and asserts that this supports his
etymology for the word, namely a Vasconic form that is cognate with
Basque khako/kakho/gakho 'hook', which according to Vennemann is also
(believe it or not) the source of the Germanic root which gives German
Haken and English hook.

The problem with this etymology is that Basque disyllables that begin
with voiceless stops (aspirated or not) are always borrowed from other
languages, usually Romance varieties (see R. L. Trask, The History of
Basque, London: Routledge, 1997), so that the Basque 'hook'-form
simply cannot be a pre-Romance form, and Vennemann's claims about the
Vasconic origins of key also fail. Vennemann seems reluctant to admit
that Basque is a language which has done far more borrowing than
donating of lexicon, and that all the forces and documents of history
would impel scholars of the English language to look with scepticism
at suggestions that important tranches of the Germanic (and especially
West Germanic) lexicon have been taken over from languages for which
there is not a shred of evidence that they ever formed the predominant
languages of settled communities in areas where West Germanic
languages first arose. Nevertheless, such strange ideas still seem to
be popular in the more irredeemably liminal tracts of Germanic
historical philology.

In conclusion, this volume is a box of delights, as collections of
papers strung loosely on a shared theme almost invariably are. As
such, it has much to attract people with multifarious interests in the
history of English.
Dr Anthony Grant (BA Hons 1984, U of York, MPhil 1991, PhD in
Linguistics 1995 University of Bradford) teaches English language at
Edge Hill College of Higher education, Ormskirk, Lancashire, England.
His research interests include Romani, language contact, cladistics and
Native North American languages.