Review of Historical Linguistics 2001
Date: Sat, 24 Jan 2004 15:56:16 -0500 (EST)
From: Marc Pierce <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Subject: Historical Linguistics 2001
Blake, Barry J. and Kate Burridge, ed., with the assistance of Jo Taylor
(2003) Historical Linguistics 2001, John Benjamins Publishing Company,
Current Issues in Linguistic Theory 237.
Marc Pierce, University of Michigan
This volume is a collection of selected papers presented at the
15th International Conference on Historical Linguistics, held in Melbourne
in August 2001. The volume contains 25 papers, along with contact
information for the contributors, a brief preface, and an index of
languages and concepts (but unfortunately no index for names, which would
have made the book more user-friendly).
After the preface, the volume proper begins with Alexandra
Aikhenvald's paper, "Language contact and language change in Amazonia,"
(1-20). Aikhenvald examines contact-induced language change in the Arawak
and Tucanoan language families, two genetically unrelated and
typologically different families spoken north of the Amazon. The
discussion focuses on how grammatical relations are encoded in these
two language families; Aikhenvald ultimately concludes that the languages
of these families are becoming more similar, but that each group is
changing in different ways.
The next paper is "Grammaticalization and the historical
development of the genitive in Mainland Scandinavian" (21-32), by John Ole
Askedal. Askedal examines the development of the s-genitive in
Scandinavian, concentrating on the twin questions of whether this
development is really a case of "degrammaticalization" (as argued by Norde
1997, 2001), and whether it is an exception to the well-known
"Unidirectionality Hypothesis" assumed in most work on grammaticalization
(see here Norde 2001, also Janda 2001). Askedal argues that neither of
these questions holds true, suggesting instead that what is going on is a
"typological restructuring of inflection" (30).
Lyle Campbell then looks at one of the main (and oldest) tools of
historical/comparative linguistics, the comparative method, in "Beyond the
comparative method" (33-57). Campbell reviews three recent proposals
which attempt to go beyond the limits of the comparative method, which, as
Campbell readily admits, can only reach so far back in time (see also Fox
1995: 7-14 on the limitations of comparative reconstruction). Campbell
argues that all three of these proposals, namely (1) multilateral
comparison (practiced most notably by the late Joseph Greenberg, in
Greenberg 1987, for example), (2) Johanna Nichols' work, which relies
largely on genetic units, geographical areas, and typological classes
(see, e.g. Nichols 1992), and (3) the punctuated equilibrium model of
R.M.W. Dixon (Dixon 1997), "turn out to be flawed" (51), and concludes
that the traditional comparative method cannot be replaced at this point.
Maria Jose Carvalho contributed the next paper, "The transition
from early to modern Portuguese: An approach from historical
sociolinguistics" (59-69). Carvalho's paper attempts to more precisely
define early and modern Portuguese. Accordingly, Carvalho looks at four
morphological variables in a corpus of documents from the 13th to the
early 16th centuries. On the basis of this examination, Carvalho argues
that Portuguese was "already showing signs of modernity" (64) by the first
quarter of the 15th century, and suggests that the revolution of 1383-1385
would serve well as "a significant historical point indicating a real
change from early to modern Portuguese" (64). However, Carvalho also
notes that any such division is inherently artificial.
C. Jac Conradie then looks at "Isomorphism and language change"
(71-85). Conradie suggests that isomorphism is clearest in language
change, and supports this claim with evidence drawn from a comparative
study of Afrikaans verbal strings and the corresponding Dutch forms.
Conradie points out that certain syntactic restrictions, still found in
Dutch, are becoming looser in Afrikaans, which, he argues, leads to
increased isomorphism, even though it is complicating certain other
Alan Dench then examines a shift from purposive to present in his
paper "From purposive/future to present. Shifting temporal categories in
the Pilbara languages of north west Western Australia" (87-103). Dench
argues that this shift most likely originated in a "common tendency in
Australian languages for dependent purpose clauses to be used as
independent clauses" (100). When used in such a way, these clauses tend
to assume a number of typically modal functions. Dench suggests that, in
the cases he considers, the "aspectual characteristics of purposives
rather than ... their modal characteristics" are extended (100).
Bridget Drinka then discusses "The formation of periphrastic
perfects and passives in Europe. An areal approach" (105-128). In other
work on this topic (Drinka 2003), Drinka argues that the "have perfect"
predominant in Indo-European was originally a Greek innovation, which then
spread to Latin, and thence to the other European languages. Here Drinka
suggests that the emergence of this perfect in Greek was not an isolated
development, but was rather part of a larger set of developments in the
Greek verbal system, triggered by "a trend towards more overt voice
distinctions throughout the Greek verbal paradigm" (106).
Jan Terje Faarlund discusses "The grammaticalization of movement.
Word order change in Nordic" (129-142). Faarlund notes that, due to the
role of word order in discourse, changes in word order must always be
analyzed from both a formal and a functional point of view. He therefore
provides such an analysis of certain developments from Old Norse to Modern
Norwegian, and eventually concludes that "certain movement rules that were
originally functionally conditioned have become dependent on formal
categories instead, and have thus been grammaticalized" (140).
Hannele Forsberg's contribution, "Paths of development for modal
meanings. Evidence from the Finnic potential mood" (143-161), outlines
the uses of the potential mood in the Finnic languages, illustrating them
with data drawn mainly from Standard Finnish and various Finnish dialects.
Forsberg then discusses the semantic development of the potential mood,
compares the scenario presented here to that proposed in Bybee, Perkins,
and Pagliuca (1994), and offers some thoughts on the influence of literary
languages and written traditions on the development of modal categories.
Bernd Heine offers a paper "On degrammaticalization" (163-179).
He thoroughly reviews various uses of this term in the literature, and
then discusses what he sees as some problems with the concept itself (as
well as its use). He eventually concludes that "this term is not of much
help for describing or understanding grammatical change, except for
referring to the epiphenomenal effect some of the processes have in
specific situations" (175).
Patrick Honeybone examines "Process inhibition in historical
phonology" (181-203), noting that examining exceptions to phonological
processes can yield valuable insights into historical phonology (as
evidenced as far back as Karl Verner's incisive 1875 discussion of
exceptions to Grimm's Law), and then proposes a novel way to understand
exceptions to sound change. Honeybone argues that sharing autosegmental
phonological elements can lead segments to resist phonological processes.
In "Reconsidering the canons of sound-change. Towards a 'Big
Bang' theory" (205-219), Richard D. Janda and Brian D. Joseph argue that,
despite the long history of studying sound change, a number of issues
remain unresolved, e.g. how long a sound change remains active and the
conditioning factors which are relevant at the beginning of a change.
They then sketch a 'Big Bang' theory of sound change, which holds, among
other things, that sound change originates in a "very 'small', highly
localized context over a relatively short temporal span" (206) and that
sound change is purely phonetically conditioned at this point of origin.
They illustrate this theory by examing three case studies from Romance and
Eva Skafte Jensen's paper, "Case in Middle Danish. A double
content system" (221-236), argues that the case system of Middle Danish,
as spoken in the 14th and 15th centuries, was probably still active, but
in the process of being reinterpreted, leading to the loss of some
functions and characteristics, as well as to the development of others.
Skaft discusses issues such as the use of "cohesive case," which she
defines as a system concerning "the use of grammatical means in order to
create cohesive text" (225), possible links between changes in the case
system and other changes in Danish, and the role of the change in stress
Ritsuko Kikusawa then discusses "The development of some
Indonesian pronominal systems" (237-269). Kikusawa begins by describing
the basic sentence structures of some Indonesian languages, and then
offers a comparison of Indonesian pronominal systems and forms. The next
section compares the Indonesian forms with the Proto-Extra-Formosan system
that they developed from. The final section of the paper summarizes the
arguments and suggests some topics which require further investigation.
Harold Koch looks at "Morphological reconstruction as an
etymological method" (271-291). Koch argues that "morphological
reconstruction, like lexical reconstruction, must go beyond the comparison
of forms that can be easily displayed in comparative tables which simply
line up exact translation equivalents" (287), because morphological
formatives can undergo changes which leave cognate forms in different
functions in different languages. This claim is illustrated with
discussions of a shift in the Arandic pronominal system and a shift in the
Kaytetye verbal inflectional system.
In "Labovian principles of vowel shifting revisited. The short
vowel shift in New Zealand English and Southern Chinese" (293-301), Lau
Chun-fat argues that the different principles proposed to explain long and
short vowel shifts by William Labov (in Labov 1994, for instance), can be
reduced to a "vowel convection" rule applying to both long and short
vowels, which Chun-fat summarizes at "all low vowels rise, high vowels
diphthongize, and the nuclei of diphthongs fall" (295). This claim is
illustrated by an analysis of data from New Zealand English and Southern
Maria M. Manoliu then analyzes "Conventional implicature and
language change. The cyclic evolution of the emphatic pronouns in
Romanian" (303-320). Manoliu suggests that there are two major points of
theoretical interest in the history of the Romanian emphatic pronouns,
namely (1) their evolution illustrates the role of homonymic clashes in
the loss of a morphemic paradigm and how new analytical expressions can
replace old forms, and (2) their history offers evidence for semantic
reconstruction based on synchronic variation.
In "The rise of IPs in the history of English" (321-337), Fuyo
Osawa argues that "the development of infinitival clauses in English is
due to the emergence of the functional category INFL within the original
nominal structures" (321). Issues discussed in this essay include the
emergence of gerunds in the history of English, syntactic evidence for the
non-existence of infinitival clauses in Old English, and possible
counterexamples to Osawa's claims.
Heli Pekkarinen offers a paper entitled "From subject to object.
Case studies on Finnish" (339-350). Pekkarinen notes that a syntactic
reanalysis has taken place in the history of Finnish, such that a number
of forms that were originally subjects are now objects (e.g. forms that
were once subjects of passive compounds tenses and modal verbs of
obligation). This change is well-known and has been the subject of
numerous analyses (in Harris and Campbell 1995, for instance); Pekkarinen
proposes a more straightforward analysis of this development, which he
links to a more general grammaticalization process in Finnish involving
impersonal compound forms.
Nick Riemer's "Meaning change in verbs. The case of strike"
(351-362) is based on an examination of the history of "Percussion/Impact"
verbs in English, like bang, strike, and thump. Riemer argues that it
could be useful to shift from studying the denotation of words to studying
regularity in metaphor, metonymy, and various other mechanisms of semantic
Elke Ronneberger-Sibold looks at "Borrowing as a tool for
grammatical optimization in the history of German brand names" (363-376).
Ronneberger-Sibold focuses on "luxury borrowings" from English into
German, e.g., of words used in brand names. She further concludes that
the material she examined supports the idea that it is the target system
which controls linguistic borrowings in some respects.
Kim Schulte's "Pragmatic relevance as cause for syntactic change.
The emergence of prepositional complementizers in Romance" (377-389)
contends that the development of prepositional complementizers in Romance
is triggered by the co-occurrence of certain matrix verbs with particular
adjunct types. Schulte draws on data from Latin, Portuguese, and Romanian
in support of this claim, and also comments on the role of pragmatics in
The next paper is "Early Nordic language history and modern
runology. With particular reference to reduction and prefix loss"
(391-402), by Michael Schulte. Schulte's paper is intended to illuminate
the dating of the loss of prefixes in Early Nordic and its chronological
relation to reduction, and is based on evidence drawn largely from early
runic inscriptions and Old Norse poetry. Schulte argues that the evidence
for prefixation in the runic inscriptions must be reexamined in light of
stress patterns, and ultimately, contra the handbooks, that prefix loss
occurred very early in North Germanic.
Gjertrud F. Stenbrenden's "On the interpretation of early evidence
for ME vowel-change" (403-415) takes up the written evidence for various
changes which affected long vowels in Middle English. The Great Vowel
Shift remains a controversial issue in English historical linguistics: was
it truly a unified, coherent event, as the traditional view holds, or it
is something constructed by linguists with the benefit of hindsight?
Stenbrenden argues in favor of the latter view, based on a careful review
of spellings in various manuscripts. Her conclusions remain tentative,
though. (She notes that she is currently preparing a doctoral
dissertation on changes in long vowels in Middle English, which will
presumably offer more definite conclusions.)
The final paper in the volume is "On the reflexes of
Proto-Germanic ai. The spellings ie, ei, and ey in Middle Dutch"
(417-430), by Pieter van Reenen and Anke Jongkind. This paper looks at
the reflexes of Proto-Germanic ai in Middle Dutch, focusing on data
extracted from 14th century charters. They carefully lay out the evidence
and conclude, among other things, that the spellings of such reflexes can
credibly be interpreted in phonetic terms.
Like all conference volumes, this is a mixed bag, but presumably
most historical linguists will find something of interest. A particularly
strong aspect of the book is the broad range of languages discussed,
especially in light of the overemphasis that is sometimes placed on
Indo-European in historical linguistics. The volume itself is the usual
fine quality that one expects from this publisher. Typographical errors
are few and generally self-correcting, the printing and layout are clear,
and the volume is well and sturdily bound. A few of the papers could have
used more careful editing by a native speaker of English, however.
Bybee, Joan L., Revere D. Perkins, and William Pagliuca. 1994. The
evolution of grammar: Tense, aspect, and modality in the
languages of the world. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
Dixon, R.M.W. 1997. The rise and fall of languages. Cambridge: CUP.
Drinka, Bridget. 2003. Areal factors in the development of the European
periphrastic perfect. Word 54: 1-38.
Fox, Anthony. 1995. Linguistic reconstruction. Oxford: OUP.
Greenberg, Joseph. 1987. Language in the Americas. Stanford: Stanford
Harris, Alice C. and Lyle Campbell. 1995. Historical syntax in
cross-linguistic perspective. Cambridge: CUP.
Janda, Richard D. 2001. Beyond 'pathways' and 'unidirectionality': On
the discontinuity of language transmission and the counterability of
grammaticalization. Language Sciences 22: 265-340.
Labov, William. 1994. Principles of linguistic change. Oxford:
Nichols, Johanna. 1992. Linguistic diversity in time and space.
Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
Norde, Muriel. 1997. The history of the genitive in Swedish: A case
study in degrammaticalization. Amsterdam: Facultiet der Letteren,
Universiteit van Amsterdam.
_____. 2001. Deflexion as a counterdirectional factor in grammatical
change. Language Sciences 23: 231-264.
Verner, Karl. 1875. Eine Ausnahme der ersten Lautverschiebung.
Zeitschrift fuer vergleichende Sprachforschung 23: 97-130.
ABOUT THE REVIEWER:
ABOUT THE REVIEWER
Marc Pierce is a lecturer in German and Classics at the University of
Michigan. His research interests include historical linguistics,
phonology, and Germanic linguistics.