Campbell, Lyle (1999) "Historical Linguistics, an Introduction" MIT Press
396 pp, US$30.00 pb. ISBN 0-262-53159-3
Reviewed by Claire Bowern, ANU
Lyle Campbell's introduction to historical linguistics is
one of three textbooks for undergraduate courses which have
appeared in the last few years, the other two being Trask
(1996) and the new edition of Crowley (1997). The authors
of each of these books approaches the topic in quite a
different way, and Campbell is very much concerned with
the practicalities of identifying language change; he discusses
each topic with an aim to providing and illustrating a set of
procedures for doing historical linguistics. For example,
there are many text book which talk about borrowings and
give examples of loans in different languages, but C.
also gives a quite detailed list of steps in identifying
loans and the direction and source of borrowing.
C. illustrates each topic with copious examples drawn from
a variety of language families, most commonly Indo-European,
Uralic, Mayan and Uto-Aztecan. He also provides exercises at
the end of each chapter, using data from a number of different
languages. The problems are of many different sorts, including
data collection ("observe the language of your friends,
newspapers, television, etc, and find more examples of
analogical changes"), analysis ("reconstruct the changes in
these languages from the data given") and application of
terminology ("identify the type of change in each of the
following examples"). The problems are quite different from
the data sets provided by Crowley, for example, and both books
would be excellent sources of class assignments.
Very little previous study in linguistics is required; much
linguistic terminology besides that specific to historical
linguistics is concisely explained. The three indices (languages,
names and subjects) are excellent and make up well for a lack of
The topics covered in the book are (by chapter heading):
o Sound Change (kinds of sound change, including a list and examples of
the most common changes; relative chronology)
o Borrowing (what, how, why; how to identify borrowings)
o Analogical change (levelling, extension)
o The Comparative Method (how-to, assumptions of the model)
o linguistic classification (the world's language families,
glottochronology and lexicostatistics)
o models of language change (the family tree, wave theory
and dialectology, sociolinguistics and language change, lexical
o internal reconstruction (illustrations of the method, limitations)
o syntactic change (mechanisms, generative approaches,
o semantic and lexical change (new words, explaining semantic
change, huge number of examples)
o explaining linguistic change (internal and external causes, explanation
o areal linguistics (examples of linguistic areas, how to define an area)
o distant genetic relationships (types of evidence used, chance
similarities, problems in the methods used)
o the role of written records (the role of writing, getting historical
linguistic information from written sources)
o linguistic prehistory (the case of Indo-European, methods, limitations
The first five chapters are standard fare for historical linguistics text
books and need little comment here. I would, however, have liked to see more
discussion of morphological change than that covered in chapter 4 on
'analogy'. There are more changes in morphology than come under this heading
(see, for example, Koch's (1996) typology of morphological change.
I was a little surprised at C's conservatism in Chapter 6. For example, on p
163 there is a table of the distribution of the world's language families.
Australia is listed as having 26 families (of which the most well known is
Pama-Nyungan). Presumably C is following O'Grady, Voegelin and Voegelin's
1966 classification. Work by Blake (1988, 1990) (and others) on the
pronominal systems of representative languages of these families, however,
has shown that there is good evidence for assuming the existence of a higher
grouping (usually called proto-Australian). Indeed, Proto-Australian is
listed on pp 312 -313, in a list of putative language groupings where the
languages are "not yet known to be related". Indeed, it appears immediately
above Proto-World in the list! Many Australianists are much more certain of
the existence of Proto-Australian than they are of Proto-World! This list
appears to contain both language groupings which are greatly disputed (eg,
Indo-Pacific, Basque-Caucasian, Na-Dene), those whose exact composition is
disputed (Nilo-Saharan, Niger-Kordofanian) and those which have been
discredited (Indo-European and Semitic).
Chapter 7 is a discussion of the two major competing models of language
change, the family tree model and wave theory, conveniently summarised in
the two phrases 'sound laws admit no exceptions' and 'each word has its own
history'. C. makes the ambitious claim that he will reconcile the two models
(p 187). This chapter also includes a discussion of dialectology, dialect
geography and sociolinguistics as applied to historical linguistics. C.
highlights many of the ways in which the two apparently contrastive models
may be reconciled, but not, it seems to me, the fundamental difference
between the two approaches to historical linguistics - that the family tree
model requires us to ignore, or at least gloss over, dialectal differences,
whereas in wave theory these differences are prominent.
It is good to have a separate chapter on linguistic areas (Chapter 12). The
concept is defined and a number of examples (the Balkans, the Indian
Subcontinent, Ethiopia and a few others) are given. C also gives a number of
procedures for the identification of linguistic areas (as opposed to genetic
families), including the type of evidence which should be used and the an
evaluation of the value of each type of evidence.
I have already made some comments about Chapter 13, on distant genetic
relationships. Despite my criticisms of the table of proposed language
groupings, which include the often accepted with the often rejected, I found
this chapter a very useful discussion of the problems associated with long
range comparison. C. has provided a very clear summary of the types of
evidence used in such comparisons as well as an evaluation of their
effectiveness, and where he finds fault, the reasons are explained.
Finally, the use of written records is another subject which is not often
covered in historical linguistics texts, but it is important for those
working in many areas of historical linguistics.
The only topic on which Campbell did not write, and which frequently appears
in introductory textbooks, is that of the role of Pidgins and Creoles in
historical linguistics. There is a discussion in Trask (1996), for example,
and Crowley (1997) contains a chapter which includes discussion of language
genesis, language death and convergence.
So, in summary, the great strength of this text book is its emphasis on
practical methodology. There are other texts more comprehensive in lists of
terminology, issues or points of general theory (see, for example, Trask
(1996) or Hock and Josephs (1996)) but Campbell's text would be my first
choice as a text for an introductory historical linguistics course. It is
clear, concise and full of relevant examples and exercises.
Blake, B (1988); "Redefining Pama-Nyungan" Aboriginal Linguistics 1:1-90.
(1990); "The Significance of Pronouns in the History of Australian
Languages" in P. Baldi (ed), Linguistic Change and Reconstruction
Methodology Mouton de Gruyter, Berlin, pp 435 - 50.
Crowley, T (1997); An Introduction to Historical Linguistics 3rd Edition,
Oxford University Press, Auckland.
Hock, HH and B Josephs (1996); Language History, Language Change, and
language relationship: An Introduction to Historical and Comparative
Linguistics. Walter de Gruyter, Berlin.
Koch (1996); "Reconstruction in Morphology." in M Durie and M Ross (eds);
The Comparative Method Reviewed: regularity and irregularity in Language
Change. OUP, New York.
O'Grady, Voegelin and Voegelin (1966); "Languages of the World: Indo-Pacific
fascicle 6." Anthropological Linguistics 8(2).
Trask (1996); Historical Linguistics, an Introduction. St Martin's Press,
Australian National University
(Claire's research interests include the synchronic and historical
description of languages of the Karnic subgroup of Pama-Nyungan, as well as
more general issues of borrowing, diffusion and morphological change.)