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Review of  Historical Linguistics 2009

Reviewer: Theodore W Stern
Book Title: Historical Linguistics 2009
Book Author: Ans van Kemenade Nynke de Haas
Publisher: John Benjamins
Linguistic Field(s): Historical Linguistics
Issue Number: 23.5258

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EDITORS: van Kemenade, Ans and de Haas, Nynke
TITLE: Historical Linguistics 2009
SUBTITLE: Selected Papers from the 19th International Conference on Historical Linguistics, Nijmegen, 10-14 August 2009
SERIES TITLE: Current Issues in Linguistic Theory 320
PUBLISHER: John Benjamins
YEAR: 2012

Theodore Stern
Département de Linguistique et Traduction, l’Université de Montréal

This volume is a selection of papers originally presented at the 19th International Conference on Historical Linguistics (ICHL), held at Nijmegen, the Netherlands 10-14 August, 2009. The book reflects the diversity of active research agendas in contemporary historical linguistics. The majority of the 19 contributions focus on issues concerning diachronic syntax, within which diachronic developments, active changes and sociolinguistic variation, and historical reconstruction are all well represented.

Accordingly, the theoretical and analytical approaches are varied and reflect the authors’ preferences coupled with supporting arguments for the adequacy of the analytical tools used. The volume also treats a wide variety of languages; the majority are European languages (or varieties with European roots), with an important amount of ink devoted to Netherlandic (Dutch, Frisian, and Afrikaans), extinct languages are also well represented (especially Latin) but also non-attested Proto-Indo-European.

In “Competing reinforcements: When languages opt out of Jespersen’s Cycle”, Theresa Biberauer raises questions regarding the universality of Jespersen’s Cycle (Jespersen, 1917; JC), by which an original negative element (stage I) is reinforced by the addition of an optional second negative elements (cf. French ne peut (pas); stage II), the introduced second element may then become obligatory (cf. standard French je ne suis pas); stage III), then followed by subsequent weakening and optionality of the original stage I negative element (cf. spoken French je (ne) sais pas, stage IV), with eventual disappearance of the original negative element (cf. Haitian Creole se pa, stage V). Drawing from her own previous work on Modern Spoken Afrikaans (MSA; Biberauer 2008, 2009) and previous work on Brazilian Portuguese (BP; Schwegler 1991, Schwenter 2005) suggests that JC deserves reanalysis in light of advances in syntactic analysis (within a minimalist framework). Biberauer demonstrates that the original negative element in both these languages is robust and not subject to weakening, whilst the second negative element shows no signs of developing prominence. She argues that JC cannot be maintained as a universal without further analysis of the syntactic positions which the negative elements occupy, positing that MSA and BP should not further advance in JC due to the second negative element occupying a higher position in the syntactic structure than negative elements previously shown to have advanced in JC.

In “One the reconstruction of experiential constructions in (Late) Proto-Indo-European, Vit Bubenik discusses the analytical difficulties as well as possible solutions for the reconstruction of Late Proto-Indo-European (PIE) argument structure and the phraseology of constructions in which the grammatical subject is the experiencer of the predicate. Drawing from across Indo-European, Bubenik gives a portrait of the types of verbs susceptible to take an experiencer as subject. He isolates different predicate types: verbs of cognition and perception, verbs denoting changes in bodily states, as well as certain verbs of modality. He further argues that only through a “cognitive” analysis can these verb types attain a unitary typology, because formal syntax offers no way to group such verb types into a non-arbitrary typology.

In “Criteria for differentiating inherent and contact-induced changes in linguistic reconstruction”, Jadranka Gvozdanović discusses the types of evidence that can be used to determine the origins and push factors responsible for linguistic change. Discussing Slavic accent shifts (Dybo’s Law and Stang’s Law), Gvozdanović exposes the intricate details of these stress shifts. Using Proto-Slavic reconstructions, knowledge of sociolinguistic conditions in mediaeval Eastern Europe, and reconstructions of intermediary stages of languages historically in contact with Slavic, she clearly distinguishes between aspects of phonological change which can be shown to be extensions of pre-existing structures and those which can be shown to be areal features introduced through language contact.

In “Misparsing and syntactic reanalysis”, John Whitman presents arguments against syntactic misparsing as a primary source of linguistic change, by reanalyzing previously established genuine cases of misparsing. SOV word order in Niger-Congo, claimed by Hyman (1975) to be genuine misparsing, is demonstrated to reflect a change in category features of lexical items and not of constituency. He analyzes “have” perfects (English: I have written) as grammaticalization of a full verb as an auxiliary. (The same issue is taken up by Hertzenberg later in the volume.) Similar category feature changes are argued for in the development of Chinese bǎ and relabeling for English constructions where “for” introduces an imbedded CP. He accepts certain of Haspelmath’s 1998 misparsing and “rebracketing” examples as valid, notably French V-t-il constructions where the post-verbal pronoun is promoted to a TP.

Whitman further argues that misparsing is not a primary source of linguistic change through his “Conservancy of Structure Hypothesis” , where category features and the level of projection of features may change as long as c-command relations are maintained. This would penalize changes in constituency where c-command relations would be destroyed. He thus rejects that misparsing is as active in syntax as in phonology, where he accepts that it is an active component in change.

In “How different is prototype change?” Margaret E. Winters and Geoffrey S. Nathan, working within Cognitive Linguistics, discuss how change is represented and explain within the “radial set” model (Lakoff 1987). They explain the concept of prototype with the theoretical model used and present examples of how phonological segments, lexical items, and mood and aspect configurations are permeable over time in accordance with the idea that a non-central analogous member of a set may become the central or prototypical member.

In “The syntactic reconstruction of alignment and word order: the case of Old Japanese”, Yuko Yanagida focuses on a feature of Old Japanese that has proven difficult in earlier research: a split alignment pattern in which main clauses and nominalized clauses are nominative-accusative and actively aligned, respectively. Yanagida shows that although such a morphosyntactic alignment pattern appears typologically rare, it in fact can be shown to have parallels with more widely attested types. After presenting the relative facts in Old Japanese texts, Yanagida shows that through reconstructed Proto-Carib and examples from Khoisan languages, Yanagida shows that active alignment in nominalized clauses is not restricted to Japanese but has parallels in Proto-Carib and languages of the KhoiSan family.

In “The Dutch-Afrikaans participial prefixe ge-: A case of degrammaticalization?”, C. Jac Conradie discusses the differences in usage of the past participle marker ge- between Dutch, Standard Afrikaans, and Orange River (Griekwa) Afrikaans. He concludes that ge- in Afrikaans has been partially degrammaticalized and is not optional for some speakers. Further, in Griekwa, he posits that ge- (ga-, in this dialect) may well be on its way to becoming a free morpheme. Conradie’s analysis is within Norde’s (2009) degrammaticalization framework. The ultimate conclusion is that Afrikaans ge- is a “subtle kind of degrammaticalization”.

In “Diachronic changes in long distance dependencies: The case of Dutch”, Jack Hoeksema and Ankelien Schippers present a quantitative, corpus-based account of changes involving wh-movement, wh-islands, and other movement or extraction of subordinate clauses in Dutch. They show that over time Dutch has greatly reduced the frequency of such constructions, except for the resumptive prolepsis construction which has gained favour in speech. Ultimately, they argue that their results are potentially problematic to the unification of wh-movement into a single process (A-bar movement), as this neutralizes the distinction between different long-distance movements in Dutch. In unifying the processes, they argue, there is no explication as to why most movement processes have become rare whilst resumptive prolepsis has gained much popularity in the last 100 years.

In “OV and V-to-I in history of Swedish”, Erik Magnusson Petzell conducts a corpus-based analysis of the frequency of OV constructions and V-to-I movement in Swedish. OV, being ungrammatical in Old Swedish, is argued to have been derived by synchronically active moment operations. Even though OV and V-to-I are shown to be unrelated, Petzell uses arguments from language acquisition to show that the two phenomena can be shown to be cognitively related and recoverable from acquisition research.

In “Ethnicity as an indepent factor in language variation across space: Trends in morphosyntactic patterns in spoken Afrikaans”, Gerard Stell gives a multivariate analysis of different morphosyntactic variables in Afrikaans to investigate whether the traditional classification of Afrikaans into “White” and “Coloured” varieties is still valid.. He is particularly interested in the geographic stability of such constructs and the parallel between Afrikaans and English in the United States, where a distinct variety, African American Vernacular English, has been shown to be not only racially based but also unstable geographically. He shows a general convergence of all varieties towards Standard Afrikaans, a construct which is shown to be typologically similar to the standard speech of Transvaal whites.

In “The morphological evolution of infinitive, future and conditional forms in Occitan”, Louise Esher argues that the Romance stem used in future and conditional verb tenses is a morphome (Aronoff 1994), a morphological constant which does not have any inherent semantic value in of itself. The future and conditional morphome in Occitan, however, is one of Aronoff’s “intermediate” cases, in that split paradigms exist in which the future and conditional do not share a form, but each form does share a shape with another form in the verbal paradigm.

Biberauer presents excellent arguments for questioning a longheld universal, and does show the crucial need for contemporary reanalysis of previously established axioms. Importantly, she shows through thorough analysis of negation phenomena in MSA and BP that not all negative concord systems are on equal footing.

While the analysis does highlight the relevant phenomena, Biberauer draws no conclusions as how to MSA’s and BP’s second negative element should be analyzed, she does nonetheless offer the suggestion that “[the second negative element]’s high left-peripheral position MAY in fact be head of a Polarity Phrase” (Biberauer, 2009; emphasis mine). We should hope in the feature that this is confirmed, or that another analysis is available.

Bubenik’s non-formalist cognitive approach to verbal semantics lends itself to a readable scholarly piece which should be accessible to both historical linguists as well as classically trained philologists working outside of a generative-grammar paradigm. The pre-theoretical description he provides not only is a stand-alone analysis of change in Indo-European argument structure, but equally lends itself to reinterpretation through more formal theoretical frameworks. This article should appeal to researchers in PIE studies, those interested in argument structure, linguistic reconstruction and alternative approaches to syntax.

Gvozdanović approach to the analysis of linguistic change, which blends formal methods of linguistic reconstruction with no less emphasis on sociolinguistic factors, is well worth the read for both formalists and functionalists alike. Not only does she convincingly bind together various historical and sociolinguistic factors at play in the stress shifts she examines, but her thorough knowledge of prosodic structures allows her to determine which changes are the product of pre-existing unstable prosodic conditions susceptible to reinterpretation. Her novel approach is a boon for contemporary historical linguistics: the marriage of Slavic philology with modern advances in the understanding of suprasegmental structure. The article will be of interest to not only Slavic philologists and historical linguists, but also to synchronic prosodic phonologists.

Whitman’s evidence is solid and his analyses are sound, making this contribution a worthwhile read for those working in syntax who take previous analyses at face value. However, as Whitman’s “Conservancy of Structure Hypothesis” is valid for the cases he has reanalyzed as non-misparsed input, it does not explain how genuine misparsing, which he admits to in the French example, should arise. His hypothesis is only briefly supported by anecdotal evidence, without data from language acquisition, for as he readily admits “we know that in normal syntactic processing hearers commit bracketing errors”. So while the argument is interesting, the hypothesis needs further formal support.

Winter and Nathan present the general axioms of Cognitive Linguistics for those with no previous exposure to the theory, and the brief but relatively complete overview is admirable. The relative newness of the model requires that the article is broad in its scope. Without a focus on a single historical issue, one hopes that the authors’ broad theoretical framework can be applied to specific linguistics issues in the future.

Yanagida is convincing in demonstrating how Old Japanese’s cross-linguistically morpho=syntactic alignment pattern is less marked than might be assumed. This is very much a specialist article, as the distinct morphosyntactic alignment of Old Japanese would not generally be otherwise encountered. And although some of the arguments are convincing, one may still remain skeptical of the pertinence of the observations regarding similarities between Old Japanese and Proto-Carib. The reader must ask to what point the understudied reconstruction of Proto-Carib can be accepted as valid. If all of the relevant analyses are tenable, than the article shows clear parallelisms: however, as Yanagida’s observation repose heavily upon reconstructed data, synchronic linguists might remain unconvinced.

Hoeksema and Schipper’s analysis, as they readily admit, is based on a written corpus and thus may not reflect the diachronic status of the spoken language at the time period in question. Their remarks regarding the impact of their findings on the A-bar movement hypothesis remains speculative. I will be interested to see in future analyses of their data if A-bar movement requires reanalysis. If so, this contribution has the potential to become an important piece in not only Dutch historical syntax, but also in contemporary syntactic theory. However, as A-bar movement dates from Government and Binding days, reevaluating its importance may be irrelevant in current syntactic theory.

The analytical scheme of multiple variables used by Stell in his sociolinguistic experiments on Afrikaans, based on Labov and Harris (1986) gives a good overall picture of the current state of affairs. Stell argues that the “in-group” elicitation process proves very useful in getting accurate data. Despite the introductory remarks regarding the parallels in the line of enquiry between his Afrikaans experiments and those previously undertaken in United States English, Stell gives only passing remarks on the conclusions to be drawn when both Afrikaans and English data are taken into consideration, thus missing an opportunity to posit certain sociolinguistic patterns which can be found cross-linguistically.

What is extremely interesting about Esher’s contribution is her acceptance of multiple layers of analysis which may contribute to the notion of “morphone”. In recognizing that analysis of the conditional and future in Occitan cannot be conducted “solely in phonological, syntactic, or semantic terms”, she presents not only an interesting interface but also reasons for re-investigating the place of morphology within grammar..

Overall, the volume contains some interesting contributions.. The diversity of analyses in syntax, including Generative Syntax (Biberauer, Petzell, Kirk); Cognitive Linguistics (Winters and Nathan). and Lexical-Functional Grammar (Hertzenberg) is refreshing, as often different authors investigate similar diachronic phenomena in different theoretical frameworks. Synchronic theorists would benefit by examining the analyses presented; several present extremely convincing analyses with synchronic implications (Biberauer, Whitman, Petzell, Cormany).
The volume, which collects novel approaches to historical linguistic analysis, is excellent intermediate to advanced reading for those working or studying in historical linguistics and/or formal linguistic theory. As the conference itself took place in 2009, many of the authors have presented their work elsewhere in the meantime; some of the entries might thus be less complete than more recent publications.

The collection is polyvalent in the sense that some of the contributions address broad issues while focusing on specific issues. Others are only focused on language-specific phenomena. On the one hand, even though most of the contributions focus on issues in Indo-Euroopean languages, historical linguists working outside of the IE family will nonetheless find applications of modern techniques to reconstruction and the analysis of language change; the merits of the volume are not restricted in this respect. On the other hand, many of the chapters not summarized here are primarily addressed to scholars working with specific languages and language families.

Aronoff, Mark. 1994. Morphology by Itself: Stems and Inflectional Classes. Cambridge: MIT Press.

Biberauer, Theresa. 2008. Doubling and omission: insights from Afrikaans negation. In Sjef Barbiers, Olaf Koeneman, Markia Lekakou and Margreet van der Ham (eds.). Microvariations in Syntactic Doubling. 103-140. Bingley: Emerald.

Biberauer, Theresa. 2009. Jespersen off course? The case of contemporary Afrikaans negation. In Elly van Gelderen (ed.). Linguistic Cycles. 91-130.Amsterdam: John Benjamins.

Biberauer, Theresa and Cyrino, Sonia. 2009. Negative developments in Afrikaans and Brazilian Portuguese. Ms. University of Cambridge/Stellenbosch University & Universidade de Campinas.

Haspelmath, Martin. 1998. Does Grammaticalization Need Reanalysis? Studies in Language 22. 49-85.

Hopper, Paul J. and Traugott, Elizabeth Closs. 2006. Grammaticalization. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Hyman, Larry. 1975. On the Change from SOV to SVO: Evidence from Niger-Congo. In Charles Li (ed.) Word Order and Word Order Change. 113-148. New York: Academic Press.

Labov, W. and Harris, W.A. 1986. De Facto Segregation of Black and White Vernaculars. In D. Sankoff (ed.). Diversity and Diachrony. 1-24. Amsterdam: John Benjamins.

Lakoff, George. 1987. Women, Fire, and Dangerous Things: What Categories Tell us about the Mind. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Norde, Muriel. 2009. Degrammaticalization. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Schwegler, Armin. 1991. Predicate negation in contemporary Brazilian Portuguese: a linguistic change in progress. Orbis 34. 187-214.

Schwenter, Scott. 2005. The pragmatics of negation in Brazilian Portuguese. Lingua 115. 1427-1456.

Theodore Stern is a second year Master’s research student at the Université de Montréal. Currently writing a master’s thesis on the breaking diphthongs of Modern Transvaal Afrikaans, he is interested in phonology (Government, Element Theory, OT, prosodic and metrical); the Germanic languages (especially Afrikaans, Dutch and English), the Romance languages. He hopes to do a PhD in the cognitive reality of speech segments and its implications for formal theory.