Language Evolution: The Windows Approach addresses the question: "How can we unravel the evolution of language, given that there is no direct evidence about it?"
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EDITORS: Martin J. Ball and Nicole Müller TITLE: The Celtic Languages, Second Edition SERIES TITLE: Routledge Language Family Series PUBLISHER: Routledge (Taylor and Francis) YEAR: 2009
Andrew Carnie, Department of Linguistics, University of Arizona
The years 1992-1993 provided Celtic linguists with a plethora of descriptive and theoretical material. In that two-year span, two major collections of articles on the language family were produced. One edited by Donald MacAulay (1992) was published by Cambridge University Press. The other, edited by Martin Ball and James Fife (1993), came out in the Routledge Language Family Series. (A review of the trade paperback version of the latter book (2002), written by Elizabeth Pyatt can be found at: http://linguistlist.org/issues/14/14-2457.html.) A significant new edition of the Ball and Fife book has been released with the new editorial team of Ball and Müller.
Not your typical reissue, this book contains a vast array of new articles on the topic. Half of the articles are entirely new, written by new authors; and the other half have been thoroughly revised and updated. The new edition stands alongside the first as an important contribution to the description and analysis of the Celtic languages.
The book, at a hefty 785 pages, is divided into four major parts: (I) Historical Aspects, (II) The Goidelic Languages, (III) The Brythonic Languages, and (IV) The Sociolinguistics of the Celtic Languages. Each part consists of three to five chapters written by areal experts.
Part 1 opens with what was the introduction to the first edition, but which has now been restructured as a standard chapter: James Fife's ''Typological Aspects of the Celtic Languages''. Fife observes that definitions of what it means to be a Celtic language have been variously based in ethnicity, history, archaeology, and comparative reconstruction. Each of these give different results for the internal structure of the language group. He suggests instead that we can use typological characteristics of various strengths as diagnostics for Celticity. These criteria range from initial consonant mutations and VSO order to specialized impersonal verb morphology. Although he doesn't take the strong position in favor of the idea that Celtic is best divided into Continental vs. Insular groups -- as opposed to the classic P/Q split -- it is clear that the evidence he presents points us in such a direction.
In the next short chapter (''The Emergence of the Celtic Languages''), however, Joseph Eska explicitly argues for an Insular Celtic model. He also revisits the controversial status of the Italo-Celtic group.
In the third chapter (''Continental Celtic''), Eska and D. Ellis Evans consider the major properties of the extinct Continental Celtic languages. Identifying the languages of this group is notoriously complex, so one important contribution of this chapter is the significant delineation of the murky substructure of the group. This chapter is accompanied by some important description of new sources about these languages.
David Stifter addresses the grammatical structure of the early varieties of the Goidelic Languages in the chapter entitled ''Early Irish''. This chapter takes us from the reconstructed early Goidelic (pre 4th century) right up to the textual sources of the Middle Irish Period (10th to 12th centuries). This chapter is different from the previous three in that it is really best viewed as providing synchronic descriptions of each of the major periods rather than a diachronic analysis. Stifter provides a concise description of the major properties of Old Irish phonology, orthography, morphology (particularly the famously complex verbal morphology) and syntax. Shorter descriptions of Primitive Irish and Middle Irish are given. While a short description of Primitive Irish is to be expected given the lack of sources, I really wish there had been more discussion of the major differences between Old Irish and Middle Irish, since the only real description of this distinction is available in Modern Irish (Breatnach 1994) and thus inaccessible to most linguists. Nevertheless this chapter is an attractive short alternative to the much more formidable and comprehensive grammars of Old Irish that are out there (including Thurneysen's epic work and Stifter's own excellent textbook of the language.)
A similar chapter about the historic Brythonic languages (Late Brythonic, Old Welsh and Middle Welsh) is given by David Willis in ''Old and Middle Welsh''. Here again we have synchronic description of each of these languages. Sifter's and Willis's articles are organized quite differently; where Stifter gives sections organized by the language variety, Willis provides descriptions of each stage in the language grouped by linguistic subarea (i.e., one finds the phonology of all stages of Welsh discussed together as a group). This is only a matter of taste -- since both are excellent examples of description -- but I found it harder to follow when all the languages were mixed and matched within the linguistic subfield. One very important and novel contribution of this article is a critical evaluation and discussion of the surprising V2 order found in Middle Welsh: Willis claims that V2 order is actually found as part of a mixed system in older varieties as well as Middle Welsh.
Parts 2 and 3 provide summaries of the major linguistic properties of the modern Celtic languages (including the two revived languages) of Irish (by Dónall Ó Baoill), Scottish Gaelic (William Gillies), Manx (George Broderick), Welsh (Gwen Awbery), Breton (Ian Press) and Cornish (Ken George). These chapters all contain fairly detailed descriptions of the phonology, morphology, syntax and lexical structure of each of these languages. As a collection, this is a fabulous resource of description and comparison. Although I've been working on Irish and Scottish Gaelic for years, I learned new things in these chapters that have stimulated my interest in revisiting some old questions. Gillies' description of the nominal inflectional system of Scottish Gaelic is particularly important.
I do have a couple of critiques of these chapters, but I'll save those for the evaluation section below. But before I do, I would like to note the importance one of these articles. Broderick's chapter on Manx, although largely the same as the one that appeared in the first edition, is a critical work on the language. No serious in-depth descriptions of Manx are easily available and this chapter goes a long way to providing it. The new chapters on Irish, Welsh and Breton also provide new and up-to-date information on the languages not found in the related articles in the first edition.
The odd man out in the descriptive section is the chapter on Cornish. This article describes Traditional Cornish, which died out in the late 1700s, rather than any of the varieties of revived Cornish. The chapter has a lot of diachronic analysis and almost no synchronic description (for example the section on Cornish syntax is very thin). As such, this chapter looks a lot more like those that appear in the first part of the book and might have more properly been placed there -- perhaps with a companion chapter on Old Cornish and Middle Breton, descriptions of which are entirely missing from the volume. There is some description of the varieties of revived Cornish in the chapter George co-authored with Broderick. I can't help but feel that that discussion in that other chapter, greatly expanded upon and fleshed out, would be better placed in part 2 with the other synchronic descriptions of the Modern Languages.
The last part of the book centers on the sociolinguistics of the Celtic languages. All of the Celtic languages are minority languages. Some are more stable than others, but all are at risk. All also have significant on-going revitalization and maintenance. Looking at the successes and the failures of these movements across the languages is an interesting lesson in endangered language health, policy and preservation. Things change fast in the world of endangered languages, so I was particularly pleased to see that with the exception of the George and Broderick article, this part of the book was almost entirely new.
Ó hIfearnáin's contribution (''Irish speaking Society and the State'') provides a history of Irish language policy, including some fascinating details of language planning and policy decisions in the early period of the Irish Republic. He examines in detail the effects of policy about the civil service, education, Gaeltacht (Irish speaking regions) borders, media, language standardization and dialect variation. One thing I found very valuable about this chapter was its evaluation of recent changes -- both in terms of language policy and in language usage -- such as retreats in unpopular policies about language competency in the civil service, foundation of an education board, the establishment of Irish language television (TG4), the 2003 Official Languages Act, and perhaps most importantly the change in policy where local officials are encouraged to ''become the primary agents of their linguistic future'' (pg 583).
Kenneth MacKinnon's ''Scottish Gaelic Today'' takes a totally different approach than Ó hIfearnáin. MacKinnon addresses the question of Gaelic language usage from a sociological perspective, focusing on statistical studies of attitudinal perspectives rather than being focused on historical or policy issues (although these are also addressed). Of particular interest are the detailed charts on domains of language usage (i.e., the contexts in which Gaelic language use is the most likely across gender and age factors).
Welsh is often held up as a poster child for language revitalization success, because of the extensive and impressive returns from systematic investments in language teaching at all levels and in the use of Welsh as a medium for education. But the chapter by Robert Owen Jones and Colin H. Williams (''The Sociolinguistic Context of Welsh'') demonstrates that a more nuanced view of the revival movement is required and that perhaps a less enthusiastic view of Welsh revival is in order.
Lenora Timm's contribution (''Language Culture and Identity in Brittany'') reveals a depressing reality about the status of Breton -- the only Celtic language of the European continent. Different from language revitalization movements elsewhere in the world, Breton language proponents face the daunting task that the language has strong connotations of being reactionary, non-progressive and anti-French, even among the people of Brittany itself. These feelings date from the World War II period when the Breton language revival movement affiliated itself with certain fascist and collaborationist groups. Although 65 years have passed since the end of the war, these associations are still strong. As a consequence, there is strong resistance to institutional support for language revitalization in Brittany. This is compounded by challenges brought on by significant dialect variation and the effects of a written standard on language attitudes. While I was saddened by the content of this chapter, one thing that I thought was particularly important: a discussion of the impact of the web and social media on the language, and a thorough discussion of job prospects for Breton speakers. These topics were not really discussed in the other chapters in this section and it seems to me that they would have done well to do so.
The concluding chapter of the book ''The Revived Language: Cornish and Manx'' by Ken George and George Broderick briefly looks at the significant challenges of revitalizing a moribund or dead language ranging from agreeing on what spelling system to use to finding the right way to offer classes in the languages.
This collection is extremely valuable. I suspect that people who already own the first edition will want to own both. Because of the large number of new chapters contained in this second edition, this is essentially an entirely new contribution to the description of the language family.
About half the articles in this edition are written by the original authors in the first edition. All these articles have been thoroughly revised and updated, but in a couple of cases their age is apparent. For example, Fife's article on typology has no references after 1992. It makes the startling assertion that no theoretical work has been done on Initial Consonant Mutations. One can, in fact, easily find important works on that topic since 1992, such as Greene 2006, 2007, Grijzenhout 1995, Tallerman 2006, Stewart 2004, Pyatt 1997 and Ní Chiosáin 1991 (among many others).
My greatest critique of this book lies with the descriptions in parts 2 and 3 of the volume. When a linguist decides to write a short description of a language, he or she has some very difficult choices to make. For example, to what degree should dialect variation be described? Should one describe an abstract standard form? What level of abstraction is appropriate for capturing the patterns of the language? The authors of the descriptive chapters, unsurprisingly, have different takes on these questions, but the choices they make have a profound effect on the chapters as descriptive entities, where the level of abstraction reveals as much about the theoretical and analytical biases of the authors as it does about the languages themselves. Take for example, the description of voicing contrasts in Gillies' article on Scottish Gaelic. Gaelic has no phonetic voiced plosives (except perhaps after homorganic sonorants); the classic Indo-European voice/voiceless contrast is realized in the language by a contrast in aspirated vs. unaspirated forms. In the article on Gaelic, however, Gillies largely represents the contrast using /b, d, g/ vs. /p, t, k/ symbology, with certain ''voiced'' consonants being marked with an undercircle as devoiced. This analysis, which is not without theoretical merit, reveals however, a set of assumptions and analytic choices about the phonological system that are not overtly acknowledged and will be surprising to many linguists who work on the language. When it comes to matters of dialect variation, one could not find a clearer contrast than that of Ó Baoill's article on Irish and Awbery's article on Welsh. Awbery presents a rich description of variation to center the reader in on the patterns that hold of the language as a whole. Ó Baoill's description by contrast largely abstracts away from dialect variation, leaving the reader uncertain about whether the particulars of the description were of a particular dialect, of the constructed standard dialect (An Caighdeán) or of some linguistic abstraction of underlying forms.
I would like to make it clear that I do not know if I would have done anything differently than the authors I have just critiqued. These are decisions we all have to make as field workers and linguistic analysts. They are indeed hard decisions to make. One has to make choices especially when one only has a small number of pages to describe the major properties of an entire language. I do not think any one approach is necessarily better than the other. One suggestion I have about this issue, however, is that when constructing linguistic descriptions for any audience, linguists need to lay their analytic and theoretical biases out on the table so that the consumer of the description can understand the quantity and nature of any abstractions the field worker has imposed on the system. These imposed abstractions are a necessary part of our jobs, but it is incumbent upon us to be explicit about what we are doing.
The other concern I have is that all of these chapters, except notably Awbery, fell into the conceit found in many traditional works on Celtic linguistics: they do not provide interlinear glosses for the sentences and complex morphological forms in the languages. A translation is not enough, and the core consumers of these descriptions are unlikely to know enough about each of the languages to develop their own word-by-word or morpheme-by-morpheme glosses. This practice has plagued Celtic linguistics for years, and makes the languages and their analyses completely inaccessible for non-specialists. If there is a future edition, the editors should take great care to make sure that three line interlinear glosses are added for all the complex syntactic and morphological forms in this book.
This is a big book, and it comes with a big price. At the time of writing this review the hardcover costs $315 on Amazon (£185 on Amazon.co.uk, €263 on Kennys.ie), and the Kindle price is a ridiculous $252. The Nook version costs the same as the hardcover. I, of course, understand that the market for books like this is small, but I get the impression that linguistics publishers have the mistaken impression that only institutions buy their books. By pricing books in this way they create a self-fulfilling prophecy: ordinary linguists cannot afford such costs, thus reinforcing the narrow view that institutional pricing is appropriate. This is utterly foolish and economically unsound. Academic libraries around North America and the world have cut back on their book buying budgets significantly, and that means that books like this -- with a small readership and big price tag -- are unlikely to be bought any more. The consequences of this are dire. It means that it will be harder and harder for authors to find publishers willing to distribute high quality scholarship like this book. It would make far more sense to price these books in such a way that both cash-starved state institutions and your everyday linguist could afford the book. The publishers are more likely to sell more copies and the work will have much greater impact and distribution (and consequently generate more sales). While the editors and authors of this volume have much to be proud of, I hope its publishers regret their decision on price.
This is an impressive and important collection of work about the Celtic language family. It has something for everyone, from historical linguistics to phonology to language policy. Any serious Celticist needs to have this close to hand, despite its hefty price tag, even if they own the first edition. It contains a wealth of new insight, and makes important results newly available for us.
Ball, Martin (with James Fife). 1993. The Celtic Languages. Routledge
Ball, Martin and James Fife. 2002. The Celtic Languages, Trade Paper Back Edition. Routledge.
Breatnach, Liam. 1994. An Mheán-Ghaeilge. i K. McCone. D. McManus, C Ó Háinle, N. Williams agus L. Breatnach (eag.). Stair na Gaeilge in ómós do Pádraig Ó Fiannachta. Má Nuad (Maynooth): St. Patrick's College. pp 221.333.
Greene, Anthony D. 2006. The independency of phonology and morphology: the Celtic Mutations. Lingua 116: 1946-85
Greene, Anthony D. 2007. Phonology Limited. Universtitätsverlag Potsdam.
Grijzenhout, Janet. 1995. Irish Consonant Mutation and phonological theory. Ph.D. Dissertation. University of Utrecht
MacAulay, Donald. 1992. The Celtic Languages. Cambridge University Press
Ní Chiosáin, Máire. 1991. Topics in the Phonology of Irish. Ph.D. dissertation. University of Massachusetts Amherst.
Ó Siadhail, Míchael. 1992. Modern Irish: Grammatical Description and Dialectal Variation. Cambridge University Press.
Pyatt Elizabeth J. 1997. An integrated model of the syntax and phonology of Celtic mutation. Ph.D. Dissertation. Harvard University.
Stewart, Thomas W 2004. Mutation as morphology: Bases stems and shapes in Scottish Gaelic. Ph.D. Dissertation. The Ohio State University
Stifter, David. 2006. Sengoídelc: Old Irish for Beginners. Syracuse University Press.
Tallerman, Maggie. 2006. The syntax of Welsh ''Direct Object Mutation'' revisited. Lingua 116:1750-76
Thurneysen, Rudolf. 1946. A Grammar of Old Irish. Translated by D.A. Binchy and Osborn Bergin. Dublin Institute of Advanced Studies.
ABOUT THE REVIEWER
ABOUT THE REVIEWER:
Andrew Carnie is a Professor in the Linguistics Department at the
University of Arizona. He is also the Faculty Director of Graduate
Interdisciplinary Programs in the UA Graduate College. His expertise lies
in both in syntactic theory, with specializations in phrase structure, case
and verb initial word order and in the structure of the Celtic languages,
with a particular emphasis on Irish and Scottish Gaelic. He has written
numerous articles and authored and edited several books including The
Syntax of Verb Initial Languages (2000, OUP), Syntax: A Generative
Introduction (2002, 2nd edition 2007, 3rd edition coming soon,
Wiley-Blackwell), Formal Approaches to Function in Grammar (2003, John
Benjamins), Verb First (2005, John Benjamins), Irish Nouns (2008 OUP),
Constituent Structure (2008, 2nd edition 2010, OUP), and Modern Syntax: A
coursebook (2011, CUP).