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: Kortmann, Bernd and van der Auwera, Johan TITLE: The Languages and Linguistics of Europe SUBTITLE: A Comprehensive Guide SERIES TITLE: The World of Linguistics (volume 1) PUBLISHER: De Gruyter Mouton YEAR: 2011
James Costa, Laboratoire ICAR, Institut français de l’éducation, Ecole Normale Supérieure de Lyon, France
This volume consists of forty-nine chapters (911 pages) and seeks to provide an up-to-date overview of linguistic research in Europe. This includes chapters on descriptive linguistics, sociolinguistics, historical linguistics and the history of European linguistics. The book is intended for use as a handbook for advanced students and researchers, and presents not only established research, but also areas of investigation that are more ‘controversial or under-researched’, as the editors claim on the back-cover. This volume is conceived as the first one in a series that will ultimately encompass other major geographical areas throughout the world.
Given the size of the volume, this review will present sections rather than individual chapters (especially for the first section on language families), but will draw on examples taken from several chapters. The first section (I) deals with the typology of European languages, and includes chapters on Indo-European languages (e.g. Baltic, Celtic, Germanic, Romance and Slavonic languages as well as Albanian and Greek) and also on other European linguistic families and languages (e.g. Turkic, Uralic, Basque, Maltese, Romani). There is also a chapter on Caucasian languages (that includes languages from several families) and one on European signed languages. Those chapters are conventional in their presentations, and include information on phonetics, morphology, and syntax. The chapters on Baltic and Caucasian languages include sections on perspectives or suggestions for future research that might be of interest for prospective doctoral students. Some chapters include maps of the areas where the languages described are spoken (e.g. Romance and Caucasian languages, Basque).
The second section is concerned with areal typology and language contact. The areal typology subsection (II.1) comprises chapters on standard average European (a term first used by Whorf in 1956 but which gained currency after the ‘EUROTYP’ research project in the 1990s established Western Europe as a ‘Sprachbund’, or a coherent linguistic ensemble where contact is ancient and frequent, and where several typological features are shared as a result), the Balkan Sprachbund, languages of the Baltic area, and Mediterranean languages. These chapters bring together linguistic and sociolinguistic elements on language contact, and also include some elements of reflexion on the very notion of linguistic areas. According to Andrea Sansò (Chapter 18), for example, Mediterranean languages cannot be considered a Sprachbund in the same way as linguistics accepts the existence of a Balkan Sprachbund: “While there are several contact phenomena at the micro-level, involving only two or three languages at a time, very few (if any) linguistic traits qualify as truly Mediterranean while being, at the same time, typologically not commonplace or, at least, rare or absent in the neighbouring non-Mediterranean languages” (p. 341).
The next subsection on language contact (II.2) has geographically-organised chapters treating Northern, Eastern, Northeastern, Southwestern, and Southeastern Europe, and a final chapter on a comparison between minority language situations in Central and Southern Europe. Language contact in this subsection is treated from a historical point of view, but the works include short sections on contemporary processes, such as what Peter Hill (Chapter 22, ‘Language contact in South-Eastern Europe’) calls ‘Anglomania’, i.e., linguistic pressure from English (pp. 424-5), or what Jan-Ola Östman (Chapter 19, ‘Language contact in the North of Europe’) terms ‘globalisation’, i.e., “a countermove against self-colonisation [from English]” (p. 378). This chapter insists that “...[c]ontact is not a secondary phenomenon. It is too essentialist to think that L1 and L2 exist, and then come into contact with one another […] Variation, variability and adaptability are central concepts for understanding contact, and have always been. Besides, convergence is just one aspect of contact; divergence as a strategy is just as important” (p. 377). Chapters are thus not only descriptive, but also provide critical elements of reflexion to understand the processes they describe. A comparative chapter (Chapter 23, by Walter Breu) touches upon several instances of contact in Central and Southern Europe, e.g., Slavic/Romance, Slavic/Germanic, Albanian/Romance, and presents suggestions for future research, in particular, regarding structural change in minority dialects of majority languages compared to contact-induced change in minority languages.
The following subsection (II.3) is concerned with minority languages, and comprises two descriptive chapters, one on ‘The old minority languages of Europe’ (Chapter 24) and one on ‘The immigrant minority languages of Europe’ (Chapter 25). In Chapter 24, Stefan Tröster-Munz proposes not a description of each minority language situation, but rather a typology according to language vitality. He thus classifies languages as ‘closely related’ or ‘related’ to the contact languages, and as ‘extinct’, ‘nearly extinct’ or ‘revived’. He also provides an account of why language groups can become a minority through historical processes (e.g. Francoprovençal in the Aosta Valley became a minority language when Italian became the language of the newly formed Italian state [p. 456]). Tröster-Muntz further gives two examples of minority language situations in Europe, Rhaeto-Romance and Frisian, which have official status in the area where they are spoken, and have access to the media, but are spoken in contiguous areas in Switzerland and the Netherlands/Germany, respectively. He concludes with a section on language politics, insisting that “linguists can assist language communities in the documentation of their languages, as well as in the development of didactic material, which is very important for teaching both young and old non-native speakers in order to preserve the survival of the languages” (pp. 464-5). Chapter 25 on immigrant minority languages, by Guus Extra, focuses on the status of immigrant languages and their speakers across Europe, the role of languages in fostering identity, and the institutional European discourse on plurilingualism -- in this respect, the author argues that “the increasing internationalisation of pupil populations in European schools requires that a language policy be introduced for all school children, in which the traditional dichotomy between foreign language instruction for indigenous majority pupils and home language instruction for [immigrant minority] pupils is put aside” (p. 479).
The final subsection (II.4) of Section II refers to ‘Non-standard varieties’. It has three chapters dealing with ‘dialect vs. standard’ (Chapter 26, by Peter Auer), ‘Border effects in European dialect continua’ (Chapter 27, by Curt Woolhiser) and ‘Non-standard varieties in the areal typology of Europe’ (Chapter 18, by Adriano Murelli and Bernd Kortmann). Auer’s contribution (p. 487) presents a typology of dialect/standard relations, and subsequently adds a historical perspective to it. The typology itself consists of five types of ‘dialect/standard’ nexuses, ranging from ‘Type zero’ (‘exoglossic diaglossia’, i.e., a situation where “the standard variety is imported and not considered by its users to be a variety which is structurally related to the vernaculars” (p. 487)) to ‘Type D’, i.e., ‘dialect loss’. Each case is further illustrated by a diagram. The current standard/dialect relation is characterised, according to Auer, by the following two tendencies: While (standard) languages and nations tend to coincide more and more, internal national language variability has greatly increased, in terms of accents, as well as morphological and grammatical deviations from traditional standard forms. Woolhiser focuses on various issues relating to processes of dialect convergence and divergence in border areas, e.g., in terms of phonological change and attitudes. He concludes that, although officially open, national borders are likely to play an important role linguistically in Europe for several generations. Borders strikingly bring together linguistic and sociolinguistic concerns, an appreciation which concords with Murelli and Kortmann’s conclusion that “dialects and non-standard varieties, in general, should be given systematic coverage in language typology, […] and dialects and non-standard varieties must be given systematic coverage in areal typology […]” (p. 541), in order to shed light on areas of small-scale linguistic convergence.
The third section of the book (III) deals with language politics and language policies in Europe. Its eight chapters cover areas such as minority language planning (Chapter 29, by Jeroen Darquennes), with an example at the Germanic-Romance border in the area between Belgium, France and Luxembourg (Chapter 30, Peter Gilles); language and religion (Chapter 35, John Myhill) or language and education (Chapter 36, Joachim Grzega); the role of English in Europe (Chapter 32, Juliane House and Chapter 33, Päivi Pahta and Irma Taavitsainen); multilingual states in Europe and the European Union (Chapter 34, Ruth Wodak and Michał Krzyżanowski); and feminist language politics in Europe (Chapter 31, Antje Lann Hornscheidt). This last chapter provides a fairly unusual angle for language policy in general handbooks. Hornscheidt challenges the view that feminist language politics in contemporary Europe is a monolithic block, and insists that several types of politics regarding issues of gender aim at making different voices heard and seek to challenge naturalisations.
The next section (IV) presents European languages from a historical perspective, from prehistory (Chapter 37, Robert Mailhammer), a period rarely considered in volumes aimed at a large audience, to the constitution of Nation-states and the invention of ethno-linguistic nationalism in the 18th century (Chapter 44, Sue Wright). This section also includes chapters on the impact of historical migrations on the following: The linguistic landscape of Europe (Chapter 38, Paolo Ramat) from the arrival of Indo-European-speaking populations to large migration movements in the middle ages; the Renaissance period (Chapter 39, Heidi Aschenberg), where we see an important section on the role of translation in the humanist programme of Renaissance Europe, which led to “the consolidation of the vernacular languages in many speech communities” (p. 701); multilingual empires and states in Central Europe (Chapter 40, Jan Fellerer) and Eastern Europe, including the Ottoman Empire (Chapter 41, Lars Johanson -- this chapter deals more specifically with the linguistic consequences of the progressive demise of the Ottoman Empire and the birth of modern Turkey), the Russian Empire (Chapter 42, Dieter Stern), and Yugoslavia (Chapter 43, Christian Voß).
The final section (VI) treats issues connected with research traditions in Europe, centering on formal linguistics rather than sociolinguistics. The first two chapters deal with the period from Ancient Greece to the 18th century (Chapter 45, Nicola McLelland, including a brief summary of controversies about the origin of language and languages), and the 19th century (Chapter 46, Pierre Swiggers). The final chapters of the book are concerned with theoretical currents such as structuralism (Chapter 47, Jörn Albrecht), functionalism (Chapter 48, Rosanna Sornicola) or generative grammar (Chapter 49, Martin Everaert and Eric Reuland). Chapters 46 and 57 emphasise the role of historical linguistics and philology in the constitution of modern linguistics, but all five chapters remain very descriptive, contextualising major schools of thought (e.g. in Chapter 47, the Prague, Geneva, Copenhagen, Russian, London schools) and theoretical issues (e.g. debates between American and European structuralism (Chapter 47, p. 839)). Important concepts are also outlined and briefly defined, e.g., Albrecht, in Chapter 47, defines ‘synchronie’ and ‘diachronie’, ‘langue’ and ‘parole’, ‘signifiant’ and ‘signifié’, etc. All chapters conclude with the idea that it is extremely difficult to define different schools and theoretic strands such as functionalism as separate from one another, or as easily identifiable, since all schools are intertwined with each other. As Sornicola puts it for functionalism, “the history of functionalism is the history of individuals, no less than of cultural and ideological contexts” (p. 847), which is a phrase that is also valid for all of European linguistics. This is particularly obvious from Everaert and Reuland’s article on generative grammar in Eastern and Western Europe; more than a European brand of generative grammar, there are “generative grammarians in Europe” (p. 881).
The book ends with three thorough indices: languages and language varieties, names and subjects, and each article ends with a thorough bibliography on the topic the article is concerned with.
Overall this hefty volume offers exactly what it claims to; a wide panorama of European linguistics, presented by experts in their fields, with a clear emphasis on formal linguistics, yet with some occasional sociolinguistic concerns. It is clearly an invaluable resource for students or scholars needing essential information on a specific topic they are not well acquainted with, and with relevant bibliographic elements to go further if needed. The historical dimension is essential throughout the volume, and ensures the global coherence of the book. Essential bibliographic details are also a precious asset for students who might wish to enter a subject or field through any of the contributions in this volume. This is undoubtedly an excellent and essential book which should be featured in any library that offers a linguistics section. Despite its size, it remains easy to work with and consult, with the indices being of particular use. At the end of each chapter, the editors also refer readers to other relevant chapters in the book, thus enhancing its general coherence and helpfulness. Of particular personal interest was the analysis of the relation between standard and dialect, by Peter Auer (Chapter 26), for its bringing together dialectological and sociolinguistic concerns. The increased tolerance regarding some forms of internal variability within standard languages (in particular regional dialects) raises several questions as to the evolution of the role of language within the framework of contemporary Nation-states, and would require further research.
No review would, however, be complete without some level of criticism, and as any other volume, this book does raise some issues which I shall mention now. The way linguistics is understood and conceptualised in this volume is clearly oriented towards formal and historical linguistics. While this is of course perfectly acceptable, it fails to consider entire currents of linguistic thought that have been particularly influential in European linguistics, in particular, in its final (historical) section. I am thinking particularly of sociolinguistics, discourse analysis or conversation analysis (although to be fair, the chapters on language policy do shed a slightly different point of view on linguistic issues and include some sociolinguistic or sociological aspects). Yet, from a historical point of view, sociolinguistics emerged under various names (in particular as ‘sociology of language’) in different parts of Europe throughout the 20th century, and scholars such as Marcel Cohen are totally absent from the book. Other scholars such as Lluís Aracil in Catalonia and Robert Lafont in Languedoc, who are important figures in the development of European sociolinguistics, are also notably absent from the book. While some may argue that sociolinguistics is closer to sociology than to formal linguistics, one might also point to the fact that their dismissal leads the book to ignore such linguistic trends as (critical) discourse analysis, as practiced in Britain, and praxematics, developed in Montpellier by Robert Lafont in the 1970s and 1980s (see for instance, Lafont 1978). While Ruth Wodak (one of the main figures of Critical Discourse Analysis [CDA]) co-authors a chapter (Chapter 34), there is no specific chapter on discourse analysis and its history in Europe. Those are important developments in European linguistics, yet they are conspicuously absent from this book. Their absence leads to an implied general definition or characterisation of linguistics that is ultimately very restrictive, limited to formal and systemic linguistics. This approach may partly be the result of the choice of contributors, who overwhelmingly come from Germany, the Netherlands and Belgium. A larger choice of contributors from other areas would certainly have resulted in a fairly different perspective. This, however, only means that there is room for other general volumes on European linguistics with different perspectives.
Cohen, Marcel 1971 . Matériaux pour une sociologie du langage, vol. 1 & 2, Paris: FM/Petite Collection Maspero.
Lafont, Robert 1978. Praxématique et sociolinguistique. Lengas, 3, pp.77-85.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
ABOUT THE REVIEWER:
James Costa is currently a researcher at the Institut français de
l’éducation, a department of the Ecole Normale Supérieure de Lyon, and
works within the ICAR laboratory. He defended his thesis on language
revitalisation in Provence and Scotland from a critical perspective in
2010, and is currently looking at the tendencies within the Occitan
revitalisation movement in late modernity, in particular, in terms of how
language is framed to construct new categories of belonging and autochthony.