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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Review of Historische Sprachwissenschaft [Historical Linguistics]
EDITOR: Maitz, Péter TITLE: Historische Sprachwissenschaft SUBTITLE: Erkenntnisinteressen, Grundlagenprobleme, Desiderate SERIES TITLE: De Gruyter Studia Linguistica Germanica. Vol. 110. PUBLISHER: De Gruyter YEAR: 2012
Stefan Hartmann, Deutsches Institut, Johannes Gutenberg-Universität Mainz
SUMMARY “Where is historical linguistics headed?” [“Wohin steuert die Historische Sprachwissenschaft?”] -- This was the central question of a workshop held at Debrecen University in September 2009. 14 papers presented there have now been collected in the volume “Historische Sprachwissenschaft: Erkenntnisinteressen, Grundlagenprobleme, Desiderate” [“Historical linguistics: epistemological interests, foundational problems, desiderata”]. All contributions are in German.
In his opening chapter, editor Péter Maitz traces the history of the discipline up to the present “status quo”, focusing especially on the heterogeneity of current (German) historical linguistics. Drawing on Kuhn’s ( 1970) “Structure of Scientific Revolutions” and anticipating the results of an ongoing meta-scientific research project (cf. Maitz 2006), he stipulates three periods in the history of the discipline which can be distinguished according to two major criteria: a) the stability of the discipline’s foundations, i.e. the extent to which there is a consensus about the norms and values guiding the research activities, and b) the rigidness of the boundary between the scientific community of a discipline and its scientific environment. The 19th century, according to Maitz, was characterized by a relatively broad consensus on (historical-comparative, later neogrammarian) research norms and methods as well as by a clearly demarcated scientific community. This -- in Maitz’s term -- “progressive” period was then followed by a period of “stagnation” in the first half of the 20th century. Although the scientific community maintained both solid group boundaries and stable disciplinary foundations, their methods suffered a severe loss of prestige and were radically questioned. A major turn then occurred in the 1970s, leading to the current third period characterized by instable foundations (reflected in a variety of approaches) and less rigid group boundaries. Furthermore, Maitz discusses whether historical linguistics should be considered an “immature” science in Kuhn’s sense and to what extent Kuhn’s theory can be applied to this discipline (and the humanities in general) in the first place.
In “Verstehen wir den Sprachwandel richtig?” [“Do we understand language change properly?”], Dieter Cherubim poses four major questions for any theory of language change: (1) What is language change?, (2) How can we detect language change?, (3) How can we model language change in its different stages?, (4) How can we trace motivations for or even causes of language change?. Approaching language change as a fundamental working principle of language itself, he proposes a five-stage model of language change comprising the phases of (1) motivation, (2) innovation, (3), diffusion, (4) integration, and (5) consequences (i.e. chain reactions in the language system motivated by an earlier change).
“Sprachwandel: Ursachen und Wirkungen” [“Language change: cause and effect”] by Jenő Kiss discusses the interconnections of the three factors language, language use, and language user in a theory of language change, language users being explicitly conceived of as both biological and social beings. Kiss argues that the mechanism of homeostasis, according to which “any living organism is constantly interacting with its environment and therefore constantly changing in a way that allows it to uphold its inner state of balance and its organic functions” (Kiss, p. 52, my translation), plays a key role in language change. This entails that causes of language change can only be found in the linguistic activity performed by bio-psycho-socially determined human beings (p. 59).
Damaris Nübling reflects on “the mutual benefit of historical linguistics and language typology” [“Vom gegenseitigen Nutzen von Historischer Sprachwissenschaft und Sprachtypologie”]. With three examples, she illustrates how linguistic typology -- or rather, different typologies -- can be operationalized to explain language change: 1) The distribution of German linking elements (e.g. Freund-es-kreis, lit. “friend-LINKING ELEMENT-circle” ‘circle of friends’) can be explained in terms of the development of German from ‘syllable’ to ‘word language’ (in the sense of Szczepaniak 2007, see below); 2) some changes in Early New High German verbal inflection (c. 1350-1650) can be explained by Bybee’s (1985) typology of relevance; 3) the diachronic development of German pronouns of address as delineated by Simon (2003) can be accounted for with the help of Brown and Levinson’s (1987) universal typology of politeness.
In “Lautwandel verstehen” [“Understanding phonological change”], Renata Szczepaniak sketches the typology of syllable vs. word languages and the development of German from syllable to word language. This process manifests itself in numerous sound changes highlighting word boundaries, such as word-final consonantal neutralization (“Auslautverhärtung”) and consonant epenthesis. She illustrates the consequences of profiling the phonological word with the example of German genitive variation (“des Pferd-s” vs. “des Pferd-es” ‘the horse-GEN’): the choice of the genitive form depends on a) the phonological size and complexity of the base, and b) the quality and quantity of the final consonant.
Anna Molnár explores “What research on grammaticalization and historical grammar could tell each other” [“Was Grammatikalisierungsforschung und Historische Grammatik einander zu sagen hätten”]. She deplores the lack of interaction between these fields and elucidates how the description of historical grammars could benefit from grammaticalization research, and vice versa. Using the examples of German modal particles, verbs, and adverbs, she shows both diverging epistemological interests and possibilities for cross-fertilization in the two approaches: While (traditional) grammarians have to make decisions about word class categorization, grammaticalization research suggests a continuum of word classes (p. 116). Molnár argues that historical grammars should incorporate the results of grammaticalization research that trace the diachronic evolution of different word classes (e.g., the emergence of German modal particles through grammaticalization of certain adjectives and adverbs).
While most of the contributions draw on German data, Richard J. Watts’ “Sprachgeschichte oder die Geschichte einer Sprache?” [“Language history or the history of a language?”] focuses on English. Within the framework of conceptual metaphors (Lakoff and Johnson  2003) and conceptual integration (Fauconnier and Turner 2002), he analyzes how historiography and linguistics became intertwined in the first half of the 19th century. He argues that the parallels drawn between the notion of a nation state on the one hand and language on the other yielded a hegemonic “discourse archive” in the sense of Foucault (p. 141) as well as a set of metaphors still in use (e.g. A COUNTRY IS A PLANTATION -- A LANGUAGE IS A PLANT, as in “A language flourishes”). This default perspective leads to the (narrowed) conception of language history as the history of one national language.
Paul Rössler, in “Die Grenzen der Grenzen” [“The boundaries of boundaries”], revisits a classical problem of German historical linguistics, namely, periodization (see Roelcke 1998). He proposes a “fund of funds principle” to develop a new model of periodization taking into account the insights of previous periodization models rather than re-interpreting the findings from historical language data.
Hiroyuki Takada’s paper deals with “‘Umgangssprache’ in der zweiten Hälfte des 18. Jahrhunderts” [“‘Colloquial language’ in the second half of the 18th century”]. Drawing on Koch and Oesterreicher’s (e.g., 1994) model of conceptual ‘writtenness’ vs. ‘orality’ and ‘language of closeness’ vs. ‘language of distance’, he works out four different uses of the German term “Umgangssprache” [“colloquial language”] in 18th century texts differing both in mediality (orality vs. writtenness) and in register (closeness vs. distance).
Stephan Elspaß addresses the question “Wohin steuern Korpora die Historische Sprachwissenschaft?” [“Where are corpora leading historical linguistics?”] He detects a severe “corpus plight” [“Korpusmisere”, p. 203] especially concerning the Early New High German period and calls for explanatory adequacy in the interpretation of corpus findings according to Ágel’s (2001: 319f.) “principle of viability” stating that processes of language change cannot be described and explained in idealized models. In this regard he questions Szczepaniak’s (e.g., 2007, see also above) hypothesis that German has developed from a syllable to a word language, contesting some of her key examples as both exceptional and only occurring in written language and presenting counterexamples indicating an improvement of the syllable structure rather than a highlighting of word boundaries.
In “Stil als Kategorie der soziopragmatischen Sprachgeschichte” [“Style as a category in socio-pragmatic language history”], Noah Bubenhofer and Joachim Scharloth first discuss the notion of “Stil” (roughly, “style”; the English and the German terms cover a wide range of concepts but are not entirely congruent), which they define as a “recurrent, socio-culturally significant way of performing actions” [“rekurrente soziokulturell signifikante Form der Handlungsdurchführung”, p. 231]. Employing an inductive, “corpus-driven” method, they then try to uncover stylistic differences in a corpus comprising audiotape protocols and flyers from the 1968 protest movement in Germany by means of a complex n-gram analysis. Comparing two different milieus within this movement, they find significantly different recurring patterns.
Bubenhofer’s second contribution, this one with Juliane Schröter, deals with changing conceptualizations of the Alps and alpine climbing reflected in the yearbooks of the Swiss Alpine Club. Again using n-gram analysis, they find a twofold change in the perception of alpine climbing and mountain hiking: a) from an objective exploration of an unfamiliar environment to a subjective experience of unaccustomed circumstances; b) from a “recreational science” [“Freizeitwissenschaft”, p. 278] of the educated middle class to a professional extreme sport.
Andreas Gardt discusses the benefits and risks of viewing “Sprachgeschichte als Kulturgeschichte” [“Language history as cultural history”]. Contrary to Maitz (2006: 8), he does not see the diversification of historical linguistics as the discipline accidentally striking out in the wrong direction [“unbeabsichtigt betretener Irrweg”], but rather as an expression of social reality in which the co-existence of different perspectives and methods is not only accepted but regarded as suitable and fruitful. He makes a case for the cultural orientation of historical linguistics, which seems especially appropriate for the object of study, language (p. 297).
The last paper, “Sprachgeschichte und Diachronie in der Finnougristik” [“Language history and diachrony in Finno-Ugrian studies”] by Marianne Bakró-Nagy, points out some results of and desiderata for Finno-Ugrian studies. The main areas of research include diachronic phonology and morphological description; shortcomings, according to Bakró-Nagy, include neglect of grammaticalization theory, historical syntax, and contact-linguistic research on loan words. The main endeavor at present, however, should be the exploration and description of endangered languages.
EVALUATION “Where is historical linguistics headed?” -- The question is illuminating and thought-provoking as it urges historical linguists not to limit their horizon to their own theoretical and methodological frameworks but rather to question their own views and reasoning in the light of competing approaches. As Gardt rightly states, the diversity of approaches within historical linguistics can be regarded as an advantage rather than a drawback or even a sign of “immaturity” in the sense of Kuhn ( 1970). However, this heterogeneity is necessarily accompanied by the danger of misunderstandings between different approaches or the formation of distinct “camps”. This volume reflects both the potential and some of the possible misunderstandings that spring from this heterogeneity.
Two examples illustrate the latter. Cherubim takes up his criticism of Keller’s ( 2003) ‘invisible hand’ theory (also Cherubim 1982), stating that Keller fails to bridge the gap between innovation and change and rejecting the idea that language change takes place “behind language users’ backs” [“‘hinter dem Rücken’ der Sprachbenutzer”, p. 33]. However, it is questionable whether the general perceptibility of language change and an explanation in terms of invisible hand processes (i.e. as language change “behind users’ backs”) exclude each other. On the one hand, it is certainly true that language change usually can be observed and reflected. Some instances manifest themselves in “linguistic cases of doubt” in the sense of Klein (2003, 2009) or in metalinguistic debates. On the other hand, some kinds of change, such as word-formation change, are mostly long-term processes that go unnoticed synchronically for most language users (cf. Munske 2002: 24). The same holds for the mostly unconscious processes involved in lexicalization and grammaticalization (as opposed to, e.g., the coinage of a novel term or the borrowing of a word). Therefore, it is not at all misguided to view language change -- in Keller’s terms -- as a phenomenon of the third kind, i.e. an unintended result of intentional human action (Keller  2003: 93), especially if we consider that the process of innovation is sometimes itself unintentional (e.g. reanalysis, cf. Hopper and Traugott 2003: 50-53). Bearing this in mind, Cherubim’s own intriguing model is not at all incompatible with Keller’s invisible hand theory; rather, their approaches can be seen as complementing each other.
Elspaß’ criticism of Szczepaniak’s work shows a potentially graver misunderstanding. First and foremost, he overlooks the fact that the typology of syllable vs. word languages, like most typologies, has to be taken with a grain of salt. At no point does Szczepaniak (2006, 2007) claim an exceptionless, unidirectional development of German from one end of the scale to the other; rather, she sketches an overall tendency. At the same time, Elspaß operationalizes a rather idealized typology himself, namely, the typology of ‘orality’ vs. ‘writtenness’, or ‘language of distance’ vs. ‘language of closeness’. It is certainly true that the so-called “Neuhochdeutsche Schriftsprache” (written New High German) established from the 15th/16th century onwards (cf. Hartweg and Wegera 2005: 53) is not the language of everyday conversation; however, the connection between spoken and written language in Present Day German and earlier stages of German is much more complex than Elspaß suggests. The relationship between oral and written language is heavily debated even for Old High German (e.g., Hübner 2006: 42-44, for Middle High German, cf. Bumke  2005: 596-637). The fact that Latin serves as a language of distance, as Elspaß (p. 217) states, does not necessarily entail that the majority of Old High German texts exhibits a language of closeness [“dass die uns überlieferten althochdeutschen Texte prinzipiell nähesprachlich sind”, p. 217]. Rather, written Old High German is heavily influenced by Latin and is therefore often said to lie between written and oral language (e.g., Ridder and Wolf 2000: 431, 437f.). Elspaß’ caveat on the comparability of Szczepaniak’s data is therefore not entirely substantiated. He makes an important point nevertheless, as the limits of comparability between different stages of German in corpus-based research are certainly worth considering, taking into account parameters such as predominating text types, diverging places of origin (e.g. monastery vs. court vs. town), etc. Szczepaniak’s study, however, has to be understood as a contribution to linguistic theory rather than a corpus-based or even corpus-driven work. In fact, the word “Korpus” (or “Corpus” -- both variants exist in German) does not occur in Szczepaniak (2007). Thus, Elspaß’ criticism of Szczepaniak’s handling of corpus data seems out of place here.
However, the fact that such misunderstandings catch the eye can be a merit rather than a shortcoming. The volume shows both the variety of approaches and the ongoing controversies between different approaches, providing a valuable basis for the discussion of the path historical linguistics should take. Maitz’s introduction integrates those different approaches in an interesting, albeit sketchy and sometimes over-simplified framework. For example, his assertion that other approaches than the dominant neo-grammarian ones were generally ignored or suppressed in the first “phase” of historical linguistics (p. 3) does not do justice to historical reality. In fact, the neogrammarian framework was never entirely undisputed (cf. Jankowsky 2001); Einhauser (2001: 1338) even states: “Seldom has a [scientific] group been so heavily disputed from the very beginning” [“selten ist eine Gruppe von Anfang an so umstritten gewesen wie diese“]. It remains to be seen if Maitz will take up this point in greater detail in his upcoming “Metasprachgeschichte”.
Of special interest are those contributions that illustrate perspectives mostly overlooked for various reasons; for example, Bakró-Nagy’s paper introduces the rather small field of Finno-Ugric studies, and Kiss’s contribution makes some ideas of Hungarian research on language change accessible: of his 27 references, 17 are in Hungarian. Moreover, Kiss addresses another open question not posed explicitly in Maitz’s introduction but which flares up, for example, in Cherubim’s (p. 38, fn. 23) strict exclusion of questions of language evolution from the subject area of historical linguistics, namely, the question of the interrelation of language-internal, cultural, and biological factors in processes of language change. In this respect, it is regrettable that Kiss’s contribution -- as he himself concedes -- remains rather sketchy and leaves some relevant recent literature on the interplay of biological and cultural factors in language and language change unconsidered (e.g., Christiansen and Chater 2008, Beckner et al. 2009).
All in all, however, this volume is an inspiring overview of approaches in current historical linguistics. Although the scope of most contributions is limited to German diachronic linguistics, many insights should be applicable to theories of language change in general. Consequently, it is highly recommendable for anyone interested in Historical Linguistics and the direction -- or rather, directions -- this discipline is taking or is about to take.
REFERENCES Ágel, Vilmos. 2001. Gegenwartsgrammatik und Sprachgeschichte. Methodologische Überlegungen am Beispiel der Serialisierung im Verbalkomplex. In: Zeitschrift für Germanistische Linguistik 29, 319-331.
Beckner, Clay, et al. 2009. Language Is A Complex Adaptive System. Position Paper. In: Language Learning 59, 1-26.
Brown, Penelope; Levinson, Stephen C. 1987. Politeness. Some Universals in Language Use. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Bumke, Joachim.  2005. Höfische Kultur. Literatur und Gesellschaft im hohen Mittelalter. 11th ed. München: dtv.
Bybee, Joan. 1985. Morphology. A Study of the Relation between Meaning and Form. Amsterdam: John Benjamins.
Cherubim, Dieter. 1983. Trampelpfad zum Sprachwandel? Zu Rudi Kellers Beitrag in ZGL 10.1982. In: Zeitschrift für Germanistische Linguistik 11, 65-71.
Christiansen, Morten H.; Chater, Nick. 2008. Language as shaped by the brain. In: Behavioral and Brain Sciences, 489-509.
Einhauser, Eveline. 2001. Die Entstehung und frühe Entwicklung des junggrammatischen Forschungsprogramms. In: Auroux, Sylvain / Koerner, E.F.K. / Niederehe, Hans-Josef / Versteegh, Kees (eds.): History of the Language Sciences. An International Handbook on the Evolution of the Study of Language from the Beginnings to the Present. Vol. 2. Berlin, New York: De Gruyter, 1338-1350.
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Keller, Rudi  2003. Sprachwandel. Von der unsichtbaren Hand in der Sprache. 3rd ed. Tübingen, Basel: Francke.
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ABOUT THE REVIEWER
ABOUT THE REVIEWER:
Stefan Hartmann is a PhD student in historical linguistics at the
University of Mainz, Germany. He is currently conducting a corpus-based
study on the diachronic change of German nominalization patterns. Apart
from historical and corpus linguistics, his research interests include
Cognitive Linguistics, sociolinguistics, and psycholinguistics.