LINGUIST List 20.2558

Mon Jul 20 2009

Review: Historical Linguistics: Ringe (2008)

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        1.    Elizabeth Canon, From Proto-Indo-European to Proto-Germanic

Message 1: From Proto-Indo-European to Proto-Germanic
Date: 20-Jul-2009
From: Elizabeth Canon <>
Subject: From Proto-Indo-European to Proto-Germanic
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AUTHOR: Ringe, DonTITLE: From Proto-Indo-European to Proto-GermanicSUBTITLE: A Linguistic History of English, Volume 1PUBLISHER: Oxford University PressYEAR: 2008

Elizabeth Bell Canon, Department of English, University of Wisconsin at La Crosse

Don Ringe, Kahn Endowed Term Professor in Linguistics at the University ofPennsylvania, originally wrote this book ''as part of a set of handouts for acourse in the linguistic history of English'' (1). It begins with a very thoroughoverview of the reconstructed Proto-Indo-European (PIE) language, placing itsorigin in time and space (around 4000 BC in the Ukraine.) Everything thatfollows is built on the foundation laid by the comparative method. He then givesa detailed account of Proto-Indo-European grammatical elements: phonology,inflectional morphology, derivational morphology, and syntax followed by anintroduction to the PIE lexicon.

Following the progression from PIE to Proto-Germanic (PGmc), Ringe discusses thedevelopment of PGmc sound changes (Grimm's and Verner's Laws, etc.,) and therestructuring of inflectional morphology (with primary focus on the changesaffecting the verbal and adjectival systems). The last section of Volume 1 isdedicated to the grammatical structure of PGmc: phonology, inflectionalmorphology, word formation, syntax and lexicon.

Since Ringe originally compiled this information for students, it is intendedfor readers with a basic background in the field of linguistics. He writes,''[m]y intended readership includes especially those who have not undertakenserious study of Indo-European or comparative Germanic linguistics, nor of thehistory of English, but want reliable information on what specialists in thosedisciplines have collectively learned over the past century and a half'' (1).

Volume 1 in this series ''Linguistic History of English'' is a fantastic resourcefor the study of the history of any Germanic language, and indeed, anyIndo-European language. This very accessible account of the earliestreconstructable roots of the English language begins with an introduction to thecomparative method and the PIE language family. Ringe points out that thegreatest challenge for Indo-Europeanists is the reconstruction of the verbalsystem because of the failure of the Cowgill-Rix reconstruction to account fornatural changes in the Hittite verb (5). He accounts for this seeming inadequacyby noting that Anatolian, the Indo-European branch to which Hittite belongs,must have broken off from the rest of the PIE family very early on.

Ringe addresses all aspects of PIE grammar and lexicon in the first half of thebook. Beginning with phonology, the reader is carefully walked through the PIEsystem of obstruents, sonorants, and vowels. Although the treatment is notcomplete, it is very thorough, and the author directs the reader to other worksfor more comprehensive investigation. The most important PIE phonological rules,including a good explanation of ablaut, a somewhat less satisfying explanationof laryngeals, the syllabification of sonorants, rules affecting obstruents, andAuslautgesetze are explained with clarity and some helpful examples.

The PIE morphological system begins with an overview of inflectional categories:nominal cases, concord in gender, person, number, the verb stem, tense, aspect,etc. Ringe, having stated in the introduction that the Anatolian verb's naturemust mean that that branch of PIE split off very early, concentrates hisdiscussion on the remaining North Indo-European verbal system by followingCowgill-Rix. The very complicated nature of the PIE verb is presented in awell-organized nature, with many complete paradigms helping to illustrate theinteractions between components. Similarly, the nominal inflections (includingnoun, adjective, numeral, pronominal, etc.) are explained and exemplified. Ringeconcentrates his discussion of derivational morphology on the types andprocesses that are most pertinent in the development of the Germanic system.

The discussion of PIE syntax is exceedingly brief, ''because the protolanguagelies so far in the past and because historical syntax is still in its infancy''(65). Other scholars have posited a more in-depth description of those aspectsof PIE syntax that are reconstructable (see e.g. Fortson 2004). As for the PIElexicon, Ringe laments the absence of a proper dictionary. He points to faultsin Pokorny 1959, and Rix et al. 2001, but doesn't mention Calvert Watkins' _TheAmerican Heritage Dictionary of Indo-European Roots_.

Chapter 3, The Development of Proto-Germanic, outlines the major changes thatmark the split between Germanic and the rest of what was left of the PIE family.It is by far the largest portion of the book. Ringe writes, ''[a] significantreorganization of nominal inflection took place. Sound changes were much moreextensive; some forty regular sound changes can be reconstructed, and theirrelative chronology is partly recoverable. But the most striking changesaffected the system of verb inflection, which was completely reorganized anddrastically altered in detail. In consequence, a Germanic language is todayimmediately recognizable by the inflection of its verb'' (67). Beginning withregular sound changes including Grimm's, Verner's, and Sievers' Laws, thechapter works its way through changes to the morphological system with an extrasection bringing greater detail. Each subsection on morphological change –including verb inflection, and noun and nominal inflection, is laid out in acommon sense manner. The author thoughtfully and logically walks the readerthrough the linguistic maze to the necessary conclusion.

The concluding chapter, Proto-Germanic, begins with an introduction to thefamily of Proto-Germanic language sub-families: East Germanic and NorthwestGermanic, which is further divided into North Germanic and West Germanic. Indefense of his position that North and West Germanic shared a common ancestor,Ringe goes out on a bit of a limb and says, ''In my opinion the number ofsignificant innovations which North and West Germanic unarguably share, thoughadmittedly small, is large enough to justify positing such a unity. By contrast,the innovations shared by East and North Germanic are extremely few and can haveresulted from parallel development, while those supposedly shared by EastGermanic and the more southerly dialects of West Germanic are actually sharedretentions which prove nothing. That North Germanic is itself a unitary subgroupis completely obvious, as all its dialects shared a long series of innovations,some of them very striking'' (213-4).

The outline of PGmc begins with an introduction to the phonological structure.Ablaut, the inherited system of vowel gradation, remained in both the verbalsystem and in the derivational process and is discussed. The next section, PGmcInflectional Morphology, begins with an overview of the inflectional categoriesof the PGmc verbal system. The categories are illustrated by paradigmsindicating all the components of the Proto-Germanic verb: tense, mood, voice,number; also mapped out are all seven classes of strong verbs, four classes ofweak verbs, the preterite present verbs, and the major anomalous verbs.

The PGmc nominal system is not as complex as the verbal system and thereforerequires less explanation. Ringe explains, ''[PGmc] nouns inflected for twonumbers, singular and plural, in PGmc, and there were six cases: vocative,nominative, accusative, genitive, dative, and instrumental. The old syncretismsof PIE persisted: the nom. pl. and voc. pl. were always identical, and the nom.,acc., and voc., of each number were identical for neuter nouns. As in PIE, eachnoun was assigned to one of three concord classes ('genders')'' (268).

The adjective system requires a bit more explanation as this is one of thecategories where there is a marked difference between PIE and PGmc. The PGmcadjective could decline in one of two ways: strong or weak, with the latterbeing one of the innovations marking the distinction between PIE and PGmc.(Modern German still reflects this system.)

The final topics covered in Volume 1 are Word Formation, which discussescompounding, derivational suffixation, and the formation of adverbs; a loneparagraph on PGmc Syntax, and an interesting summation of PGmc lexicon.

EVALUATIONProfessor Ringe has done a masterful job of explaining quite a bit of very densematerial. When approaching complicated topics, his writing is clear and hisreasoning is logical. As I mentioned, Ringe himself identifies his audience inthis way: ''My intended readership includes especially those who have notundertaken serious study of Indo-European or comparative Germanic linguistics,nor of the history of English, but want reliable information on what specialistsin those disciplines have collectively learned over the past century and a half''(1) His book is certainly a reliable source of information, but I believe thatthe material is more challenging than can easily be undertaken without someadvanced preparation. The book does not have a subject index – that would makeit much easier for novices and researchers to access specific information.Although I could not recommend it for readers new to the field of historicallinguistics, I do believe that it is an invaluable resource for advancedstudents and teachers interested in Indo-European linguistics and the history ofEnglish.

REFERENCESFortson, Benjamin J. (2004). _Indo-European Language and Culture: AnIntroduction_. Malden, MA: Blackwell Publishing.

Pokorny, J. (1959). _Indogermanisches etymologisches Wörterbuch_. Berne: Francke.

Rix, H. et al. (2001). _Lexikon der indogermanischen Verben_, 2nd ed. Wiesbaden:Reichert.

Watkins, Calvert. (2000). _The American Heritage Dictionary of Indo-EuropeanRoots_, 2nd ed. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company.

ABOUT THE REVIEWERElizabeth Bell Canon is Assistant Professor of Linguistics at the University ofWisconsin at La Crosse, where she teaches classes in English language andlinguistics. Her research interests include the contributions of pre-modernbiblical translators to the history of English, and language ideology withregard to Southern American English.