LINGUIST List 23.1163

Wed Mar 07 2012

Review: History of Ling; Typology; Indo-European: Kortmann & van der Auwera (2011)

Editor for this issue: Rajiv Rao <>

Date: 07-Mar-2012
From: James Costa <>
Subject: The Languages and Linguistics of Europe
E-mail this message to a friend

Discuss this message

Announced at
EDITORS: Kortmann, Bernd and van der Auwera, JohanTITLE: The Languages and Linguistics of EuropeSUBTITLE: A Comprehensive GuideSERIES TITLE: The World of Linguistics (volume 1)PUBLISHER: De Gruyter MoutonYEAR: 2011

James Costa, Laboratoire ICAR, Institut français de l’éducation, Ecole NormaleSupérieure de Lyon, France


This volume consists of forty-nine chapters (911 pages) and seeks to provide anup-to-date overview of linguistic research in Europe. This includes chapters ondescriptive linguistics, sociolinguistics, historical linguistics and thehistory of European linguistics. The book is intended for use as a handbook foradvanced students and researchers, and presents not only established research,but also areas of investigation that are more ‘controversial orunder-researched’, as the editors claim on the back-cover. This volume isconceived as the first one in a series that will ultimately encompass othermajor geographical areas throughout the world.

Given the size of the volume, this review will present sections rather thanindividual chapters (especially for the first section on language families), butwill draw on examples taken from several chapters. The first section (I) dealswith the typology of European languages, and includes chapters on Indo-Europeanlanguages (e.g. Baltic, Celtic, Germanic, Romance and Slavonic languages as wellas Albanian and Greek) and also on other European linguistic families andlanguages (e.g. Turkic, Uralic, Basque, Maltese, Romani). There is also achapter on Caucasian languages (that includes languages from several families)and one on European signed languages. Those chapters are conventional in theirpresentations, and include information on phonetics, morphology, and syntax. Thechapters on Baltic and Caucasian languages include sections on perspectives orsuggestions for future research that might be of interest for prospectivedoctoral students. Some chapters include maps of the areas where the languagesdescribed are spoken (e.g. Romance and Caucasian languages, Basque).

The second section is concerned with areal typology and language contact. Theareal 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 andfrequent, and where several typological features are shared as a result), theBalkan Sprachbund, languages of the Baltic area, and Mediterranean languages.These chapters bring together linguistic and sociolinguistic elements onlanguage contact, and also include some elements of reflexion on the very notionof linguistic areas. According to Andrea Sansò (Chapter 18), for example,Mediterranean languages cannot be considered a Sprachbund in the same way aslinguistics accepts the existence of a Balkan Sprachbund: “While there areseveral contact phenomena at the micro-level, involving only two or threelanguages at a time, very few (if any) linguistic traits qualify as trulyMediterranean 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-organisedchapters treating Northern, Eastern, Northeastern, Southwestern, andSoutheastern Europe, and a final chapter on a comparison between minoritylanguage situations in Central and Southern Europe. Language contact in thissubsection is treated from a historical point of view, but the works includeshort sections on contemporary processes, such as what Peter Hill (Chapter 22,‘Language contact in South-Eastern Europe’) calls ‘Anglomania’, i.e., linguisticpressure from English (pp. 424-5), or what Jan-Ola Östman (Chapter 19, ‘Languagecontact in the North of Europe’) terms ‘globalisation’, i.e., “a countermoveagainst self-colonisation [from English]” (p. 378). This chapter insists that“...[c]ontact is not a secondary phenomenon. It is too essentialist to thinkthat L1 and L2 exist, and then come into contact with one another […] Variation,variability and adaptability are central concepts for understanding contact, andhave always been. Besides, convergence is just one aspect of contact; divergenceas a strategy is just as important” (p. 377). Chapters are thus not onlydescriptive, but also provide critical elements of reflexion to understand theprocesses 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 forfuture research, in particular, regarding structural change in minority dialectsof majority languages compared to contact-induced change in minority languages.

The following subsection (II.3) is concerned with minority languages, andcomprises two descriptive chapters, one on ‘The old minority languages ofEurope’ (Chapter 24) and one on ‘The immigrant minority languages of Europe’(Chapter 25). In Chapter 24, Stefan Tröster-Munz proposes not a description ofeach minority language situation, but rather a typology according to languagevitality. He thus classifies languages as ‘closely related’ or ‘related’ to thecontact languages, and as ‘extinct’, ‘nearly extinct’ or ‘revived’. He alsoprovides an account of why language groups can become a minority throughhistorical processes (e.g. Francoprovençal in the Aosta Valley became a minoritylanguage when Italian became the language of the newly formed Italian state [p.456]). Tröster-Muntz further gives two examples of minority language situationsin Europe, Rhaeto-Romance and Frisian, which have official status in the areawhere they are spoken, and have access to the media, but are spoken incontiguous areas in Switzerland and the Netherlands/Germany, respectively. Heconcludes with a section on language politics, insisting that “linguists canassist language communities in the documentation of their languages, as well asin the development of didactic material, which is very important for teachingboth young and old non-native speakers in order to preserve the survival of thelanguages” (pp. 464-5). Chapter 25 on immigrant minority languages, by GuusExtra, focuses on the status of immigrant languages and their speakers acrossEurope, the role of languages in fostering identity, and the institutionalEuropean discourse on plurilingualism -- in this respect, the author argues that“the increasing internationalisation of pupil populations in European schoolsrequires that a language policy be introduced for all school children, in whichthe traditional dichotomy between foreign language instruction for indigenousmajority pupils and home language instruction for [immigrant minority] pupils isput aside” (p. 479).

The final subsection (II.4) of Section II refers to ‘Non-standard varieties’. Ithas three chapters dealing with ‘dialect vs. standard’ (Chapter 26, by PeterAuer), ‘Border effects in European dialect continua’ (Chapter 27, by CurtWoolhiser) and ‘Non-standard varieties in the areal typology of Europe’ (Chapter18, by Adriano Murelli and Bernd Kortmann). Auer’s contribution (p. 487)presents a typology of dialect/standard relations, and subsequently adds ahistorical 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 byits 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 adiagram. The current standard/dialect relation is characterised, according toAuer, by the following two tendencies: While (standard) languages and nationstend to coincide more and more, internal national language variability hasgreatly increased, in terms of accents, as well as morphological and grammaticaldeviations from traditional standard forms. Woolhiser focuses on various issuesrelating to processes of dialect convergence and divergence in border areas,e.g., in terms of phonological change and attitudes. He concludes that, althoughofficially open, national borders are likely to play an important rolelinguistically in Europe for several generations. Borders strikingly bringtogether linguistic and sociolinguistic concerns, an appreciation which concordswith Murelli and Kortmann’s conclusion that “dialects and non-standardvarieties, in general, should be given systematic coverage in language typology,[…] and dialects and non-standard varieties must be given systematic coverage inareal typology […]” (p. 541), in order to shed light on areas of small-scalelinguistic convergence.

The third section of the book (III) deals with language politics and languagepolicies in Europe. Its eight chapters cover areas such as minority languageplanning (Chapter 29, by Jeroen Darquennes), with an example at theGermanic-Romance border in the area between Belgium, France and Luxembourg(Chapter 30, Peter Gilles); language and religion (Chapter 35, John Myhill) orlanguage and education (Chapter 36, Joachim Grzega); the role of English inEurope (Chapter 32, Juliane House and Chapter 33, Päivi Pahta and IrmaTaavitsainen); 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 fairlyunusual angle for language policy in general handbooks. Hornscheidt challengesthe view that feminist language politics in contemporary Europe is a monolithicblock, and insists that several types of politics regarding issues of gender aimat 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 involumes aimed at a large audience, to the constitution of Nation-states and theinvention of ethno-linguistic nationalism in the 18th century (Chapter 44, SueWright). This section also includes chapters on the impact of historicalmigrations on the following: The linguistic landscape of Europe (Chapter 38,Paolo Ramat) from the arrival of Indo-European-speaking populations to largemigration movements in the middle ages; the Renaissance period (Chapter 39,Heidi Aschenberg), where we see an important section on the role of translationin the humanist programme of Renaissance Europe, which led to “the consolidationof the vernacular languages in many speech communities” (p. 701); multilingualempires and states in Central Europe (Chapter 40, Jan Fellerer) and EasternEurope, including the Ottoman Empire (Chapter 41, Lars Johanson -- this chapterdeals more specifically with the linguistic consequences of the progressivedemise 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 inEurope, centering on formal linguistics rather than sociolinguistics. The firsttwo chapters deal with the period from Ancient Greece to the 18th century(Chapter 45, Nicola McLelland, including a brief summary of controversies aboutthe origin of language and languages), and the 19th century (Chapter 46, PierreSwiggers). The final chapters of the book are concerned with theoreticalcurrents such as structuralism (Chapter 47, Jörn Albrecht), functionalism(Chapter 48, Rosanna Sornicola) or generative grammar (Chapter 49, MartinEveraert and Eric Reuland). Chapters 46 and 57 emphasise the role of historicallinguistics and philology in the constitution of modern linguistics, but allfive 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 theidea that it is extremely difficult to define different schools and theoreticstrands such as functionalism as separate from one another, or as easilyidentifiable, since all schools are intertwined with each other. As Sornicolaputs it for functionalism, “the history of functionalism is the history ofindividuals, no less than of cultural and ideological contexts” (p. 847), whichis a phrase that is also valid for all of European linguistics. This isparticularly obvious from Everaert and Reuland’s article on generative grammarin 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 thetopic the article is concerned with.


Overall this hefty volume offers exactly what it claims to; a wide panorama ofEuropean linguistics, presented by experts in their fields, with a clearemphasis on formal linguistics, yet with some occasional sociolinguisticconcerns. It is clearly an invaluable resource for students or scholars needingessential information on a specific topic they are not well acquainted with, andwith relevant bibliographic elements to go further if needed. The historicaldimension is essential throughout the volume, and ensures the global coherenceof the book. Essential bibliographic details are also a precious asset forstudents who might wish to enter a subject or field through any of thecontributions in this volume. This is undoubtedly an excellent and essentialbook 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 indicesbeing of particular use. At the end of each chapter, the editors also referreaders to other relevant chapters in the book, thus enhancing its generalcoherence and helpfulness. Of particular personal interest was the analysis ofthe relation between standard and dialect, by Peter Auer (Chapter 26), for itsbringing together dialectological and sociolinguistic concerns. The increasedtolerance regarding some forms of internal variability within standard languages(in particular regional dialects) raises several questions as to the evolutionof the role of language within the framework of contemporary Nation-states, andwould require further research.

No review would, however, be complete without some level of criticism, and asany other volume, this book does raise some issues which I shall mention now.The way linguistics is understood and conceptualised in this volume is clearlyoriented towards formal and historical linguistics. While this is of courseperfectly acceptable, it fails to consider entire currents of linguistic thoughtthat have been particularly influential in European linguistics, in particular,in its final (historical) section. I am thinking particularly ofsociolinguistics, discourse analysis or conversation analysis (although to befair, the chapters on language policy do shed a slightly different point of viewon linguistic issues and include some sociolinguistic or sociological aspects).Yet, from a historical point of view, sociolinguistics emerged under variousnames (in particular as ‘sociology of language’) in different parts of Europethroughout the 20th century, and scholars such as Marcel Cohen are totallyabsent from the book. Other scholars such as Lluís Aracil in Catalonia andRobert Lafont in Languedoc, who are important figures in the development ofEuropean sociolinguistics, are also notably absent from the book. While some mayargue that sociolinguistics is closer to sociology than to formal linguistics,one might also point to the fact that their dismissal leads the book to ignoresuch linguistic trends as (critical) discourse analysis, as practiced inBritain, and praxematics, developed in Montpellier by Robert Lafont in the 1970sand 1980s (see for instance, Lafont 1978). While Ruth Wodak (one of the mainfigures 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 areconspicuously absent from this book. Their absence leads to an implied generaldefinition or characterisation of linguistics that is ultimately veryrestrictive, limited to formal and systemic linguistics. This approach maypartly be the result of the choice of contributors, who overwhelmingly come fromGermany, the Netherlands and Belgium. A larger choice of contributors from otherareas would certainly have resulted in a fairly different perspective. This,however, only means that there is room for other general volumes on Europeanlinguistics with different perspectives.


Cohen, Marcel 1971 [1956]. 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.


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.

Page Updated: 07-Mar-2012