LINGUIST List 23.1908

Tue Apr 17 2012

Review: HIstorical Linguistics: Hammarström (2011)

Editor for this issue: Joseph Salmons <>

Date: 17-Apr-2012
From: Christopher Sams <>
Subject: Fundamentals of Diachronic Linguistics
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AUTHOR: Göran HammarströmTITLE: Fundamentals of Diachronic LinguisticsSERIES TITLE: Linguistics Edition 84PUBLISHER: LincomYEAR: 2011

Christopher D. Sams, Department of English, Stephen F. Austin State University

SUMMARYHammarström states that the purpose of the book is to provide "new viewpointsand elaborations on [his] earlier publications" (5); he specifically lists sixof his previous works, written between 1965 and 1999, that provide the groundingfor his current work (though many more are referenced throughout the book).

The book is divided into 11 parts:

In part 1, the introduction, Hammarström summarizes the book, pointing out that"Many linguists, including myself, have found that in the last 50 years manypublications have used complicated formulations and rule systems which lookimpressive but say little or nothing of interest about language" (5). He goes onto explain that since Ferdinand de Saussure made the distinction betweensynchronic and diachronic linguistics in 1916, he [Hammarström] will use theterm 'historical linguistics' for older orientations (e.g., the work done priorto 1916 -- largely the work done in the 19th century), and 'diachroniclinguistics' to refer to the "newer orientations" post-Saussure. He states thatone of the major pitfalls of post-Saussurian linguistics is that many linguistsmisunderstand (and misapply) Saussure's definitions and explanations ofsynchrony and diachrony. Hammarström goes on to claim that language change basedon cause and effects does not exist, but that variatio delectat is the basicprinciple which drives language change. He also refers readers to hisFundamentals of Synchronic Linguistics (2008) for "more units and viewpointsthan other accounts" (5).

Hammarström continues by offering a history of orientations, approaches, andviewpoints in part 2. He covers Structuralism, The Prague School, andGenerativism and more fully explains the difference between historical anddiachronic linguistics (introduced in part 1). Parts 2 and 3 address thedifference between synchrony and diachrony, referring again to Saussure'sterminology and the fact that "... not all modern linguistics, whether they allwould call themselves phonologists, structuralists, or something else, haveunderstood Saussure's synchrony correctly" (20). Not only does he posit thatthere is a disparity between Saussure's definition of 'synchronic linguistics'and modern interpretations of it, but he also posits, in part 3, that otherterms are misused. He states that Martinet and Chomsky misuse terminology like'explanation' and 'explain' by conflating the meanings and applying the termstoo broadly.

In part 4, Hammarström elaborates on his view that language changes are"different from how they are generally understood" (21), including his ideasthat language changes are unpredictable, cause one "well-functioning" feature toanother "well-functioning" one, and are best described through sociolinguisticmethods. He then refers readers to his 1966 work, Diachronische Linguistik(1966), to better understand how "phonemes are added, disappear, or merge" (21).

Part 5.1 examines phonemic, prosodemes, syllabemes, (according to Hammarström,"coarticulations stretched over phonemes"), morphemes, lexemes, sememes, andsyntagmemes. These terms are used but not fully defined; for example, hisdefinition of 'prosodeme' is mentioned in a footnote: "Prosodemes of variouskinds are defined are described in some detail in my publications 1998a, p.103-117, and 2008, p. 11-15" (p. 39). Part 5.2 examines the β-level ofcontouremes and stylemes. He elaborates on the γ-level, writing about idiolect,sociolect, and dialect, and finishes with the δ-level, and the ε-level. In all,there are five levels of distinction; these distinctions are best understood asa continuation of his previous works, as the levels (like the vocabulary) arenot extensively defined in this volume. The five levels are meant to representthe different aspects of language change, from sounds to syntax.

Parts 6, 7, and 8 deal with the above levels and features in regard to thefollowing areas: changes in written language (part 6), spoken language changingwritten language (part 7), and written language changing spoken language (part 8).

Parts 9, 10, and 11 are a Conclusion, References, and Author Index, respectively.

EVALUATIONOverall, the book is relatively short (67 pages) but packed densely withinformation; it has a cohesive flow and dialogue with examples mainly fromRomance and Germanic languages. The font is very small and difficult on the eyesto read; the book could have benefitted from a much larger font size. It isabundantly clear that the author has done extensive reading, writing, andreflecting on the subject; however, only the author's own works are listed inthe references section. Hammarström cites extensively in text and in footnotes,but does not provide the reader with a list of references beyond his ownpublications (though there is an Author Index, which points readers to the pageswith the bibliographic information in footnotes). This is a major shortcoming ofthe book; most students and beginning researchers would not find this bookaccessible, as it lacks a comprehensive bibliography and subject index. In orderto ground themselves in the content, readers would have to go page-by-page andnote the pages on which important concepts are mentioned (or footnotes wherebibliographic information is given).

The book is intended for specialists in diachronic linguistics who are well readin both the field's history and schools of thought, as well as major theoriesnot just in diachronic linguistics, but also phonetics, phonology, morphology,syntax, semantics, pragmatics, information structure, and sociolinguistics.Above all, the reader will be at a loss as the author makes the a prioriassumption (clearly alluded to in the introduction) that the reader is familiarwith his previous works. For example, as noted above, explicit definitions ofkey terms, such as 'prosodeme', are not included in the text. Instead, theauthor refers readers to his previous works (some of which will not beaccessible to all readers, e.g. those written in German and Spanish). Regardingthe levels to which Hammarström refers (e.g., β, γ), the back cover of hisearlier book Fundamentals of Synchronic Linguistics (2007) provides someinsight: "The α-level deals with phonemes, prosodemes, syllabemes, the β-levelwith contouremes and stylemes, the γ-level with idiolemes, sociolemes, anddialemes, the δ-level with proxemes and kinemes, and the ε-level with textaspects." In other words, in order to follow the discussion, one must read theentire book from cover to cover, stopping to note references that will benecessary to follow the discussion, read the prerequisite works, and then rereadthe book. The reader also should have a reading knowledge of German, French, andSpanish, as pivotal quotes are provided in the original language without a glossand many references cited were written in the above languages.

A major part of the theory is variatio delectat (a term borrowed from Cicero).The author states, "The motive seems most often to be the pleasure of variation,variatio delectat (β1). A speaker says something new, which may be a sound, aword or a longer construction, thinking it sounds good, funny, impressive orsuch like ... . Perhaps a speaker wants to express his personality (γ1). In manycases this speaker is not imitated by anyone and one forgets what he has said.However, the new may become a language innovation if it spreads to a number ofother speakers and is incorporated into the language. It helps the spreading ofthe innovation if the innovator and those who agree with him have prestige. Ahigh degree of solidarity in the innovating group would also be helpful" (22).This quotation nicely summarizes Hammarström's theory of language change,showing that it is largely based on sociolinguistic factors rather thangrammatical explanations. He comments, "I assume that no speech community hasnever adopted a system of sounds that does not function well. When theinnovation happens, the speakers change one well functioning sound for anotherwell functioning sound because they like the new sound better" (15). In fact, heclaims that since human language is largely unpredictable, attempting toconsider how languages might change in the future will not be very successful(13). His notion of language change challenges the work of many researchers,such as Arlotto (1972), Bynon (1999), Campbell (2004), Crowley (2002), Hopperand Traugott (2003), and Trask (1996). Researchers such as these (and themajority of those who work in linguistic typology) use concepts such asgrammaticalization (focusing then on grammatical reasons that may drive languagechange) to show that there is some degree of predictability in language changethat is not predicated upon speaker choice.

Because Hammarström's primary goal for this book is to expand on his previousworks and ideas (as stated above), he does meet that goal. His work could beexpanded in the future to include languages, such as African languages, thathave extensive bilingual (or even trilingual) speech communities, in which thelanguages are in competition. It would be interesting to see how his notions onlanguage change (especially that changes are results of speaker choice) could beapplied to such speech communities.

REFERENCESArlotto, Anthony. 1972. Introduction to Historical Linguistics. Boston: HoughtonMifflin.

Bynon, Theodora. 1999. Historical Linguistics. Boston: Cambridge University Press.

Crowley, Terry. 2002. An Introduction to Historical Linguistics (3rd ed.). NewYork: Oxford University Press.

Campbell, Lyle. 2004. Historical Linguistics: An Introduction (2nd ed.).Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.

Fromkin, Victoria et al. (2000). An Introduction to Language (4th ed.). Boston,MA: Cengage.

Hopper, Paul & Elizabeth Traugott. 2003. Grammaticalization (2nd ed.).Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Trask, R.L. 1996. Historical Linguistics. London: Arnold.

ABOUT THE REVIEWERChristopher Sams received a Ph.D. in Spanish Language and Literature(Hispanic Linguistics Specialization) from SUNY Buffalo. He has taughtcourses at the college level in Spanish, Italian, English, and linguistics.His research interests include linguistic typology and universals, secondlanguage acquisition, foreign language teaching methodology, historicallinguistics, and forensic linguistics.

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