LINGUIST List 23.2397

Sun May 20 2012

Review: Historical Ling; History of Ling; Socioling: Langer, Davies & Vandenbussche (2012)

Editor for this issue: Rajiv Rao <>

Date: 20-May-2012
From: Sónia Duarte <>
Subject: Language and History, Linguistics and Historiography
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EDITORS: Langer, Nils; Davies, Steffan & Vandenbussche, WimTITLE: Language and History, Linguistics and HistoriographySUBTITLE: Interdisciplinary ApproachesSERIES TITLE: Studies in Historical Linguistics - Volume 9PUBLISHER: Peter Lang.YEAR: 2012

Sónia Duarte, Centro de Linguística da Universidade do Porto (Portugal).


The reviewed volume collects the proceedings of an International Conferencebearing the same name, held at the University of Bristol (2-4 April, 2009) andorganized by the Historical Sociolinguistics Network (HiSoN) with the support ofthe Arts and Humanities Research Council.

This five hundred page volume gathers twenty-three papers by thirty differentauthors from the two research fields identified in the publication’s title. Theaim of this volume is precisely to explore the intersections between thosefields. Nevertheless, the great majority of authors are linguists, or dedicatethemselves primarily to linguistics, and the same is true of the editorial team,as one can confirm in the ''Notes on Contributors'' at the end of the volume (pp.483-488).

The papers are organized according to five major topics. In the following, Iwill summarize each of the chapters within the five parts of the book.

Part 1: ''Language and History, Linguistics and Historiography: TheoreticalOutlook and Methodological practice''

Stefan Davies, Niels Langer & Wim Vandenbussche, ''Language and History,Linguistics and Historiography: Interdisciplinary Problems and Opportunities''(pp. 3-13)

In this introductory chapter, the editors of this volume describe how researchin history and linguistics has evolved from a past state of “mutual isolation''(p. 4) to the present state of awareness of the benefits of an interdisciplinaryapproach. Throughout the paper Davies, Langer & Vandenbussche try to illustratesuch benefits with specific case-studies of integrated research, and,simultaneously, give an account of other efforts from researchers in both fieldsthat fill the gap between history and linguistics, stressing the contribution ofthe authors in this volume and the areas of potential common interest dealt withhere.

Patrick Honeybone, ''History and Historical Linguistics: Two Types of CognitiveReconstruction?'' (pp. 15-47)

After some terminological clarifications concerning the fields of history and(structural) historical linguistics, as well as some insight into differenttheoretical approaches, the author focuses on the differences and similaritiesbetween the two fields, pointing out how each one engages in a different type ofcognitive reconstruction of the past: conscious versus unconscious. According toHoneybone, ''historians try to re-enact the very same thought of the past;linguists do not try to re-enact the same mental linguistic processes'' (p. 44).

Nicholas M. Wolf, ''History and Linguistics: The Irish Language as a Case Studyin an Interdisciplinary Approach to Culture'' (pp. 49-66)

Throughout the paper, Wolf explains the focus on Irish language by Irishhistorians on the grounds of a widespread perception of an intimate associationbetween language and nation, and language and identity. He offers a criticaloverview of historiographical explanations for language shift (from 1954 to thepresent), pointing out major discoveries and also simplifications andinconsistencies resulting primarily from a problematic approach to therelationship between language and culture, which requires the joint effort ofboth linguists and historians.

Brian D. Joseph, ''Historical Linguistics and Sociolinguistics: StrangeBedfellows or Natural Friends?'' (pp. 67-88)

The author focuses on the rapprochement between historical linguistics andsociolinguistics, pointing out that both are interested in variation and change,but also that each one studies a different kind of variation and approacheschange differently, using different data. Simultaneously, the paper questionsnotions and practices that affect the study of change by historical linguistics,sociolinguistics and social history in order to reveal the complementaritybetween these disciplines.

Nicola McLelland, “From Humanist History to Linguistic Theory: The Case of theGermanic Rootword” (pp. 89-109)

This paper deals with the impact of historiographical representations of thepast in linguistic studies. Although the study aims to reinforce the usefulnessof cooperation between the two disciplines, it also alerts us to the existenceof situations in which ''politically motivated readings of history could skewGerman linguistic study'' (p. 90). To do so, McLelland demonstrates how sixteenthand seventeenth century historiography’s exploitation of patriotic discoursearound Tacitus’ ''Germania'' influenced the monosyllabic Germanic rootwordlinguistic theories from the sixteenth century to the present.

Agnete Nesse, ''Editorial Practices and Language Choice: 'Low German LanguageMonuments' in Norway'' (pp. 111-126)

This essay focuses on the role of the editor, demonstrating how social,theoretical and ideological background determine editorial practices, as far aslinguistic choices are concerned, and how all these factors affect the use oftexts by both linguists and historians. The author also emphasizes thateditorial practices are determined by target readers (historians or linguists).In order to do so, Nesse analyses a corpus of nineteenth and twentieth centuryeditions of Norwegian manuscripts of historical documents written in Low Germanduring the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries.

Part 2: ''Standardization and authenticity''

Robert Evans, ''Official Languages: A Brief Prehistory'' (pp. 129-145)

This paper underlines that a scientific approach to the political status oflanguages requires a joint effort from both historians and linguists. Evanssupports his thesis with cases of formal recognition and regulation of somelanguages, mainly in Great Britain and Central Europe. The author points outthat linguists’ thoughts on these processes reveal the misuse of concepts suchas ''national'' or ''official language'', therefore also revealing linguists’distance concerning the historical background of such concepts and the need forhistorical relativization.

Tomasz Kamusella, ''Classifying the Slavic Languages, or the Politics ofClassification'' (pp. 147-174)

This essay studies the processes of emergence and configuration of severalclassificatory systems of Slavic languages, mainly by comparing the genealogicaltree-model with the ‘wave’ model. By doing so, the author demonstrates how, inthis case, political-cum-cultural criteria prevailed in the application oftaxons such as ''subfamily'' or ''language/dialect''. Kamusella explains that theclassificatory systems of Slavic languages result from nineteenth centurylinguists’ attempts to provide ethnolinguistically based nationalisms withscientific support for their theses, while also pointing out that amongst thefactors crucial to the survival/disappearance of those theories was preciselycompliance/non-compliance with nationalist tenets.

José del Valle, ''Linguistic History and the Development of Normative Regimes:The Royal Spanish Academy's Disputed Transatlantic Authority'' (pp. 175-191)

The author comments on the Spanish Academy’s attitude toward American Spanishspeaking countries, namely by focusing on one particular event of the academy’shistory in America; its absence at the Spanish Academies’ Congress of 1951 inMexico. After a historical overview of the institution and its ideological basis-- described as ''panhispanismo'' and ''hispanofonía'' -- the essay centers on theSpanish Academy’s attitude concerning the Mexican event, and goes on to dealwith the linguistic representations that dominated such debate, while alsoanalyzing its impact on the standardization process and its ideologicalimplications and historical significance.

Juan R. Valdez, ''Colouring Language: Pedro Henríquez Ureña's Representations ofSpanish and Dominican Identity'' (pp. 193-207)

Focusing on the relation between ‘standard’ and ‘variety’, this essayconstitutes an approach to the ideological and social-historical meaning andbackground of some aspects of Henríquez Ureña’s linguistic theory concerningDominican Spanish. Valdez points out evidence of the existence of a ''linkbetween linguistic description and extra-linguistic cultural and racialcategories'' (p. 200) in Henríquez Ureñas’ work, thus interpreting his linguisticrepresentations within processes of ''iconization'' of white and Hispanic culturesand ''erasure'' of African heritage. The author also emphasizes the role oflanguage and language representations on Dominican governmental policies sincethe nineteenth century, and consequently, the importance of interdisciplinaryapproaches.

Laura Villa, '''Because When Governments Speak, They Are Not Always Right':National Construction and Orthographic Conflicts in Mid-Nineteenth-CenturySpain'' (pp. 209-227)

Combining a ''linguistic, political and historical approach'' (p. 210) and using''linguistic ideologies as an analytical tool'' (p. 212), this paper deals withthe concept of linguistic standardization associated with mid-nineteenth centurylinguistic policies and orthographic theories, while focusing on the debate thatfollowed the rejection of the orthographic proposals of Madrid’s Literary andScientific Academy of Primary Education, as well as the officialization of theRoyal Spanish Academy’s orthography. The author examines the arguments andtenets of such controversy, focusing primarily on its extra-linguistic dimensionand emphasizing the linguistic authority dispute, the role of the school-system,and standardization as a tool to language ideologies and policies.

Gijsbert Rutten & Rik Vosters, ''As Many Norms as There Were Scribes? LanguageHistory, Norms and Usage in the Southern Netherlands in the Nineteenth Century''(pp. 229-253)

Assuming a historical-sociolinguistic perspective, this paper compareseighteenth and nineteenth century grammatical and orthographical tradition inNorthern and Southern European Dutch-speaking territories, with the main thrustbeing the latter. The essay focuses on how the sparse body of existing researchon the southern territories’ linguistic tradition has been affected by two''language ideological myths'' (p. 230) concerning the orthographical situation ofthis period: i) normative diversity; and ii) chaotic writing practices. Afterhistorical-sociolinguistic contextualization of such myths and after some hintson their political and ideological background, the authors present, examine, andreject those myths in light of the data provided by both metagrammatical textsfrom the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries and a corpus of judicial andadministrative documents from the 1820s .

Anneleen Vanden Boer, ''Language and Nation: The Case of the German-SpeakingMinority in Belgium'' (pp. 255-267)

This paper addresses the situation of the Belgian, German speaking minority fromthe perspective of the relation between language and national identity, focusingon its role in the nation-building process, while using data provided by asurvey conducted among German and non-German speaking Belgians. According to theauthor, the results reinforce widespread stereotypes on the subject.

Part 3: ''Demographics and Social Dynamics''

Richard Ingham, ''The Decline of Bilingual Competence in French in MedievalEngland: Evidence from the PROME Database'' (pp. 271-292)

This essay deals with the reasons for the prevalence of French between1250-1370, its subsequent decline, and its sociolinguistic status in EnglishMedieval society. To do so, Ingham tries to accomplish the following: i)understand, through corpus research, the process of L2 transmission after theNorman Conquest while supporting his conclusions through noun gender agreementmarking case studies from the electronic version of the ''Parliament Rolls ofMedieval England'' -- PROME (petitions from the years 1310-1399); and ii) explainthe results on social, demographic and linguistic grounds via special use of thecontributions of contemporary L2 acquisition studies.

Rembert Eufe, ''Merovingian Coins and Their Inscriptions: A Challenge toLinguists and Historians'' (pp. 293-321)

In this paper, Eufe gives a detailed account of a joint project betweenhistorians and linguists who embarked upon the study of the inscriptions on theMerovingian coins collection from the Bode-Museum in Berlin. The study focuseson the origin of anthroponyms and explains how the information provided bytoponomy sheds light on the role of the monetary system.

Remco Knoohuizen, ''The Use of Historical Demography for HistoricalSociolinguistics: The Case of Dunkirk'' (pp. 323-340)

This paper explains how, after the annexation in France in 1662, ''Dunkirkshifted from being a predominantly Dutch-speaking to a predominantlyFrench-speaking town'' (p. 333), focusing on both the integration process ofFrancophone immigrants in the town of Dunkirk around and after 1662, and theFrench speaking community’s linguistic traits during the same period.

Part 4: ''Language History from below''

Judith Nobels & Marijke Van der Wal, ''Linking Words to Writers: Building aReliable Corpus for Historical Sociolinguistic Research'' (pp. 343-361)

In this study, the authors give an account of work on a huge and scarcelystudied collection of seventeenth century, private Dutch sailing letters (i.e.loot letters) kept in the British National Archives. The essay deals with themethodological problems of building an autographical corpus and presents boththe advantages of an interdisciplinary approach on solving those problems andthe value of such integrated research to studies on Dutch language history.

Helmut Graser & B. Ann Tlusty, ''Sixteenth-Century Street Songs and LanguageHistory 'From Below''' (pp. 363-388)

This paper deals with a sample of German street songs of rude content, whichwere passed down over time until the early modern period, and then preservedamong Augsburg’s records of court interrogations. The first chapters comment onthis particular form of popular culture and put songs, their singers, and theirreception into historical context. The latter chapters focus on linguistic data,paying special attention to graphemics and orthography as a means of identifyingtraits of sixteenth century written or spoken German, as well as standard ordialectal features and information on normative choices.

Juan Manuel Hernández Campoy, ''Mood Distinction in Late Middle English: The Endof the Inflectional Subjunctive'' (pp. 389-406)

This paper explains the loss of the subjunctive mood throughout language historyusing corpus research. Here, the study of the subjunctive in a collection offifteenth century family letters and notes entitled ''The Paston Letters'' servesas a case study to, in a broader perspective, ''analyse the evolution from mooddistinction to mood neutralization during the transition from Middle to EarlyModern English in terms of heterogeneity and variability'' (pp. 391-392).

Part 5: “Language and Ideology”

Lisa Carroll-Davis, ''Identifying the Enemy: Using a CDA and Corpus Approach toAnalyse Sandinista Strategies of Naming'' (pp. 409-427)

In order to illustrate the usefulness of discourse theory for the study ofsocial phenomena and to probe the use of language as a political and ideologicaltool, the author addresses political conflict in Nicaragua through the study ofSandinista print propaganda from 1980 to 1983 through a combination of corpuslinguistics and critical discourse analysis. After theoretical,historic-political and methodological considerations, the paper approaches thelinguistic data with an emphasis on naming strategies in Sandinista speech as ameans of self-empowerment and delegitimization of Somoza’s government andsupporters, while exposing biases and identifying patterns in that same speech.

Krassimir Stoyanov, ''Ritualized Slogan Lexis in the Bulgarian Press during theTimes of Violent Contradiction in Ideologies (1944-1947)” (pp. 431-446)

After an introduction to the historical frame and the historical role of theBulgarian press, Stoyanov develops the idea of language as part of a ritual andshows how ritualized language may be manipulated by political agendas, such asin the case of the Communist Party in Bulgaria. Finally, the author analyzes acorpus, describing the typology of both the slogans and the ritualized lexiswithin, while also presenting verbal and non-verbal ritualization strategies.

Kristine Horner & Melanie Wagner, ''Remembering World War II and LegitimatingLuxembourgish as the National Language: Consensus or Conflict?'' (pp. 447-464)

This essay approaches this particular language ideological debate while focusingon the ''discursive moves'' (p. 449) behind it, establishes a ''discursive link''(p. 453) between such debate and certain symbolic historical events that arousedthe association of language and national identity/nationalism, and identifiescontroversial issues. For that purpose, Horner & Wagner use as material both''media representations linking the rise of Luxembourgish to events during WorldWar II and ethnographic interviews with a World War II letter writer focusing onhis language choices'' (p. 449). The press material as well as the interviewsdate back to the first decade of this century.

Michela Giordano & Federica Falchi, “Language as a Social Tool inNineteenth-Century Britain and Italy” (pp. 465-482)

This paper compares the theoretical arguments and linguistic strategies in favorof women’s rights in John Stuart Mill’s and Salvatore Morelli’s parliamentaryaddresses, as well as the context and the reception of their ideas and work. Theauthors focus on the discourse categories (mainly topoi and lexicalization) oftwo of each author’s speeches, while using the theoretical and methodologicalframework of critical discourse analysis and emphasizing a view of language asboth a tool and a product of social construction.


As far as similar publications are concerned, like the editors state (p. 4),their present attempt to promote an interdisciplinary approach was preceded byother edited volumes in the field of historical sociolinguistics: Linn &McLelland (2002), Deumert & Vandebussche (2003), Langer & Davies (2005), andElspaß et al. (2007). However, in this volume, the focus on interdisciplinarityis specifically oriented toward the fields of history and linguistics.

Though the call for papers of the original conference tried to encourage jointefforts between historians and linguists, there is but one such case in thevolume: Graser & Tlusty. However, it should be stressed that in other cases,such as Eufe, papers present results of on-going joint projects. Such anintegrated approach is a common ground to all papers in this volume.

As for the distribution of the papers, through the five main topics, it shouldbe noticed that the first two subjects clearly dominate, presentingapproximately twice as many papers as the other three.

The papers within this volume showcase a variety of theoretical andmethodological perspectives, as well as a variety of linguistic traditions.Throughout, several American and European languages are covered through achronological framework that extends from the Middle Ages to the present. Giventhis diversity, the final alphabetical index of subjects (pp. 489-503) is auseful tool. Also, the fact that all papers are written in English and thatthere is an English translation of all transcriptions of other idioms turns outto be very handy.

Despite the wide range of subjects, the volume shows cohesive flow. Two thingscontribute strongly to that positive outcome: i) all papers support aninterdisciplinary approach, even those which explicitly deal with the perils ofsuch a perspective (e.g. McLelland); and ii) the existence of internalreferences, which reinforces papers’ intertwining.

Although my evaluation is generally positive, it is noteworthy to mention thelack of an explicit reference to the role of the history of the languagesciences (or history of linguistics), nor to that of linguistic historiographyas conceived by Koerner (1995: 3-4); the former being ''the actual ‘res gestae’of linguistic research throughout the ages'' and the latter the ''principledmanner of writing the history of the study of language''. This is quite evidentin Honeybone (p.17, n. 2) when he refers to the expression ''linguisticography''.Nevertheless, the volume does include several articles that could be ascribed tothe two above-mentioned fields, namely the ones of Honeybone himself, McLelland,Kamusella, Del Valle, Valdez, Villa, and Rutten & Vosters.

As for the different fields of historical linguistics, there seems to be,throughout the volume, a stress on historical sociolinguistics, which is onlynatural since HiSoN organized the Conference.

Overall, this volume meets its goals, providing an up-to-date, wide overview ofintegrated historiographical and linguistic research, while illustrating theadvantages of an interdisciplinary approach. Furthermore, it gives hints on howto perform such a task and suggestions for further research. In doing so, thereviewed work constitutes useful material for historians and linguists.


Deumert, Anna & Wim Vandebussche (eds.). 2003. Germanic Standardisations.Amsterdam: Benjamins.

Elspaß, Stephan et al. 2007 (eds.). Language Histories from Below. (1700-2000).Berlin, New York: Walter de Gruyter.

Koerner, Konrad. 1995. Professing Linguistic Historiography. Amsterdam: JohnBenjamins Publishing Company.

Langer, Nils & Winifred Davies (eds.). 2005. Linguistic Purism in the GermanicLanguages. Berlin, New York: Walter de Gruyter.

Linn, Andrew & Nicola McLelland (eds.). 2002. Standard Germanic. Amsterdam:Benjamins.


Sónia Duarte is a doctoral student at the University of León (Spain) and a member of the Center for Language Sciences at Oporto University (Portugal). She presented her Master's thesis in 2008, at the University of Évora (Portugal), on Nicolau Pexoto’s Spanish grammar (Oporto 1848) -- the first specifically meant for Portuguese --, and is now working on her PhD dissertation on the references to Spanish language and Spanish gramaticography in Portuguese grammars from the seventeenth century to 1848. Her primary research interests include history of the language sciences, applied linguistics, and contrastive studies.

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