LINGUIST List 24.3297

Sun Aug 18 2013

Review: Historical Linguistics: Campbell (2013)

Editor for this issue: Joseph Salmons <>

Date: 07-Jul-2013
From: Stefan Hartmann <>
Subject: Historical Linguistics
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Book announced at

AUTHOR: Lyle CampbellTITLE: Historical LinguisticsSUBTITLE: An Introduction, third editionPUBLISHER: MIT PressYEAR: 2013

REVIEWER: Stefan Hartmann, Johannes Gutenberg-Universität Mainz

AUTHOR: Campbell, LyleTITLE: Historical LinguisticsSUBTITLE: An Introduction, third editionPUBLISHER: The MIT PressYEAR: 2013

Stefan Hartmann, German Department (Deutsches Institut), University of Mainz

SUMMARYThe third edition of Lyle Campbell’s textbook on historical linguistics givesan overview of a broad range of topics historical linguists are concernedwith. In seventeen chapters, Campbell introduces key notions and methods ofhistorical linguistics and demonstrates their application with numerousexamples and exercises.

In the introduction (Chapter 1), Campbell clearly defines the scope ofhistorical-linguistic inquiry and gives some examples of language change fromthe history of English. Chapter 2 is dedicated to sound change. He emphasizesthe Neogrammarian hypothesis that sound changes suffer no exceptions anddemonstrates its importance for reconstructing proto-languages on the basis ofthe comparative method. It is shown that apparent counterexamples to theNeogrammarian hypothesis can be interpreted as regular sound changes as well.Furthermore, Campbell offers a detailed typology of sound changes. He showshow a relative chronology of sound changes can be obtained and how severalsound changes can be seen as interrelated (e.g. in Grimm’s law: *b > p fillingthe gap left behind by *p > f in a pull-chain scenario).

Chapter 3 deals with borrowing not only of lexical items, but of all kinds oflinguistic material, between languages. Campbell discusses motivations forborrowing words from other languages (e.g., the need to name new concepts andprestige), how words are borrowed, how they are integrated into the targetlanguage, and how to determine the direction of borrowing. He shows howloanwords can contribute to reconstructing change as well as to understandingthe relative chronology of changes in a language.

In chapter 4, analogical change is discussed. Campbell distinguishesanalogical levelling, which reduces the number of allomorphs a form has (e.g.English old/elder/eldest > old/older/oldest), from analogical extension, whichextends an existing alternation of a pattern to new cases (e.g. Englishdive/dived > dive/dove, in analogy with strong verbs such as drive/drove).

Chapter 5 introduces one of the central techniques of historical linguistics,the comparative method, showing how a proto-language can be reconstructed froma family of genetically related languages. Campbell offers step-by-stepinstruction on how the comparative method can be applied in practice andanalyses a case study from the Finno-Ugric family.

Chapter 6 deals with linguistic classification, i.e. grouping languages intolanguage families and determining which languages within one language familyare more closely related to each other. The notion of language isolates isintroduced and distinguished from language families with only one survivingmember. Campbell shows how knowledge about the history of language isolatescan be obtained in the absence of related languages by means of, among otherways, internal reconstruction, philological studies, and considering evidencefrom loanwords and toponyms. Then he discusses several examples ofsubgrouping, i.e. the internal classification of language families.

Chapter 7 is dedicated to models of linguistic change. Addressing thewell-known debate between proponents of the “family-tree model” and the “wavetheory”, he aims to show that these can be reconciled. While the family-treemodel assumes a single proto-language that splits up into daughter languagesthrough continued linguistic change, the “wave theory” assumes that linguisticchanges spread outward concentrically, becoming weaker with the distance fromtheir central point. While the former approach is guided by the Neogrammarianhypothesis that sound laws suffer no exceptions, the latter contests this bypostulating that each word has its own history. Reviewing evidence fromdialectology and sociolinguistics, and what has been discussed under the labelof ‘lexical diffusion’, he arrives at the conclusion that “sound change isregular within its own system, though dialect borrowing and various influencesfrom outside the system can result in changes which are less like regularexceptionless sound change.” (p. 197) Therefore, he argues that bothhypotheses complement each other and are needed to explain sound change.

Chapter 8 introduces another key method of historical linguistics, namelyinternal reconstruction, i.e. the reconstruction of a so-called pre-language(as opposed to the proto-language obtained from the comparative method)exclusively from evidence within one single language. Again, step-by-stepinstruction is offered and illustrated with examples from different languages,e.g. Tojolabal (Mayan), Nahuatl (Uto-Aztecan), and Classical Greek.Importantly, the limitations of internal reconstruction are also pointed outby applying the method to languages such as English and German, for whichevidence obtained by means of the comparative method is available.

Chapters 9 through 11 deal with semantic and lexical, morphological, andsyntactic change, respectively. Chapter 9 offers an extensive typology ofsemantic and lexical changes and discusses attempts to explain semantic changewith regard to cognitive and sociocultural considerations. Chapter 10discusses numerous cases of morphological change as well as explanatoryapproaches and the question of how morphology can be reconstructed with thehelp of the comparative method. In Chapter 11, reanalysis, extension, andsyntactic borrowing are discussed as mechanisms of syntactic change. In thisconnection, generative approaches and grammaticalization theory are discussed.Campbell shows that many cases of syntactic change cast doubt on thegenerative assumption that language acquisition can be considered the primarylocus of language change. Concerning grammaticalization, he questions itsindependent status as a mechanism of change in its own right. Chapter 11concludes with a discussion of syntactic reconstruction.

Chapter 12 is concerned with language contact and areal linguistics. The maintenets and methods of areal linguistics are introduced and the notions ofpidgins, creoles, and mixed languages are discussed with regard to languagechange. The last subchapter is dedicated to language extinction. Campbelllists the structural changes that endangered languages tend to undergo andpoints out the importance of studying these languages: “To understand fullywhat is possible in human languages, we need reliable descriptions oflanguages representing the full range of independent language families” (p.317).

A variety of attempts to explain language change are introduced in Chapter 13,starting with “the ones we can safely eliminate from any theory of linguisticchange” (p. 323), e.g. climatic or geographical determinism and racial oranatomic determinism. Furthermore, he rejects the view that societal structuredetermines linguistic change, leading to a correlation between society typeand the complexity of a language. Distinguishing between internal and externalcauses, Campbell mentions physical and psychological factors such as thelimitations of human muscle control or constraints on perception, processingand learning as possible internal causes, while external factors includesocial evaluation, literacy, language planning, and language contact. Withexamples from different languages, he shows how various causal factors caninteract.

Chapter 14 on “Distant Genetic Relationship” also offers an overview of howwords can be falsely identified as cognates in lexical comparison. Forexample, onomatopoeic words and nursery forms (such as ‘mama’, ‘papa’) tend tobe similar across languages. Moreover, words identified as cognates can turnout to be borrowed forms, and in some cases, their similarity may be due tochance. Campbell argues that many hypotheses proposing distant geneticrelationships between languages do not hold up to methodological scrutiny. TheAltaic hypothesis, for example, which would group Turkic, Mongolian, andTungusic, rests on shared features frequently occurring in unrelatedlanguages.

The role of written records is treated in Chapter 15. After a brief survey ofdifferent writing systems and their origins, Campbell demonstrates howdifferent kinds of linguistic change can be reconstructed from philologicalinvestigations and how phonetic information can be derived from writtenrecords by considering, among others, rhymes, spelling variants, and theintegration of material from foreign languages.

Chapter 16 deals with the study of linguistic prehistory, also known aslinguistic palaeontology. With the example of Proto-Indo-European, Campbellshows how aspects of its cultural inventory can be reconstructed from itsreconstructed vocabulary and how these insights can be linked up witharchaeological findings to obtain clues as to the geographical location of thespeakers of the proto-language (their “homeland”).

The last chapter deals with quantitative approaches to historical linguistics.The method of glottochronology as well as other, more recent approaches suchas probability models and network models are introduced. However, Campbellremains sceptical of the majority of these methods, especially given that mostof them rely on lexical data only.

EVALUATIONThis is the third edition of Lyle Campbell’s well-established textbook, and itretains the virtues of the previous editions: The main tenets and key methodsof historical linguistics are accurately explained and illustrated with a vastamount of examples from a broad range of languages. In line with his goal togive a hands-on introduction to the discipline that focuses on “how to dohistorical linguistics” (p. xv), almost every chapter is rounded off with anumber of exercises.

Compared to the first and second editions, the third edition has beenthoroughly revised and extended. New chapters on morphological change and onquantitative approaches in historical linguistics have been added, and thechapter on areal linguistics has been integrated into a chapter on languagecontact, which also considers the role of pidgins and creoles, mixedlanguages, and endangered languages for the study of linguistic change.

Importantly, Campbell succeeds in his attempt “to present a reasonablyunbiased account of opposing opinions” (p. xvi). Most notably, he presents afairly comprehensive and balanced account of grammaticalization theory, whichhe has severely criticized in earlier publications (e.g. Campbell 2001).

Given Campbell’s inclination towards fine-grained typologies and lists ofexamples running many pages, his introduction is not necessarily an easy read,but it is a very rewarding one. Although the book is written in a style thatis overall very clear and accessible, it requires a solid background ingeneral linguistics and is therefore hardly recommended as a first encounterwith historical linguistics, let alone with linguistics in general. Foradvanced readers, however, it lives up to its reputation as one of the bestand most comprehensive textbooks on historical linguistics.

REFERENCECampbell, Lyle (2001): What’s wrong with Grammaticalization? In: LanguageSciences 23, 113-161.

ABOUT THE REVIEWERStefan Hartmann is a PhD student in historical linguistics at the Universityof Mainz, Germany. He is currently conducting a corpus-based study ondiachronic changes in German nominalization patterns. Apart from historicaland corpus linguistics, his research interests include Cognitive Linguistics,construction grammar, sociolinguistics, and psycholinguistics.

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