LINGUIST List 24.475

Sat Jan 26 2013

Review: Historical Ling.; Socioling.: Hernández-Campoy & Conde Silvestre (2012)

Editor for this issue: Joseph Salmons <>

Date: 26-Jan-2013
From: Chiara Meluzzi <>
Subject: The Handbook of Historical Sociolinguistics
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Book announced at

EDITORS: Hernández-Campoy, J.M.; Conde Silvestre, J.M.TITLE: The Handbook of Historical SociolinguisticsSERIES TITLE: Blackwell Handbooks in LinguisticsPUBLISHER: Wiley-BlackwellYEAR: 2012

REVIEWER: Chiara Meluzzi, University of Pavia/Free University of Bozen

SUMMARYThis new Blackwell Handbook is devoted to Historical Sociolinguistics, andtestifies to the maturity of this field in the thirty years since theground-breaking work of Romaine (1982). Despite the preponderance of studieson English as object language in this field (p. 7), the Handbook collects thecontributions of scholars from 30 different universities, working on differentlanguages and data. The Handbook contains a preface by Teresa Fanego, a shortintroduction by the two editors, Hernández-Campoy and Conde Silvestre, andfive sections with a total of 35 chapters. Each chapter has its ownreferences, and a final general index of both subjects and authors cited isprovided.

In their introduction, the editors state that the main aim is “to present anup-to-date and in-depth exploration of the extent to which sociolinguistictheoretical models, methods, findings, and expertise can be applied to theprocess of reconstruction of the past of languages in order to account fordiachronic linguistic changes and developments” (p. 4). In this respect, eachsection is devoted to different aspects of the discipline: part 1 (Origins andTheoretical Assumptions) addresses the main concepts and theoretical goals ofthe field, and provides a short history of the discipline since Romaine(1982); part 2 (Methods for the Sociolinguistic Study of the History ofLanguages) deals with the data used in historical sociolinguistics andproblems of data collection; part 3 (Linguistic and Socio-demographicVariables) discusses the main levels of variation that could be analyzed,providing both theoretical considerations and specific case-studies ondifferent linguistic data; part 4 (Historical Dialectology, Language Contact,Change and Diffusion) discusses the key notions of language variation andchange, and language contact in the light of the findings in HistoricalSociolinguistics; finally, part 5 (Attitudes to Language) problematizes theuse of common labels such as “prestige” and “standard variety”, by dealingwith present and past ideologies that, directly or indirectly, informlinguistic research.

Part 1 (Origins and Theoretical Assumptions) consists of three chapters. JeanAitchison (Diachrony vs Synchrony: the Complementary Evolution of Two(Ir)reconcilable Dimensions) explores the opposition between synchrony anddiachrony, trying to find a conciliatory position between the two poles, asfor instance within in work within Grammaticalization). The second chapter byTerttu Nevalainen and Helena Raumolin-Brunberg (Historical Sociolinguistics:Origins, Motivations, and Paradigms) is a dense and precise summary of themain theoretical and methodological assumptions of HistoricalSociolinguistics, with the purpose of “establishing the field” (p. 22).Firstly, the authors briefly discuss the label “historical sociolinguistics”itself, and the goals of the discipline. The field is multidisciplinary innature and could be seen as the intersection between various fields ofresearch, even if it maintains a primary link with sociolinguistics. They thenanalyze the problem of data collection in historical sociolinguistics: indealing with written data, the researcher must always consider the context ofdocuments, as well as the mechanisms that underlie the productions of texts ina specific place and age (e.g. the print process, the written materialsavailable, the writing and reading practices of the time). In this respect,historical sociolinguistics is linked with philology, along with dialectologyand variationist sociolinguistics. The role of context, and in particular ofsocial context, is also emphasized in McColl Millar’s contribution (SocialHistory and the Sociology of Language), in which the author provides numerousexamples of studies both on English and non-English data to stress theimportance of the link between linguistic and socio-historical features.

Part 2 (Methods for the Sociolinguistic Study of the History of Languages) iscomposed of 8 chapters. Juan M. Hernández-Campoy and Natalie Schilling-Estes’contribution (The Application of the Quantitative Paradigm to HistoricalSociolinguistics: Problems with the Generalizability Principle) deals with the“bad data problem” in historical linguistics. This problem was clearlyexplained by Labov (1972: 98), who states that “the great art of thehistorical linguists is to make the best of this bad data, ‘bad’ in the sensethat it may be fragmentary, corrupted or many times removed from the actualproductions of native speakers”. The “bad data problem” is a central theme inhistorical sociolinguistics research, even if Hernández-Campoy andSchilling-Estes point out how “developments in information technology andsociohistorical study” (p. 74) could help improve empirical validity andaccuracy of research. Alexander Bergs (The Uniformitarian Principle and theRisk of Anachronisms in Language and Social History) explores the usefulnessof the Uniformitarian Principle (UP) for (socio)historical linguisticresearch: namely, the UP states that “the processes which we observe in thepresent can help us to gain knowledge about processes in the past” (p. 80).The UP could also be expressed in a more probabilistic way in the so-calledUniform Probabilities Principle (see Lass 1997), which expressed “thelikelihood of any linguistic state of affairs has always been roughly the sameas it is now” (p. 82). Bergs discusses anachronism, always a possible sourceof trouble in (socio)historical linguistics, even if it has not beenextensively discussed yet (p. 83). For instance, the conceptualization of“social class” varies through time, thus it will be awkward to apply a moderndefinition of this category to ancient data without detailed account (p. 83).The data problem and use of linguistic corpora are also at the core of PascualCantos’s chapter (The Use of Linguistic Corpora for the Study of LinguisticVariation and Change: Types and Computational Applications), in which theauthor deals with the annotation and tagging problems in preparing a corpus upto diachronic investigations. Practical examples of research in this field areprovided in the remaining chapters of the section. Nila Vázquez and TeresaMarqués-Aguado (Editing the Medieval Manuscript in its Social Context) studyMiddle English manuscripts, especially at a phono-morphological level; LauraEsteban-Segura (Medical, Official, and Monastic Documents in SociolinguisticResearch) analyses the use of English, Latin, and French in medievaldocuments; Stephan Elspass (The Use of Private Letters and Diaries inSociolinguistic Investigation) moves outside the official documents, byconsidering the “ego-documents” and the related problem of authorship (seealso Oesterreicher 1997); K. Anipa (The Use of Literary Sources in HistoricalSociolinguistic Research) offers a detailed review of the state of the art onsociolinguistic research using literary texts, and presents a case study onShakespearian language and spelling problems; finally, Carol Percy (EarlyAdvertising and Newspapers as Sources of Sociolinguistic Investigation)illustrates the materials and corpora already available for both synchronicand diachronic studies on language of newspapers and advertisements.

Part 3 (Linguistic and Sociodemographic Variables) consists of 8 chapters,each taking into account one different linguistic or social variable.“Orthographic Variables” are the topic and title of Hanna Rutkowska and PaulRössler’s chapter, which represents a starting point for research consideringorthography as an independent variable, whereas previous literature hasconsidered it only as index of the degree of accuracy of a text. Anna Hebda’scontribution (Phonological Variables) considers phonological variation in boththe English and Arabic of Jordanian women. Anita Auer and Anja Voeste(Grammatical Variables) consider the classification of variables in linguisticresearch and how this could be specifically applied in historicalsociolinguistic analysis; the authors also propose an apparent-time approachto circumvent the problem of lack of data in historical studies, as hasalready been done for English and French (e.g. Bailey 1989). Joachim Grzega(Lexical-Semantic Variables) explores the complex theme of lexical change andborrowing, by referring in particular to his own CoSMOS model (Grzega 2007),together with the main work on lexical borrowing (e.g. Haugen 1950, Weinreich1953). Andreas H. Jucker and Irma Taavitsainen (Pragmatic Variables) explorethe role of pragmatics, and how to detect pragmatic variables in historicallinguistic studies, especially in the analysis of personal pronouns,insertions, and utterances in different languages. The remaining chapters ofthis section explore different social variables. Agnieska Kiełkiewicz-Janowiak(Class, Age and Gender-based Patterns) discusses the representativeness ofsocial variables in the corpora usually used for historical sociolinguisticanalysis, emphasizing how these corpora are often “stylistically unbalanced,with informal styles under-represented” (p. 309). Juan Camilo Conde-Silvestre(The Role of Social Networks and Mobility in Diachronic Sociolinguistics)proposes examples of application of networks analysis in historicalsociolinguistic researches, by referring to the division between “ego-centric”and “socio-centric” networks introduced by Barnes (1972). Finally, RajendMesthrie (Race, Ethnicity, Religion, and Castes) considers the use of labelslike “race” and “ethnicity” in past and present research.

The fourth part (Historical Dialectology, Language Contact, Change andDiffusion) is the longest, with 11 chapters devoted both to theoretical andpractical issues emerging from the intersection between historicalsociolinguistics and studies on language variation and change. Paul T.Roberge’s chapter (The Teleology of Change: Functional and Non-FunctionalExplanations for Language Variation and Change) is almost theoretical innature, and tries to define a theoretical frameworks that fits for historicalsociolinguistics. Raymond Hickey’s contribution (Internally- and Externally-Motivated Language Change) also discusses the theory of language change,together with some examples where a mixture of internal and externalmotivations leads to language change. Brian D. Joseph (Lexical Diffusion andthe Regular Transmission of Language) explores the concepts of “diffusion”,“transmission” and “language change”, by emphasizing how the first two are“crucial notions in historical linguistic investigations: transmission anddiffusion together, in a sense, give the historical dimension to language” (p.421): indeed, one of the main goals of the historical sociolinguistic paradigmis to understand the different mechanisms of language change. Different modelsof “lexical diffusion” are then analyzed by Mieko Ogura (The Timing ofLanguage Change), who also offers many examples almost exclusively in English.A similar theme is also analyzed by David Britain (Innovation Diffusion inSociohistorical Linguistics), who refers back to the Milroyian differencebetween “diffusion” and “change” (Milroy & Milroy 1982). AnneliMeurman-Solin’s contribution (Historical Dialectology: Space as a Variable inthe Reconstruction of Regional Dialects) moves back to the problem ofvariables, by dealing with the complex notion of “space” in sociolinguisticand dialectological research: the author refers to Britain (2002) division of“space” into the three dimensions of Euclidean (i.e. objective), social andperceived space, and she also states that “the validity of the variable‘space’ can be usefully assessed by relating it to other variables” (p. 469).Space variable is also the topic of Roland Kehrein’s chapter (LinguisticAtlases: Empirical Evidence for Dialect Change), which traces the history ofdialectology and language atlases, and introduces the Digitaler Wenker-Atlas(DiWA) framework. The relation between the variables “place” and “time” isexplored by Matthew Toulmin (Historical Sociolinguistic Reconstruction BeyondEurope: Case Studies from South Asia and Fiji), who provides two practicalexamples of reconstruction of phylogenetic relations of dialects and languagesfrom South Asia and Fiji by using the Comparative Method (CM). Moving back toEnglish, the chapters by Herbert Schendl (Multilingualism, Code-Switching, andLanguage Contact in Historical Sociolinguistics) and Daniel Schreier (TheImpact of Migratory Movements on Linguistic Systems: Transplanted SpeechCommunities and Varieties from a Historical Sociolinguistic Perspective)analyze the emergence of Middle English and of New Zealand Englishrespectively. The final chapter of the section by Roger Wright (Convergenceand Divergence in World Languages) examines the notions of “divergence”,“fragmentation” and “convergence”, applying them to the situation in theLatin-speaking area and to subsequent emergence of Romance varieties; theauthor then surveys the possible development lines of modern “diffused”languages, namely Spanish, Portuguese, French, and English.

The fifth and final part (Attitudes to Languages) presents five remarkablecontributions. James Milroy (Sociolinguistics and Ideologies in LanguageHistory) considers the problematic notion of “prestige”, and how it hasinfluenced the conceptualization of language change triggered only internallyby traditional historical linguistics (p. 573). He also remarks on how thenotion of “standard variety” itself is an ideological concept, since thestandard variety of a language is often assumed to be the most prestigious.Richard J. Watts (Language Myths) also moves from similar considerations, andhe discusses the so-called “myths” of “linguistic homogeneity” and “purelanguage”. “Pure language” is then the main topic of Nils Langer and AgneteNesse’s contribution (Linguistic Purism): the authors refer to van der Sijs(1999), pointing out how “linguistic purism only occurs in standardizedlanguages or in languages in the process of standardization”, since standardlanguage is “not just a vehicle for supraregional communication but also asocial norm” (p. 612). Anni Sairio and Minna Palander-Collins’s chapter (TheReconstruction of Prestige Patterns in Language History) also relate to thenotion of standard, and more specifically of prestige, by referring to the“ecology of language” paradigm (see Haugen 1972). Finally, the lastcontribution by Catharina Peersman (Written Vernaculars in Medieval andRenaissance Times) is a summary of the theoretical and methodological problemsdiscussed in the Handbook, applied to the practical case of medievalmanuscripts and corpora available for the analysis of early romance languages.

EVALUATIONThe Handbook of Historical Sociolinguistics represents a huge effort to bringorder to the theoretical and methodological foundations of this newdiscipline, but at the same time it prepares the field for further systematicresearch. The large set of contributions has been well organized by theeditors, who offer a systematic survey of theory, method, and still openproblems together with practical examples of work carried out in the paradigm.At the core of past, present and future research there is still the so-called“bad data problem”, a central theme for scholars working in historicalsociolinguistics. The “bad data problem” directly refers to the level ofphilological awareness of the researcher working on historical written texts.However, the role of philology and its possible contribution to this field arenot always emphasized by contributors, and that could be a potential source oftrouble, especially for scholars coming from (modern) sociolinguistics andapproaching the analysis of historical data. Also related to the problem ofdata collection is the role of corpora in historical (socio)linguisticanalysis: as the contributions in this handbook show, English remains the moststudied language within historical sociolinguistics, in part because of thelarge amount of corpora already available for the study of this language andits varieties. One of the main objectives for future scholars in this andother related fields of research must be the creation of new corpora ofwritten texts of different languages from different periods, and also toexpand the preexisting ones for historical sociolinguistics research.

In conclusion, the Handbook of Historical Sociolinguistics represents animportant contribution to linguistic research, providing tools and models ofexplanation, together with case studies to exemplify work in the field. Thishandbook, then, helps clarify the main theoretical and methodological aims ofthe discipline, as well as possible connections with different linguisticfields (e.g. corpus linguistics). In this respect, the Handbook representsboth an excellent summary of the state of the art in historicalsociolinguistics and a good starting point for further research.

REFERENCESBailey. Guy. 1989. Sociolinguistic Constraints on Language Change and theEvolution of ‘Are’ in Early Modern English. In J.B. Trahern, Jr. (ed.).Standardizing English. Essays in the History of Language Change. In Honour ofJohn Hurt Fisher. Knoxville: University of Tennessee Press. 158-71.

Barnes. John. A. 1972. Social Networks. Module in Anthropology 26. 1-29.

Britain. David. 2002. Space and Spatial Diffusion. In J.K. Chambers, P.Trudgill & N. Schilling-Estes (eds.). The Handbook of Language Variation andChange. Oxford: Blackwell. 603-37.

Grzega. Joachim. 2007. Summary, Supplement and Index for J. Grzega (2004).Onomasiology Online 8. 18-196.

Haugen. Einar. 1950. The Analysis of Linguistic Borrowing. Language 26.210-31.

Haugen. Einar. 1972. The Ecology of Language. Stanford: Stanford UniversityPress.

Labov, William. 1972. Sociolinguistic Patterns. Philadelphia: University ofPennsylvania Press.

Labov, William. 1994. Principles of Linguistic Change. Vol. 1. InternalFactors. Oxford: Blackwell.

Lass, Roger. 1997. On Explaining Language Change. Cambridge: CambridgeUniversity Press.

Milroy, James & Milroy, Lesley. 1985. Linguistic Change, Social Network andSpeaker Innovation. Journal of Linguistics 21. 339-84.

Nevalainen, Terttu. & Raumolin-Brunberg, Helena. 2003. HistoricalSociolinguistics. Language Change in Tudor and Stuart England, London:Longman/Pearson Education.

Oesterreicher, Wulf. 1997. Types of Orality in Text. In E. Bakker & A. Kahane(eds.). Written Voices, Spoken Signs, Cambridge: Harvard University Press,190-214.

Romaine, Suzanne. 1982. Socio-historical Linguistics: its Status andMethodology. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Saussure, Ferdinand de. 1916. Cours de Linguistique Générale. Paris. Payot &Rivages.

Sijs. Nicoline. van der. 1999. Taaltrots. Amsterdam: Uitgeverij Contact.

Weinreich. Uriel. 1953. Languages in Contact: Findings and Problems. TheHague: Mouton.

ABOUT THE REVIEWERChiara Meluzzi is a PhD student in Linguistics at University of Pavia and FreeUniversity of Bozen (Italy). After an MA dissertation on the sociolinguisticsof Ancient Greek comedy (University of Eastern Piedmont-Vercelli), her PhDthesis provides a sociophonetic analysis of the Italian variety spoken inBozen (South Tyrol, Italy). Her main research interests includesociolinguistics, sociophonetics, language variation and change, as well ashistorical linguistics and pragmatics.

Page Updated: 26-Jan-2013