LINGUIST List 26.1040

Mon Feb 23 2015

Review: Historical Linguistics: Kikusawa, Reid (2013)

Editor for this issue: Sara Couture <>

Date: 13-May-2014
From: Ryan Sandell <>
Subject: Historical Linguistics 2011
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Book announced at

EDITOR: Ritsuko Kikusawa
EDITOR: Lawrence A. Reid
TITLE: Historical Linguistics 2011
SUBTITLE: Selected papers from the 20th International Conference on Historical Linguistics, Osaka, 25-30 July 2011
SERIES TITLE: Current Issues in Linguistic Theory 326
PUBLISHER: John Benjamins
YEAR: 2013

REVIEWER: Ryan Paul Sandell, University of California, Los Angeles

Review's Editors: Malgorzata Cavar and Sara Couture


The volume under review consists of fourteen single-authored papers that
“should be viewed as representative of the diversity that characterizes the
field of historical linguistics at the present time” (p. 1), plus an
introduction from the editors, and fairly comprehensive indices of languages
and terms. The editors have nevertheless organized the articles into three
subdivisions: ‘I. Grammaticalization’, ‘II. Problems in historical comparison
and reconstruction’, and ‘III. Historical development of morphosyntactic
features.’ Certainly the third grouping, however, is really a grab-bag of
articles that concern morphological or syntactic change of some fashion. The
articles in part two, meanwhile, might rightly be characterized as
methodologically conservative, in that the work reflected in that section
would, apart from some details, not be out of place in the late nineteenth or
early twentieth centuries (which is not a criticism of those articles, but
rather a testament to the durability of the Comparative Method). In this
review, I will first comment on some general features of the volume, then
survey some individual contributions. Unfortunately, the word limit of this
review does not permit me to comment on every contribution in deserved detail.

Overall, the volume itself is handsome and well-edited. I noted only a small
number of typographical errors, which did not detract from the readability of
any given article. I am not able to assess the accuracy of the data presented
in most articles, apart from those of Yoshida and Juge, where forms cited
appear to be generally in order. A few peculiarities of English usage persist
throughout (e.g., on p. 44, “a feature which has been neglected up to date”),
but again, the content of the articles is not adversely affected to a
substantial degree. The index of terms is thorough and useful, although
clearly (and understandably) compiled through an electronic search, and
consequently, in at least one glaring instance, due to a difference in
orthography between British and American English (the index contains
“grammaticalisation”), many textual references (where the authors wrote
“grammaticalization”) were overlooked. The index of languages appears
accurate, though perusal of its contents immediately reveals the extent to
which Indo-European, and especially modern languages of Europe, remain
(unsurprisingly) the default point of reference for many scholars; phenomena
in English, French, and German are mentioned in the greatest number of
different articles, while, conversely, Niger-Congo and Austronesian languages
are mentioned only in the articles that explicitly treat phenomena from those
language families. Historical Linguistics evidently still has room to
incorporate a fuller range of linguistic diversity.

The editor’s introduction (pp. 1-12) offers a helpful overview of the entire
volume; a potential reader can quickly decide whether an article might be of
some use based on the summaries provided. Insofar as the volume is intended as
a “fitting representation” of ICHL 20, two notable gaps in the volume appear:
there are no papers concerned with computational, statistical, or
probabilistic methods (cf. p. 4), nor, I think, any papers derived from
presentations at some of the areal workshops (in particular Mesoamerican,
Ibero-Romance, and, most notably, Ryukyuan; cf. pp. 3-4). The reviewer hopes
that some of these papers might appear in other venues, and if the editors
were aware of other forthcoming collected volumes derived from panels at ICHL
20, their mention here would have been appreciated.


One of the most interesting and important papers in the volume appears
upfront. Ted Supalla’s “The role of historical research in building a model of
Sign Language typology, variation, and change” offers a crucial typological
addition to the field of Historical Linguistics in general by demonstrating
that historical linguistic work on signed languages is very much possible, and
furthermore, that signed languages, just as they exhibit parallels to spoken
languages in their synchronic stages, exhibit the same types of diachronic
changes (just as one would expect). For instance, Supalla nicely illustrates
(pp. 19-22) how the sign for HOME in American Sign Language is etymologized as
a coordinate compound of the signs EAT and SLEEP, having undergone “the
phonological operations of deletion and assimilation…with assimilation of
handshape resulting in a single form throughout the sign.” Even for readers
totally unfamiliar with linguistic research on signed languages, Supalla’s
discussion is consistently clear and easy to follow. Perhaps most gratifying
for historical linguists to see in this paper is the author’s usage of
historical data to precisely refute some typological claims concerning signed
languages, in particular the “claim that it is natural for signed languages to
be synthetic in structure” (p. 28). One could easily, collect ample parallels
in signed languages for phenomena of language change generally from this
article, or by following up some references therein. A further methodological
virtue of this contribution is the explicit and careful discussion of various
grammaticalizations (e.g., the development of kinship systems in American and
Japanese Sign Language), rather than merely asserting that grammaticalization
has occurred, as some other contributors tend to do (such as the poorly
explained and undeveloped notion of “accelerated grammaticalization” with
which Reintges operates in his article on Ancient Egyptian). I think that this
contribution holds perhaps the widest general appeal of all the articles in
the volume.

Also of potentially broad appeal, on account of its methodological concerns,
is Kazuhiko Yoshida’s contribution, “The mirage of apparent morphological
correspondence: A case from Indo-European.” Drawing principally on Hittite
material, Yoshida presents a fairly persuasive reminder that not every perfect
formal and functional match between two related languages entails the
reconstruction of such a morpheme for the last common ancestor of those
languages; rather, the possibility of independent creation of such morphemes
out of inherited material must be considered. In one specific case study,
Yoshida shows that, within the attested history of Hittite, the Hittite marker -ta (cf. Sanskrit -ta, Greek -to) had an originally
restricted distribution (to preterites), and gradually replaces the
alternative marker -a (cf. Sanskrit -a). Yoshida believes that the
ending -ta and its seemingly cognate matches in other Indo-European (IE)
languages are independent creations, based on the middle marker *-o and marker *-t. The only difficulty is that, although several IE
languages in their earliest attestations show the coexistence of
markers that would be reconstructed as *-to and *-o, respectively, no language
attests to the total absence of the marker *-to. Therefore, Yoshida must make
an argument based on the rate of morphological change: “As we observed above,
the morphological change -a > -ta was still operating in the Hittite
historical period. The reconstruction of *-to for Proto-Indo-European would
oblige us to regard the speed of this morphological change as exceptionally
slow, as it must have been in progress for more than 3,000 years. Because
linguistic change over such a long period is simply unlikely, the ending *-to
cannot have been created at the Proto-Indo-European stage.” Although many
scholars - myself included - will share Yoshida’s intuition on this point, I
fear that we lack a decisive method for concluding whether we are dealing with
a “slow burn” morphological change, or completely independent developments as
Yoshida argues.

Frantisek Lichtenberk’s article, “The rise and demise of possessive
classifiers in Austronesian,” is another standout. Lichtenberk begins with a
very clear introduction to the subgrouping of Austronesian and the typology of
possessive constructions, especially those employing possessive classifier
suffixes, within the Austronesian family. The author then proceeds to evaluate
the claim of whether possessive classifiers in Proto-Austronesian in fact
derive from contact with Papuan languages, and offers a number of excellent
insights into the potential pitfalls involved, and the degree of temporal and
spatial precision needed, in order to make a contact hypothesis remotely
plausible. Lichtenberk writes on p. 212: “The hypothesis of Papuan influence
on Austronesian requires reconstruction of a grammatical system with an
alienable-inalienable distinction in a Papuan proto-language at that time
3,400 years ago.” Although Lichtenberk rightly worries that this condition may
not be met, the ultimate density of alienable-inalienable possession systems
in languages of East Nusantara makes Lichtenbark inclined to accept the
hypothesis that the Austronesian system is indeed due to contact, but not as a
direct borrowing by speakers of Proto-Austronesian, but rather a consequence
of “shift-induced interference” from Papuan speakers adopting
proto-Austronesian. Quite nice is then Lichtenberk’s use of psycholinguistic
evidence (from English, citing Lichtenberk et al. 2011) to discuss the
cognitive bases of possessive classifier systems. The “demise” aspect of the
article is somewhat less developed; Lichtenberk merely shows that the
possession system reconstructable for Proto-Austronesian has collapsed in many
Oceanic languages, but he is unable to offer a motivation as to WHY that
system has lost some distinctions.

Roland Kießling (“On the origin of Niger-Congo nominal classification”)
provides a great deal of useful comparative detail on noun classifier systems
of Niger-Congo languages; this data and the typology of the systems would
serve any scholar interested in such systems well. Kießling makes good use of
other typological research into noun classifiers and ongoing renewals of the
system in Niger-Congo languages to posit the likely semantic sources for the
classes, but unfortunately, does not go so far as to confirm specific
Proto-Niger-Congo lexical items as the etymological source of a given

Keisuke Sanada (“A closer look at subjectification in the grammaticalization
of English modals”) spends much of the article on the introduction of the
notion “subjectification” taken from Traugott and Dasher (2002), in order to
discuss “subjectification” of English ‘must’ as a grammaticalized development
of Middle Eng. ‘mo(o)t’. The statistics that Sanada presents based on corpora
of Middle English and three periods of Modern English make obvious that the
claimed grammaticalization has occurred, and that Modern English ‘must’ is
much more strongly limited to occurrence with first person subjects. However,
Sanada’s claim that subjectification of ‘mo(o)t’ specifically is a result of
use in a prayer construction attested in Chaucer is not wholly credible in the
form presented here. The data are interesting, but how they add up to the
author’s conclusion is too inexplicit.

I-Hsuan Chen (“Subjectivity encoding in Taiwanese Southern Min”) looks at the
grammaticalization of two agentive markers (‘hoo7’ and ‘khit4hoo7’), based on
the verb ‘hoo7’ ‘give’ together with the pronoun ‘i1’, based largely on
corpus data, to illustrate the subjectification of those sequences. As in
Sanada’s article, that subjectification via grammaticalization is clearly
shown but the exact discourse, pragmatic, or constructional usages that
induced the subjectified readings in the first place, the identification of
which should be the real interest, do not come across clearly. To my mind, the
formalization in Basic Communicative Space Network (Sanders, Sanders, and
Sweetser 2009) was not very illuminating, and perhaps even distracted from the
author’s argument; perhaps that model does not offer the ideal metaphor for
the phenomenon under examination.

Haibo Wang (“Emergence of the tone system in the Sanjiazi dialect of Manchu”)
presents a nicely compact phonological study that tries to demonstrate that
low tones in the studied dialect are the result of vowel coalescence upon the
loss of certain consonants or of shifts of the ictus to the low vowel [a] in
some instances. Some form of Wang’s proposals, based on the data discussed,
seems likely to be correct, but understanding of the diachronic analysis would
benefit greatly from the discussion of other facts concerning the language’s
prosodic phonology: what kind of metrical structure, or synchronic
phonological algorithm does the language have for computing the word ictus?

Willem F. H. Adelaar (“Searching for undetected genetic links between the
languages of South America”) writes what is in part a history of historical
linguistic work on languages of South America, especially as concerns their
genetic classification. The rest of the article simply makes clear that
further progress in those domains will be the product of patient work executed
by competent linguists on larger quantities of more reliable data. The author
specifies that no shortcuts to solid classificatory work - such as ratios of
shared lexicon - should be taken seriously.

Antoine Guillaume’s fine contribution, “Reconstructing the category of
“associated motion” in Tacanan languages (Amazonian Bolivia and Peru),” is
clearly grounded in a good deal of excellent fieldwork. The category of
“associated motion” is itself intriguing, and likely new to many readers: the
Tacanan languages possess a system of verbal affixes that express motion (in
either deictic sense, or both), prior, during, or following the action of the
verb. Guillaume successfully reconstructs an “associated motion” system for
Proto-Tacanan. Particularly interesting would be a thorough explanation of the
outright incorporation of other verbal roots to serve as new “associated
motion” markers in various Tacanan languages that Guillaume claims is possible
(p. 147). Perhaps a similar phenomenon is at work in the renewal of noun class
markers in Niger-Congo: a one-time grammaticalization establishes a certain
functional category, which is able to undergo periodic renewal through the
direct introduction of new markers into the slots of the old.

Matthew L. Juge (“Analogy as a source of suppletion”) offers a somewhat
programmatic article that tries to demonstrate that analogies may sometimes
*create* irregular or even suppletive paradigms. The important point, in my
view, is that “analogy”, in large part, reflects the extension of
well-established morphological patterns, which may be either intra- or
extraparadigmatic; those extraparadigmatic analogies may indeed create just
some of the irregularities to which Juge points. Notably lacking from Juge’s
discussion, however, is any mention of the substantial body of research on
computational models of morphological learning that have afforded important
insights into “analogy” (e.g., Albright 2002) or the psycholinguistic
literature on morphological productivity (e.g., Hay 2003 and literature

Jack Hoeksma (“Immediate-future readings of universal quantifier
constructions”) first reviews a series of similar constructions from English,
Dutch, German, and Portuguese that contain universal or free-choice
quantifiers (e.g., English ‘every’, ‘all’, ‘any’), but the reading of which is
precisely non-universal, for example, as in English ‘the patient may die any
day (now).’ Frequency data on nouns and predicates used in such constructions
is provided, as well as frequency data drawn from historical corpora of
English and Dutch on the occurrence of such constructions and their readings.
This assemblage of data stirs interest, but the article itself is ultimately
disappointing, because the author does not fully develop his hypothesis on why
the conversational implicatures surrounding universally quantified
constructions should lead to immediate-futures, or offer any explanation of
why the choice of quantifier should vary cross-linguistically or

Noriko Matsumoto’s contribution (“The historical development and functional
characteristics of the ‘go-adjective’ sequence in English”) discusses English
constructions such as “go mad”, “go public”, or “go unnoticed”, and classifies
them into four types: involuntary change-of-state, voluntary change-of-state,
state, and modality. Using the Corpus of Historical American English, the
author documents the frequency of the classes and of specific type items, and
further shows that the classes exhibit substantial frequency differences
across genres (e.g., state-type constructions like ‘go barefoot’ are nearly
absent from informal speech and radio transcripts). Once again, there is much
interesting data to ponder here, but a dearth of genuine conclusions: the
author’s final “hypothesis” that “‘go’ in the modality type represents ongoing
historical development that will result in significant shifts in frequency of
the ‘go-unV[erb]ed’ sequence in the future’ does not seem very meaningful --
it would be much more surprising if a frequency shift in response to semantic
change of a component were not to occur.

Bettelou Los (“Recycling ‘junk’: A case for exaptation as a response to
breakdown”) argues for a definition of exaptation that “involves a previous
stage in which there was a clear breakdown in transmission” (p. 268). Los
claims that exaptation is not “crucially different from any other case of
reinterpretation” except when “breakdowns” lead learners (especially second
language learners) to reanalyze some material in their primary linguistic data
in particularly spectacular ways, based on the “inbuilt predisposition of
language learners to interpret differences in form as correlating with
differences in meaning” (which seems like a reasonable hypothesis, but the
very existence of empty morphs proves that it is not strictly true under all
circumstances). Los’ first case study, on the reinterpretation of purely
phonological consonant mutations in Welsh as having morphosyntactic function,
is solid. The second study, on the reinterpretation of verb-second in English
as a discourse marker signalling elevated style, is rather more slippery; if
the use of verb second in “jocular phrases” such as “I kid you not!” is in
fact an intentional mockery of the elevated style that verb-second is intended
to mark, then the case seems good. However, in neither of these studies does
Los’ make clear exactly what the necessary “breakdown in transmission” was,
and in the conclusion, Los implies that “breakdowns” are not something as
severe as one might imagine but rather “an earlier change that has obscured
the evidence for systematicity in the input of a new generation of learners”
(p. 284). Thus, the Welsh and English studies are worth reading, but what Los’
thesis was, precisely, and whether she has proven it, remains unclear to me.

Chris H. Reintges (“Sapirian ‘drift’ towards analyticity and long-term
morphosyntactic change in Ancient Egyptian”) contributes the longest article
in the volume, at 33 pages excluding references. Reintges opens with a
thought-provoking discussion on the nature of so-called ‘drift,’ though I
remain highly skeptical of any “metacondition on the way the grammar of a
language as a whole will change” (Lakoff 1972: 173) or the notion that
speakers can learn a “direction of movement” in the history of a language
(Sampson 180: 129). I would much rather view ‘drift’ as resulting from the
inherent tendencies of a given linguistic system (as both ‘langue’ and
‘parole’, in de Saussure’s senses), than imagine that learners somehow acquire
an extralinguistic function that points them in the further historical
direction of the language. Beyond that discussion, Reintges undertakes a
highly erudite examination of morphosyntax and auxiliary verb constructions in
Ancient Egyptian, followed by a briefer treatment of the genesis of Coptic,
which, in Reintges’ view, is effectively a creole consisting of a Demotic
Egyptian grammatical base and Greek lexicon. In his attempt to provide a
massive diachronic overview of the Egyptian syntactic typology, Reintges has
put together the core ideas of a topic that requires a monograph; in this
abbreviated form, the ideas are too compressed to assess readily.


The reader may have noted that my principal complaint concerning many articles
is that the authors simply do not make the conclusions to be drawn from the
evidence that they present wholly explicit. While other specialists in Ancient
Egyptian or semantics (which are far from my areas of research) would
undoubtedly find more of use in Reintges and Hoeksma’s respective articles,
and take away less from Yoshida’s contribution than I as an Indo-Europeanist
did, the difference between clear and cogently argued papers, such as
Supalla’s and Lichtenberk’s discussed above, and collections of data that lack
a persuasive thesis to bind that data together, such as in Sanada’s and
Matsumoto’s articles, remains striking. Thus, while I would not, in sum,
consider the volume to be a “must-have” for all historical linguists, research
libraries would do well to procure it, and I do believe that it more or less
fulfills the editors’ assessment that the volume is roughly representative of
the field as a whole: one can find contained in it historical linguistic work
combined with any other subfield of linguistics (from phonetics to discourse),
with a variety of theoretical approaches, executed on a substantial variety of
languages. In particular, the articles in this volume demonstrate that
grammaticalization is now - if it was not already - a commonplace explanatory
device, and that the use of large-scale corpora continues to grow. The
particular articles of Supalla, Yoshida, and Lichtenberk that I have discussed
in detail above could be informative for virtually all historical linguists,
and could fit readily into the curricula of courses on historical linguistics
or language change.


Albright, Adam. 2002. The Identification of Bases in Morphological Paradigms.
Ph.D. diss., University of California, Los Angeles.

Hay, Jennifer. 2003. Causes and Consequences of Word Structure. New York:
Taylor and Francis.

Lakoff, Robin. 1972. “Another Look at Drift”. Linguistic Change and Generative
Theory. Essays from the UCLA Conference on Historical Linguistics in the
Perspective of Transformational Theory (February 1969), Robert P. Stockwell
and Ronald K. S. Macaulay (eds.), 172–198. Bloomington: Indiana University

Lichtenberk, Frantisek, Jyotsna Vai and His-Chin Chen. 2011. “On the
Interpretation of Alienable vs. Inalienable Possession: A Psycholinguistic
Investigation.” Cognitive Linguistics 22.659–689.

Sampson, Geoffrey. 1980. Schools of Linguistics. Stanford: Stanford

Sanders, Jose’, Ted Sanders, and Eve Sweetser. “Causality, Cognition, and
Communication: A Mental Space Analysis of Subjectivity in Causal Connectives”.
Causal Categories in Discourse and Cognition, Ted Sanders and Eve Sweeters
(eds.), 19–59. Berlin: Mouton de Gruyter.

Traugott, Elizabeth and Richard B. Dasher. 2002. Regularity in Semantic
Change. Cambridge: Cambridge University.


Ryan Sandell is currently a Ph.D. candidate in Indo-European Studies (with
certificate in Linguistics) at the University of California, Los Angeles. His
research concerns the historical linguistics of old Indo-European languages,
especially Sanskrit, Avestan, Greek, and Hittite, examining particular
phonological and morphological change, especially in the domains of prosodic
phonology and morphology. His dissertation, 'Morphological Productivity in
Historical Linguistics' examines diachronic trends in derivational morphology
in Vedic Sanskrit and Ancient Greek using statistical and computational
learning models, building on earlier work of R. Harald Baayen, Adam Albright,
and Bruce Hayes, with an eye to the usage of productivity in word-formation in

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