LINGUIST List 28.4641

Mon Nov 06 2017

Review: English; Historical Linguistics: Wilcox, Chapman, Moore (2016)

Editor for this issue: Clare Harshey <>

Date: 18-Jul-2017
From: Víctor Parra-Guinaldo <>
Subject: Studies in the History of the English Language VII
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Book announced at

EDITOR: Don Chapman
EDITOR: Colette Moore
EDITOR: Miranda Wilcox
TITLE: Studies in the History of the English Language VII
SUBTITLE: Generalizing vs. Particularizing Methodologies in Historical Linguistic Analysis
SERIES TITLE: Topics in English Linguistics [TiEL]
PUBLISHER: De Gruyter Mouton
YEAR: 2016

REVIEWER: Víctor Parra-Guinaldo, American University of Sharjah

REVIEWS EDITOR: Helen Aristar-Dry


Studies in the History of the English Language VII, edited by Don Chapman, Colette Moore, and Miranda Wilcox is arranged into four sections with three papers each. These cover a variety of topics (ranging from authorship to the lexicon) and periods (from the Old English period all the way to Present-Day American dialects), but they all share a common purpose, that is, to explore the divide between philological and linguistic investigative methodologies.

The opening section, “Particularizing and generalizing for written records”, comprises essays investigating the intersection between philological and linguistic approaches. For example, in “A philological tour of HEL”, R.D. Fulk discusses the relationship between philology and English linguistics and, in doing so, demonstrates the importance of philological consideration in the study of historical linguistics. Fulk presents some of the main interpretations of philology through time, from a discipline that encompasses linguistics and literary criticism in the nineteenth century to the identification of philology with historical linguistics for Anglophone academics from the early twentieth century onward. He then proposes his own view, in which philology examines the relation between extralinguistic context and linguistic data and defends the idea that philology can be highly theoretical, albeit not being governed by a school of thought. Three case studies follow this discussion to prove that extralinguistic context, along with linguistic analysis, is crucial in interpreting the language of historical texts. The author restates the significance of the philological methods in his conclusion, not without recognizing the role of corpus linguistics and digital analysis in historical linguistics.

Donka Minkova’s paper, “From stop-fricative clusters to contour segments in Old English”, discusses the development of the present-day English (PDE) affricates and proposes a new reconstruction based on a continuing allophonic relation between the singleton [k] and a singleton palatalized stop [c]. Minkova begins by reviewing some of the technical terminology (simple, complex, and contour segments) necessary to understanding the process of change from Old English to PDE and presents the consonantal inventory of Old English. Using orthographic and metrical evidence, she tests the possible trajectories of change and proposes a new scenario for the phonemicization of affricates in English.

Stefan Dollinger explores the divide between philological and linguistic investigative methodologies within the context of historical lexicography. The author argues for an exchange where each approach would benefit from the other; in other words, philology could benefit from the more generalizing methods of linguistics and linguistics in turn could utilize the more particularizing textual analyses of philology. All three case studies presented in this paper rest upon two modes in lexicographical research: a literary-philological approach and a computational-linguistic approach. They underscore the importance of “dual competencies” (64) in linguistic and philological methods of investigation in the study of historical lexicography in particular and linguistics in general.

“Particulars of Authorship”, the second section in this volume, explores the dichotomy between the generalizing methods of linguistics and the particularizing insights of philology as it pertains to authors and their purposes. “The history of the English language and the history of English literature” by Seth Lerer suggests that the history of English literature in general, and literary authorship in particular, ought to be regarded not only as evidence but as a participant in linguistic change. Lerer points out that nineteenth-century philologists were the first ones to develop an empirical methodology of linguistic change, and he then presents several cases where literary authors were catalysts for linguistic innovation, thus establishing an association between authorship and linguistic change.

Xingzhong Li’s paper, “‘Of harmes two, the lesse is for to chese’: An integrated OT-Maxent approach to syntactic inversions in Chaucer’s verse”, offers an analysis of Chaucer’s metrical principles via the scrutiny of syntactic inversions in over 1,000 sample verse lines. The author adopts an analytical method that integrates both Optimality Theory and Maxent Grammars to account for constraints found in the phonology, semantics, metrics, and syntax of Chaucer’s selected verses. Although Li focuses on the language of one particular author, his work rests on the generalizing application of current theoretical frameworks, such as minimalist syntax when categorizing unmarked word order.

In “The effect of representativeness and size in historical corpora: An empirical study of changes in lexical frequency”, Mark Davies and Don Chapman use three sets of corpora: the Brown family of corpora, designed to be small but representative; COHA, both large and representative; and Google Books, very large but not representative. They conclude that small corpora (one to four million words) are inadequate for lexical studies, especially in studies of a historical nature. Furthermore, they show that a large corpus such as Google Books, which was not designed with principles of representativeness in mind, can be as representative as a well-designed corpus such as COHA, albeit with certain caveats.

The third of the sections in this volume, “Particulars of Communicative Setting”, contains papers that demonstrate how data and contextual aspects, such as communicative context, can benefit the linguistic study of sociopragmatics. “Seeing is believing: Evidentiality and direct visual perception verbs in Early Modern English witness depositions” by Peter J. Grund is another example of how a particularizing study can be beneficial for corpus research in general. Specifically, Grund demonstrates that careful consideration of context in usage, in this case court depositions, is essential if we are to fully understand “the dynamics of direct visual perception verbs used evidentially”. The author uses a pragmaphilological approach to conclude that only a relative number of direct visual perception verbs, of which ‘see’ is the predominant one, perform evidential functions in Early Modern English depositions.

In her essay, Susan Fitzmaurice, traces the semasiological (semantic change) and onomasiological (shifting lexicon) history of the term ‘politeness’. Drawing direct evidence (metalinguistic and metadiscursive material) and indirect evidence (linguistic performance) from Eighteenth Century Collections Online, the author infers that several meanings “co-exist and compete in a relationship of contingent [upon affective factors] polysemy” (198) and therefore the differences are ephemeral and fluid. Marina Dossena investigates in her essay, “Something to write home about: Social-network maintenance in the correspondence of nineteenth-century Scottish emigrants”, pragmatic strategies used by emigrants in their intent to relate to their relatives and maintain social-network relations. The source used is the Corpus of Nineteenth-century Scottish Correspondence, which contains mainly diaries and memoires. This small corpus enabled the author to carry out close qualitative analysis and conclude that these documents are invaluable for the investigation of politeness moves, and therefore for historical pragmatic investigation.

The last section, “Particularizing from Words”, presents a closer look at the elements of textual composition and the role of the lexicon in language change. Betty S. Phillips, in “Words swimming in sound change”, departs from previous views on lexical diffusion, especially that outlined in Labov (2010), when dealing with vowel shifts, and makes a case as to why frequency and lexical identity are quintessential to sound change; she argues that “lexical diffusion as a process by which a sound change spreads through the lexicon typically exists inside of phonological conditioning” (235).

In “Plural marking in the Old and Middle English –nd stems feond and freond”, John G. Newman examines the process of morphological diffusion and demonstrates how the nd-masculines feond and freond developed plural morphology in an intermittent manner: first, an s-plural would attach to the stems in Old English, then during the Early Middle English period, they resisted the spread of this plural formative, and they finally adopted the s-plural during the Late Middle English period. Newman concludes that this morphological pattern was due to analogical modeling on other more frequent nouns.

Lynn D. Sims’s chapter, “From Shakespeare to Present-Day American English: The survival of ‘get + (XP) + gone’ constructions”, traces the history of the ‘get + (XP) + gone’ construction. With numerous examples drawn from different dictionaries and corpora, the author demonstrates the path of grammaticalization this construction took, showing its changes from the early fourteenth century as a mono-transitive verb expressing possession, to the addition of a locative complement and that of a reflexive object a century later, and finally the use of adverbs of motion more recently. Sims presents evidence that demonstrates that the use of “get gone” constructions is presently in decline in British English, but it persists in American English, especially in the dialect regions of the South and South Midland.


This collection contains papers selected from those presented at the eighth meeting of the Studies of the History of English Language Conference (SHEL-8), held at Brigham Young University in September of 2013. The underlying goal of the volume continues the original designs set out by SHEL during its first meeting in 2000 at UCLA, to advance and promote research in the area of English historical linguistics in North America (Minkova & Stockwell, 2002). The overall theme of the volume deals with the various and distinct approaches to the written record scholars use to understand the nature of language change, laying down the basis for the dichotomy between generalizing and particularizing methodologies in historical linguistic analysis, as the subtitle of this collection indicates. The articles featured in this volume attest to this methodological challenge by proposing a combination of generalizing perspectives (lexicography, corpus studies, and theoretical linguistics) and particularizing approaches (philology, historical pragmatics, and discourse analysis), not unlike the preceding volumes in the series. The editors’ selection and organization of papers into four sections is to be commended. Fulk’s essay for example, the first in the collection, serves a twofold purpose; not only is it a study in its own right, discussing three interesting case studies, but it eloquently contextualizes the relationship between philology and English linguistics, setting the parameters for the remainder of the contributions. All papers faithfully adhere to the theme established for each section, although there is some variation as to the internal organization of the content (Lerer’s paper, for instance, reads uninterruptedly from beginning to end, whereas all other papers are arranged into sections) or how explicitly the author contextualizes the essay within the overall goal of the volume (Dollinger, Grund, and others clearly do this). In past volumes of the series, each article is followed by a commentary and response; although the volume here under review contains stand-alone articles, they reflect nonetheless upon approaches and practices in undertaking historical studies in a cohesive manner. The volume is of interest to advanced students and scholars of the history of English, English philology, and English historical linguistics.


Labov, W. (2010). Principles of linguistic change. Volume 3: Cognitive and cultural factors. Malden, MA: Wiley-Blackwell.

Minkova, D. and R. B. Stockwell (Eds.) (2002). Studies in the history of the English language: A millennial perspective. Mouton de Gruyter: Berlin and New York.


Víctor Parra-Guinaldo is Assistant Professor at the American University of Sharjah, in the United Arab Emirates. He is recipient of a Teaching Excellence Award and several fellowships. His scholarly interest lies in the area of diachronic linguistics, with a special interest in morpho-syntactic changes in the history of English. His most recent work deals with the relexification of diminutives.

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