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Review of  The Handbook of Historical Linguistics

Reviewer: Marc L. Greenberg
Book Title: The Handbook of Historical Linguistics
Book Author: Brian D Joseph Richard D Janda
Publisher: Wiley
Linguistic Field(s): Historical Linguistics
Issue Number: 14.2841

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Date: Fri, 13 Jun 2003 16:26:09 -0500
From: "Greenberg, Marc L"
Subject: The Handbook of Historical Linguistics

Joseph, Brian D. and Richard D. Janda, ed. (2003) The
Handbook of Historical Linguistics, Blackwell Publishing,
Blackwell Handbooks in Linguistics.

Marc L. Greenberg, University of Kansas

[This review was not posted when it was received because of
technical problems with the LINGUIST List server. We
apologize for the delay in posting it to the List. ]


This book presents the state of the art of diachronic
linguistics with a collection of twenty-six essays by
leading practitioners in North America (20), Europe (4),
Australia (1) and New Zealand (1). Its primary audiences are
students of and specialists in linguistics who wish to gain
a command of current issues in diachronic linguistics.
Although not intended as a textbook per se, it could be used
as such with a sufficiently bright group of students.
Moreover, specialists in non-linguistic historical
disciplines will find at least the lengthy introductory
article useful and enlightening. Most of the articles are
written in a non-technical manner, or at least the narrowly
technical terms are defined in the text, making them
accessible to the general educated reader. The introductory
essay in Part I ties together the issues dealt with in the
papers, as well as embeds the discussion of the enterprise
of diachronic linguistics in other historically oriented
sciences. Part II deals with methods for studying language
change (essays 1 - 5), Part III with phonology (6 - 9), Part
IV with morphology and lexicon (10 - 13), Part V with syntax
(14 - 17), Part VI with pragmatics and semantics (18 - 21),
and Part VII with issues of explanation in diachronic
linguistics (22 - 25). The collective bibliography (pp. 744
- 842) is followed by a Subject Index (843 - 855), Name
Index (856 - 878) and a Language Index (879 - 881).

The choice of topics to be included was informed by
the program outlined, according to the editors, in
Weinreich, Labov and Herzog 1968, and are summarized in 5
broad themes: (1) the extent (minor or major) of the
role played by children in linguistic change,
(2) the relationship between externally and internally
motivated changes, (3) the relationship of linguistic theory
to views of language change, (4) the question of when change
can be said to (have) occur(ed), and (5) causation of change
(119 - 125). Topics that fall outside of the purview of the
volume, at least as separate chapters, are lexical
diffusion, typology per se, the origins of human speech,
diachronic pragmatics (per se, though pragmatic issues are
at least touched upon in chapters on grammaticalization),
prosodic change, and linguistic paleontology (115 - 119).

Most of these matters are treated within a number of the
individual chapters. Rather than have each of the seven
major sections written by an individual author, the editors
commissioned articles by researchers with various and sometimes
conflicting theoretical viewpoints in order to give a sense of
the range of ideas and approaches currently at the forefront of
the field (120 - 123). An attempt was made to pay sufficient
attention to the achievements of research on Indo-European
languages as well as to balance Indo-European material with
consideration of work based on other world languages. The
editors point out that the resulting balance is evident in
the language index, which is "quite robust" (126).

Part I: Introduction:

Richard D. Janda's & Brian D. Joseph's introductory
essay "On Language, Change, and Language Change - Or, Of
History, Linguistics, and Historical Linguistics" (4 - 180)
discusses broad questions of language change in relation to
history and other historically oriented disciplines, such as
evolutionary biology, paleontology, and geology. These
parallels help to illuminate and contextualize debates on
broad issues such as uniformitarianism and punctuated
equilibrium. These broad issues help to tie together the
more narrowly focused topics in the chapters as well as
frame meta-theoretically the controversies that arise in the
dialogues among different approaches, those exhibited in the
book and otherwise. In their own writing and, to an extent,
the selection of authors, the editors espouse an aversion to
too literal interpretations of the parallels between
diachronic linguistics and other diachronically-oriented
disciplines in (especially) the natural sciences. A
prominent place in this regard is given to controverting the
("pseudo-organicist") views of Roger Lass (such as the following:
"[... L]anguages [...] ought to be viewed as potentially
having extended (trans-individual, trans-generation) 'lives of
their own'" [9]): "we see this book as a whole - and especially
this introductory essay - as an answer to his claims"
(121, 175 n. 137).

Part II: Methods for Studying Language Change:

The main body of the book begins with the cornerstone
of historical linguistics, "The Comparative Method" (183 -
212) by Robert L. Rankin, refreshingly presented on Native
American illustrative material. Just as refreshingly, Rankin
demonstrates the application of the method across all
components of grammar, from phonology through morphology and
semantics to syntax, rather than focusing primarily on the
first of these, as is often the case in textbook treatments
of the method. Certain of the limitations of the method are
dealt with, including the pitfalls arising from the loss or
merger of phonological segments, naturalness in syntax (vs.
phonology), the perception of excessive uniformity in the
reconstruction of proto-languages, and temporal limits on
the method itself. Rankin's article segues naturally into S.
P. Harrison's "On the Limits of the Comparative Method" (213
- 243), limitations, the author hastens to add, "determined
by the very properties of the method that make it work"
(213). "Internal Reconstruction" (244 - 261) by Don Ringe
illustrates, primarily on Indo-European material, the weaker
auxiliary method to the comparative method. In "How to Show
Languages are Related: Methods for Distant Genetic
Relationship" (262 - 282) Lyle Campbell takes on the
problems of distant genetic relationship (DGR), which has
received a greater share of attention in the popular press
than other areas of linguistics. The article is in part a
review of the epistemological underpinnings of established
methods for showing language relatedness (covered to a large
extent in the previous chapters) and in part an admonition
to avoid "excessive zeal for long-range relationships [that]
can lead to methodological excesses" (263). As illustrative
material spurious results in the works of Joseph Greenberg
(no relation to the reviewer - well, perhaps a distant one)
are a leitmotif, though others' work is taken apart as well.
"Diversity and Stability in Language" (282 - 310) by Johanna
Nichols treats the problem of what elements of language tend
to be stable vs. unstable (i.e., leads to diversity) over
time. In contrast to some of the more traditional topics in
the volume, this essay is of a programmatic nature "intended
to spur the kind of cross-linguistic work required to
estimate stability and identify recurrent strong and weak
points in linguistic structure" (282). Nichols sets out four
measures of stability, graded scalarly, whether an element
of grammar is prone to inheritance (or loss), borrowing,
substratum effects or "selection," i.e., "the process
whereby elements that embody language universals, cross-
categorial harmony, unmarked terms, and other typological
desiderata are incorporated into a language" (286 - 287).

Part III: Phonological Change:

"The Phonological Basis of Sound Change" (313 - 342)
by Paul Kiparsky takes issue with the Neogrammarian notion
of exceptionlessness of phonetic sound change, demonstrating
his views on top-down, abstract organization of phonology.
The article is a slightly revised republication of
Kiparsky's article in Goldsmith's Handbook of Phonological
Theory, also in the Blackwell series. Kiparsky's arguments
are reviewed and amplified in Mark Hale's "Neogrammarian
Sound Change" (343 - 368). "Variationist Approaches to
Phonological Change" (369 - 400) by Gregory R. Guy reviews
the approach to observation and analysis of sound change in
progress in the sociolinguistic variation school begun by
William Labov. This article, as the previous two, discusses
the relationship between Neogrammarian phonetics and
phonology. About half of the article is devoted to the
examination of sociolinguistic factors in sound change and
concludes with reflections on the purposeful blurring of the
Saussurean distinction between synchrony and diachrony
inherent in the approach of viewing change in progress.
"'Phonologization' as the Start of Dephoneticization - Or,
On Sound-Change and its Aftermath: Of Extension,
Generalization, Lexicalization, and Morphologization" (401 -
422) by Richard D. Janda attempts to reconcile the
heterogeneity of views reflected in debates on sound change,
in part represented in the Phonological Change section of
this book, and deals with the seemingly intractable problem
of causation in change. Towards a solution, Janda offers a
phonological parallel to the "Big Bang" model of the origin
of the universe (op. rev.: one longs for a domestic term,
such as the "Primordial Plosion," but, alas, there is not
the same ring to it). The "Big Bang" theory proposes that
purely phonetic conditions hold for a brief moment, after
which higher-order phonological and sociolinguistic
conditions shape the further outcome of phonological
processes of change.

Part IV: Morphological and Lexical Change:

Raimo Anttila's "Analogy: The Warp and Woof of
Cognition" (425 - 440) treats the meta-theoretical notion of
analogy, a treatment grounded in gestalt psychology and
Piercian semiotics, as the template for human cognition and
the innate vehicle for all linguistic change. Though the
author points out that since 1980 "analogy had been pretty
much banned in America" (438), his not infrequent references
to Finnish research indicate that the notion has not been
there so maligned. A complement to Anttila's chapter is Hans
Henrich Hock's "Analogical Change" (441 - 460), which
presents an overview of linguistic applications of analogy,
especially as regards language change in morphology and
phonology. Here, as in the chapters in the previous part on
phonology, a portion of the chapter is devoted to the
"Neogrammarian controversy" (453). "Naturalness and
Morphological Change" (461 - 471) by Wolfgang U. Dressler
addresses the primarily Central-European-based approach to
language structure and language change expressed in terms of
relative statements such as "phenomenon X is more or less
natural than Y." The theory has its origins in Prague
Structuralism, i.e., the notion of markedness, and developed
in the late 1970s among German-speaking linguistics, such as
the Dressler, Willi Mayerthaler, Wolfgang Wurzel and Ozwald
Panagl (incidentally, the theory has recently returned to
the Slavic world, as evidenced by the works of Janez Oresnik
and his students, e.g., Oresnik 2001). Functionalist in
approach, the theory offers explanation of change through
grading of preferences and derives probabilities of types of
change. "Morphologization from Syntax" (472 - 492) by Brian
D. Joseph discusses how matters of syntax become matters of
morphology, e.g., a syntactic construction such Latin clara
mente 'with a clear mind' (a noun phrase in ablative
singular masculine agreement) gives rise to the French
adverb-forming suffix -ment (clairement). The author
recognizes the similarities between his morphologization and
grammaticalization (as discussed in the chapters by Bybee,
Fortson, Harrison, Heine, Hock, Mithun, Rankin and
Traugott), but offers a concise discussion of the
distinction between the two approaches, which centers on
objections to the putative inviolability of the cline of
grammaticalization (475 - 484).

Part V: Syntactic Change:

David Lightfoot's article, "Grammatical Approaches to
Syntactic Change" (495 - 508), is arguably among the most
theory-driven in the volume, viewing change in the narrow
scope of language acquisition in children from the
perspective of the principles and parameters model. Like the
previous chapter, Susan Pintzuk's "Variationist Approaches
to Syntactic Change" (509 - 528) operates in the principles
and parameters framework, but the author points out that
this model is not essential to variationist methodology. She
shows that there is evidence to support the hypothesis that
parameter settings do not change abruptly, instead, change
occurs as a result of competition between alternative
parameter settings during periods of syntactic variation.
The ideas are demonstrated primarily on Germanic material,
especially Old English. "Cross-linguistic Perspectives on
Syntactic Change" (529 - 551) by Alice C. Harris outlines an
approach to universals of syntax that is avowedly data-
driven (and, as such, is a counterweight to Lightfoot's
chapter), which applies inductive methods to arrive at
universals of syntactic change. In her view, change is a
three-step process involving (covert) reanalysis,
actualization, and the resultant coexistence of newer and
older structures ("syntactic doublets"). She illustrates the
derivation of a syntactic universal on the example of the
development of perfect constructions in Georgian, Aghul,
French and German. Marianne Mithun's "Functional
Perspectives on Syntactic Change" (552 - 572) approaches
change from the viewpoint of communicative efficacy and
makes the case that diachronic elucidation of grammatical
phenomena has greater explanatory power than synchronic, a
product of the functionalist approach, unconstrained by the
rigors of particular theoretical schools. A Yup'ik case
study demonstrates routinization and reanalysis in the
development of a subordinative structure, a type of change
that is treated elsewhere in the volume under the rubric of
grammatic(al)ization (see below), though the author works in
a broader framework, skeptical of the predictive power of
grammaticalization theory. She concludes that "[s]yntactic
change can be stimulated and facilitated by a wide variety
of factors, often working in concert. Their presence in a
language does not guarantee that a given change will take
place, only that it may be rendered more likely" (572).

Part VI: Pragmatico-Semantic Change:

In "Grammaticalization" (575 - 601) Bernd Heine
describes grammaticalization theory as "neither a theory of
language nor of language change," but rather an enterprise
with the goal of describing "the way grammatical forms arise
and develop through space and time, and to explain why they
are structured the way they are" (575). Some space in the
article is given to the history of the line of inquiry,
which he dates to the late eighteenth century with Ã^Étienne
Bonnot de Condillac, through the nineteenth-century
historical-comparativists, and, finally, the boom period
from the 1970s onward. Both the viewpoints of adherents of
grammaticalization, such as the author, as well as those of
opponents are given. Heine gives an illustration, among
others, of the development of the Greek "tha-future," meant
to controvert Brian Joseph's assertion that "there is no
process of grammaticalization" (584). One can compare
Joseph's explanation in chapter 13, given there as an
example of morphologization from syntax (479 - 484). The
juxtaposition of the two views highlights the dialogical
approach of the book and, particularly, the theme, mentioned
above, of differing theoretical perspectives contained in
it. Joan Bybee's "Mechanisms of Change in Grammaticization:
The Role of Frequency" (602 - 623) examines the way that
extreme frequency in grammatic(al)ization occurs, using a
case study of 'can' in Old and Middle English, and the
mechanisms of change that are associated with frequency
increase, including phonological, morphosyntactic, and
semantic change. Further, these issues are discussed with
respect to grammaticalized constructions. A logical sequel
to the previous chapter, "Constructions in
Grammaticalization" (624 - 647) by Elizabeth Closs Traugott
treats theoretical issues of the gradual development of
grammatical morphemes from combinations of lexical or
grammatical morphemes (i.e., constructions), highlighting
pragmatic contexts. The author concludes that
grammaticalization is "[t]he process whereby lexical
material in highly constrained pragmatic and morphosyntactic
contexts is assigned grammatical function, and once
grammatical, is assigned increasingly grammatical, operator-
like function" (645). In "An Approach to Semantic Change"
(648 - 666) Benjamin W. Fortson, IV takes a polemical stand
with a number of standard views and practices in the study
of semantic change, claiming that such views and practices
have often "obscure[d] the nature and our understanding of
semantic change as a non-gradual event" (660). In
particular, he focuses on the issues of the role of children
in semantic change, grammaticalization, and, in particular,
directionality and frequency in grammaticalization.

Part VII: Explaining Linguistic Change:

"Phonetics and Historical Phonology" (669 - 686) by
John J. Ohala deals with the phonetic basis for sound
change, not from the Neogrammarian analytical perspective,
as was discussed in a number of the chapters mentioned
above, but from with regard to "scientific phonetics," as
the author terms his view of experimental empirical
phonetics, i.e., the type of phonetics, in contrast to
"taxonomic phonetics," that continues to develop as new
information and discoveries are integrated into it. The
author treats variation in speech production and perception
as factors offering input for sound change and then asks
which of the two constitutes sound change (the answer is:
perception). In "Contact as a Source of Language Change"
(687 - 712) Sarah Grey Thomason frames contact-induced
change, change across language borders, as different from
contact among varieties of a single speech area only in
degree and not type, drawing parallels in both internally
and externally motivated change (sec. 1.1). Sections are
devoted to types and mechanisms of interference (code-
switching, code alternation, passive familiarity,
"negotiation," primary and secondary language acquisition,
deliberate decision), sources of change in language
attrition, and contact language genesis vs. contact induced
change. "Dialectology and Linguistic Diffusion" (713 - 735)
by Walt Wolfram & Natalie Schilling-Estes discusses models
for the description and analysis of change in dialects.
Traditional models of linguistic diffusion are discussed,
and their inadequacies are highlighted, as well as a more
innovative one, the gravity model, favored by the authors.
Sociolinguistic components are discussed in sections on
amplifiers and barriers to diffusion, and contra-
hierarchical diffusion. Their approach, illustrated on the
basis of their work Oklahoma English speech, is
multidimensional, considering "an array of geographical,
social, and linguistic factors" and their emphasis is on "a
dynamic model of diffusion [that] must encompass the
systematic variability that characterizes language
change"(733). In "Psycholinguistic Perspectives on
Linguistic Change" (736 - 743) Jean Aitchison presents her
take on issues connected with psycholinguistic or cognitive
matters connected with language, dividing causation in
language change into three overlapping layers,
sociolinguistic, linguistic proper, and, the top layer,
psycholinguistic/cognitive. As such, the chapter is meta-
theoretical, going "beyond strictly linguistic
explanations," though the author modestly notes that an
"Olympian view" of the situation is unattainable. She deals
with the problem of child language, touched upon in several
of the preceding chapters, and demonstrates the fallacy of
the reductive view that all change takes place in children
("babies do not initiate changes. Groups of interacting
speakers do, particularly adolescents" [739]). Another
section is devoted to speech processing, a considerable part
of which is given to John Hawkins' questions/observations on
processing issues with implications for historical
linguistics, e.g., "if languages are striving toward cross-
category harmony, why do they then not achieve their goal?
Why do some become inconsistent and change their word
order?" (742).


This book has arguably earned the definite article in
its title - to my mind it summarizes much of the best
thinking in diachronic linguistics today. (On the other
hand, one presumes diachronists are acutely aware of the
passing of time, making inevitable a later moment when the
views contained in it will become superannuated and another
[i.e., "a"] handbook will need to be written. Alternatively,
perhaps "The Handbook..." is to be understood, less
presumptuously, as "The Blackwell Handbook..."? That the
latter interpretation is correct is implied in the editors'
reflection on the title, in which they refer to the work as
"a handbook" or "a manual" [125].) The articles are
engagingly written, in particular, the introductory essay by
Joseph and Janda, which is enlivened by the most eclectic of
quotations and a fair dollop of wordplay, the latter of
which range from the merely dreadful ("holy ... holey ...
wholly" [20]) to what should carry a heavy sentence ("...let
us cease any and all uninform'd tarryin' in -isms" [37, a
play on 'uniformitarianism']).

The quotations often underscore the common-sense bias
(with regard to theory, not wordplay) of the authors.
Among my favorites is that of Confederate General George
Pickett, who, in response to the question of who was
responsible for his defeat at the battle of Gettysburg
replied "I think the Union Army had something to do with it"
(9), parallel to Joseph and Janda's view that it is not
grammar itself that effects change, but that "speakers have
something to do with it" (10). These rhetorical treats - for
the linguist, in any case (for others, perhaps, rhetorical
threats) - do not detract from, but, rather, add to, the
weighty topics that the authors cover in a fair degree of
depth. Though they deal extensively with the relative
progress in and the parallelisms (and absence of
parallelisms) between linguistics and evolutionary biology,
paleontology, geology, and other disciplines, the authors
magnanimously refrain from belaboring the point that it
was largely Darwin who was the heir to theories of
linguistic evolution and not linguists who took their
cue from Darwin (otherwise discussed in Janda 2001). One of the
consequences of selection of authors for the volume is that
non-mainstream theories tend not to be mentioned. As an
example, there is no reference to relexification theory, an
absence echoed in the complaint of proponents of the theory:
"[...] while the existence of relexification as a process
has been widely accepted [...] there has been no real
attempt to further investigate this curious process on its
own right, in order to determine the linguistic and
sociolinguistic prerequisites for its application, the role
of it might have played in the evolution of various
languages, and to explore its implications for the theory of
grammar" (Horvath and Wexler 1997: 1 - 2). Of course, no
(hand)book can be all things to all people.

All in all, the volume gives an excellent snapshot of
the achievements to date and the burning issues of the
present moment in our understanding of historical
linguistics. Arguably the most exciting thing that the
reader may take away from reading the book are the notions
that there is so much more to do, so much more to
understand, and that, as a consequence, historical
linguistics remains a dynamic and forward-looking field for
practitioners today and yet to come. Further, although the
balance of Indo-European with other languages covered has
been duly noted, there is a sense that with the accretion of
knowledge of world languages and understanding of their
historical development, much of what is considered universal
to language (change) may yet be challenged. One notes, for
example, a not uncommon lament from outside of the study of
Indo-European languages, of the following sort: "[...] only
a handful of scholars have worked in a field that
encompasses several hundred Asian languages, while
generations of scholars have polished the field of Indo-
European. Only epistemological faith in the homogeneity of
language and of language evolution can lead us to believe
that the same explanatory principles which have been shown
to work in Indo-European will be vindicated by Asian
languages too, given time and manpower"(Mazaudon and Lowe in
press: 4). One may take this statement not as a lament, but
an invitation to exploration.


Kiparsky's chapter on sound change: the author notes
that "Jakobson's [1929] work ['Remarques sur l'évolution
phonologique du russe comparée à celle des autres langues
slaves'] is rarely taken notice of in the literature on
sound change, and [is] not aware of any explicit attempts to
refute it" (327). In at least Slavic-linguistics circles in
North America such refutation is everyday sport, an example
of which may be seen in Timberlake 1978.

A suggestion to the series editors: it is commendable
that the endnotes are presented in a point size nearly as
large as the main text and are thus easy on the eyes,
however, a few trees could be saved by justifying the text
and thus reducing the white space in the right margin of the
columns. The benefits would be aesthetic as well.


Horvath, Julia and Paul Wexler, eds. 1997. Relexification in
Creole and Non-Creole Languages. With Special
Attention to Haitian Creole, Modern Hebrew, Romani,
and Rumanian. Wiesbaden: Harrassowitz Verlag.

Janda, Richard D. 2001. Beyond "Pathways" and
"Unidirectionality": On the Discontinuity of Language
Transmission and the Counterability of Grammaticalization.
Language Sciences 23/2-3, Mar-May, 265-340.

Mazaudon, Martine and John B. Lowe. In press. Regularity and
Exceptions in Sound Change. In Marc Domenici and Didier
Demolin, eds., Investigations in Sound change, (Actes
du congrès de la société de linguistique de Belgique,
Bruxelles, 8-11 dec 1993). Oxford University Press

Oresnik, Janez. 2001. A Predictable Aspect of
(Morpho)syntactic Variants. Ljubljana: Slovenska
akademija znanosti in umetnosti.

Timberlake, Alan. 1978. On the History of the Velar Phonemes
in North Slavic [in Russian with English synopsis]. In
Henrik Birnbaum, ed., American Contributions to the
Eighth International Congress of Slavists, vol. 1,
Linguistics and Poetics. Columbus, OH: Slavica

Weinreich, Uriel, William Labov and Marvin I. Herzog. 1968.
Empirical Foundations for a Theory of Language Change.
In Winfred P. Lehmann and Yakov Malkiel, eds.,
Directions for Historical Linguistics: A Symposium: 95-195.
Austin: University of Texas Press.

Marc L. Greenberg holds a Ph.D. from UCLA in Slavic
linguistics and is currently Professor and Chair of the
Department of Slavic Languages & Literatures at the
University of Kansas. His interests are in Slavic historical
linguistics and dialectology. His recent book, A Historical
Phonology of the Slovene Language (Heidelberg: Carl Winter
Universitätsverlag, 2000), was designated the "Best Book in
Slavic Linguistics" in 2002 by the American Association of
Teachers of Slavic and East European Languages. He is a
founding editor of Slovenski jezik / Slovene Linguistic
Studies, published by the Slovenian Academy of Sciences and
the University of Kansas.

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