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Review of  From Proto-Indo-European to Proto-Germanic

Reviewer: Elizabeth Bell Canon
Book Title: From Proto-Indo-European to Proto-Germanic
Book Author: Donald A. Ringe
Publisher: Oxford University Press
Linguistic Field(s): Historical Linguistics
Language Family(ies): Germanic
Issue Number: 20.2558

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AUTHOR: Ringe, Don
TITLE: From Proto-Indo-European to Proto-Germanic
SUBTITLE: A Linguistic History of English, Volume 1
PUBLISHER: Oxford University Press
YEAR: 2008

Elizabeth Bell Canon, Department of English, University of Wisconsin at La Crosse

Don Ringe, Kahn Endowed Term Professor in Linguistics at the University of
Pennsylvania, originally wrote this book ''as part of a set of handouts for a
course in the linguistic history of English'' (1). It begins with a very thorough
overview of the reconstructed Proto-Indo-European (PIE) language, placing its
origin in time and space (around 4000 BC in the Ukraine.) Everything that
follows is built on the foundation laid by the comparative method. He then gives
a detailed account of Proto-Indo-European grammatical elements: phonology,
inflectional morphology, derivational morphology, and syntax followed by an
introduction to the PIE lexicon.

Following the progression from PIE to Proto-Germanic (PGmc), Ringe discusses the
development of PGmc sound changes (Grimm's and Verner's Laws, etc.,) and the
restructuring of inflectional morphology (with primary focus on the changes
affecting the verbal and adjectival systems). The last section of Volume 1 is
dedicated to the grammatical structure of PGmc: phonology, inflectional
morphology, word formation, syntax and lexicon.

Since Ringe originally compiled this information for students, it is intended
for readers with a basic background in the field of linguistics. He writes,
''[m]y intended readership includes especially those who have not undertaken
serious study of Indo-European or comparative Germanic linguistics, nor of the
history of English, but want reliable information on what specialists in those
disciplines have collectively learned over the past century and a half'' (1).

Volume 1 in this series ''Linguistic History of English'' is a fantastic resource
for the study of the history of any Germanic language, and indeed, any
Indo-European language. This very accessible account of the earliest
reconstructable roots of the English language begins with an introduction to the
comparative method and the PIE language family. Ringe points out that the
greatest challenge for Indo-Europeanists is the reconstruction of the verbal
system because of the failure of the Cowgill-Rix reconstruction to account for
natural changes in the Hittite verb (5). He accounts for this seeming inadequacy
by noting that Anatolian, the Indo-European branch to which Hittite belongs,
must have broken off from the rest of the PIE family very early on.

Ringe addresses all aspects of PIE grammar and lexicon in the first half of the
book. Beginning with phonology, the reader is carefully walked through the PIE
system of obstruents, sonorants, and vowels. Although the treatment is not
complete, it is very thorough, and the author directs the reader to other works
for more comprehensive investigation. The most important PIE phonological rules,
including a good explanation of ablaut, a somewhat less satisfying explanation
of laryngeals, the syllabification of sonorants, rules affecting obstruents, and
Auslautgesetze are explained with clarity and some helpful examples.

The PIE morphological system begins with an overview of inflectional categories:
nominal cases, concord in gender, person, number, the verb stem, tense, aspect,
etc. Ringe, having stated in the introduction that the Anatolian verb's nature
must mean that that branch of PIE split off very early, concentrates his
discussion on the remaining North Indo-European verbal system by following
Cowgill-Rix. The very complicated nature of the PIE verb is presented in a
well-organized nature, with many complete paradigms helping to illustrate the
interactions between components. Similarly, the nominal inflections (including
noun, adjective, numeral, pronominal, etc.) are explained and exemplified. Ringe
concentrates his discussion of derivational morphology on the types and
processes that are most pertinent in the development of the Germanic system.

The discussion of PIE syntax is exceedingly brief, ''because the protolanguage
lies so far in the past and because historical syntax is still in its infancy''
(65). Other scholars have posited a more in-depth description of those aspects
of PIE syntax that are reconstructable (see e.g. Fortson 2004). As for the PIE
lexicon, Ringe laments the absence of a proper dictionary. He points to faults
in Pokorny 1959, and Rix et al. 2001, but doesn't mention Calvert Watkins' _The
American Heritage Dictionary of Indo-European Roots_.

Chapter 3, The Development of Proto-Germanic, outlines the major changes that
mark the split between Germanic and the rest of what was left of the PIE family.
It is by far the largest portion of the book. Ringe writes, ''[a] significant
reorganization of nominal inflection took place. Sound changes were much more
extensive; some forty regular sound changes can be reconstructed, and their
relative chronology is partly recoverable. But the most striking changes
affected the system of verb inflection, which was completely reorganized and
drastically altered in detail. In consequence, a Germanic language is today
immediately recognizable by the inflection of its verb'' (67). Beginning with
regular sound changes including Grimm's, Verner's, and Sievers' Laws, the
chapter works its way through changes to the morphological system with an extra
section bringing greater detail. Each subsection on morphological change –
including verb inflection, and noun and nominal inflection, is laid out in a
common sense manner. The author thoughtfully and logically walks the reader
through the linguistic maze to the necessary conclusion.

The concluding chapter, Proto-Germanic, begins with an introduction to the
family of Proto-Germanic language sub-families: East Germanic and Northwest
Germanic, which is further divided into North Germanic and West Germanic. In
defense of his position that North and West Germanic shared a common ancestor,
Ringe goes out on a bit of a limb and says, ''In my opinion the number of
significant innovations which North and West Germanic unarguably share, though
admittedly small, is large enough to justify positing such a unity. By contrast,
the innovations shared by East and North Germanic are extremely few and can have
resulted from parallel development, while those supposedly shared by East
Germanic and the more southerly dialects of West Germanic are actually shared
retentions which prove nothing. That North Germanic is itself a unitary subgroup
is completely obvious, as all its dialects shared a long series of innovations,
some of them very striking'' (213-4).

The outline of PGmc begins with an introduction to the phonological structure.
Ablaut, the inherited system of vowel gradation, remained in both the verbal
system and in the derivational process and is discussed. The next section, PGmc
Inflectional Morphology, begins with an overview of the inflectional categories
of the PGmc verbal system. The categories are illustrated by paradigms
indicating all the components of the Proto-Germanic verb: tense, mood, voice,
number; also mapped out are all seven classes of strong verbs, four classes of
weak verbs, the preterite present verbs, and the major anomalous verbs.

The PGmc nominal system is not as complex as the verbal system and therefore
requires less explanation. Ringe explains, ''[PGmc] nouns inflected for two
numbers, singular and plural, in PGmc, and there were six cases: vocative,
nominative, accusative, genitive, dative, and instrumental. The old syncretisms
of PIE persisted: the nom. pl. and voc. pl. were always identical, and the nom.,
acc., and voc., of each number were identical for neuter nouns. As in PIE, each
noun was assigned to one of three concord classes ('genders')'' (268).

The adjective system requires a bit more explanation as this is one of the
categories where there is a marked difference between PIE and PGmc. The PGmc
adjective could decline in one of two ways: strong or weak, with the latter
being one of the innovations marking the distinction between PIE and PGmc.
(Modern German still reflects this system.)

The final topics covered in Volume 1 are Word Formation, which discusses
compounding, derivational suffixation, and the formation of adverbs; a lone
paragraph on PGmc Syntax, and an interesting summation of PGmc lexicon.

Professor Ringe has done a masterful job of explaining quite a bit of very dense
material. When approaching complicated topics, his writing is clear and his
reasoning is logical. As I mentioned, Ringe himself identifies his audience in
this way: ''My intended readership includes especially those who have not
undertaken serious study of Indo-European or comparative Germanic linguistics,
nor of the history of English, but want reliable information on what specialists
in those disciplines have collectively learned over the past century and a half''
(1) His book is certainly a reliable source of information, but I believe that
the material is more challenging than can easily be undertaken without some
advanced preparation. The book does not have a subject index – that would make
it much easier for novices and researchers to access specific information.
Although I could not recommend it for readers new to the field of historical
linguistics, I do believe that it is an invaluable resource for advanced
students and teachers interested in Indo-European linguistics and the history of

Fortson, Benjamin J. (2004). _Indo-European Language and Culture: An
Introduction_. Malden, MA: Blackwell Publishing.

Pokorny, J. (1959). _Indogermanisches etymologisches Wörterbuch_. Berne: Francke.

Rix, H. et al. (2001). _Lexikon der indogermanischen Verben_, 2nd ed. Wiesbaden:

Watkins, Calvert. (2000). _The American Heritage Dictionary of Indo-European
Roots_, 2nd ed. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company.

Elizabeth Bell Canon is Assistant Professor of Linguistics at the University of
Wisconsin at La Crosse, where she teaches classes in English language and
linguistics. Her research interests include the contributions of pre-modern
biblical translators to the history of English, and language ideology with
regard to Southern American English.

Format: Hardback
ISBN: 019928413X
ISBN-13: N/A
Pages: 320
Prices: U.K. £ 60.00