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Review of  Handbook of Comparative and Historical Indo-European Linguistics

Reviewer: Jean-François R. Mondon
Book Title: Handbook of Comparative and Historical Indo-European Linguistics
Book Author: Jared Klein Brian Joseph Matthias Fritz Mark Wenthe
Publisher: De Gruyter Mouton
Linguistic Field(s): Historical Linguistics
Language Family(ies): Indo-European
Issue Number: 30.1138

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The third and final volume of the “Handbook of Comparative and Historical Indo-European Linguistics”, edited by Jared Klein, Brian Joseph, and Matthias Fritz, has finally been released, completing the long-awaited series. The mammoth volume of slightly more than a thousand pages has much to recommend it. Due to the sheer physical size and the breadth of material, however, it is naturally impossible to delve too thoroughly into the particulars of each of the volume’s 45 articles. Instead, I will focus on offering a general summary of various sections, occasionally pinpointing something which I view as a particular strength to specialists or more generally, to researchers/students wishing to familiarize themselves with a specific topic.


The book consists of 45 chapters which, following the numeration of Volume 2, are numbered 80-125. Each chapter is by one or two authors, with only a handful of authors penning more than one chapter. The 45 chapters are divided into nine thematic sections (numbered XIII – XXI, again following the numeration of Volume 2), which will be dealt with each in turn.

The first three sections (XIII, XIV, XV) deal with Slavic, Baltic, and Albanian respectively, and they all follow the same pattern. Each begins with a chapter on the earliest documentation of the language family under discussion, followed by chapters devoted to each of the following: the phonology, morphology, syntax, lexicon, dialectology, and evolution of the branch. The chapters on the documentation of the respective languages (Chapters 80, 87, 94) are quite thorough with extensive bibliographies that go well beyond the standard fare of sources written in Western European languages. Each of the three are readily accessible to non-specialists with minimal to no prior background knowledge.

The phonology chapters (Chapters 81, 88, 95) lay out the development of the reconstructed Proto-Indo-European (PIE) sound system into the various descendent languages. The article on Slavic phonology (by Daniel Collins) is by far the most pedagogically friendly of the three with an abundance of charts which very clearly illustrate the various sound changes under consideration and the reflexes of the Proto-Slavic forms into an array of modern Slavic languages. The chapter on Baltic phonology (Daniel Petit) is also very accessible and does a welcome job of pointing out where data are still awaiting a solution. For instance, the existence of words such as “káimas” ‘village’ and “maĩšas” ‘bag’ whose root vocalisms inexplicably avoided becoming *ē1 (p. 1644). The chapter on Albanian phonology (Michiel de Vaan) is curiously organized. It starts first with Modern Albanian and moves through the various layers of Proto-Albanian and Pre-Proto-Albanian before ending up at PIE. This layout greatly reduces its accessibility to anyone without some prior knowledge of Albanian historical phonology, as one is left to flip back and forth trying to deduce how the modern Albanian forms, listed alongside Pre-Proto-Albanian to PIE sound changes, actually illustrate the changes under discussion. It would have been far better to either follow the normal tack and go from PIE to Albanian or to have given the full derivation of each word through the various reconstructed stages every time it is given (much as in Ringe 1996 for Tocharian). All three chapters do presuppose a basic knowledge of PIE phonology which can be easily established after reading the chapter on PIE phonology (Chapter 121) later in the volume. Before delving into the Albanian chapter, however, an absolute neophyte would benefit from consulting the appendix to Beekes (1995).

The morphology chapters (82, 89, 96) of these three highly inflected language families are naturally more cramped than the phonology chapters. Nonetheless, they each do a respectable job at briskly walking through every corner of the respective morphological systems, even if they tease us with interesting claims which – understandably due to space considerations – cannot be delved into at any substantial depth. One such instance is the intriguing claim in the Albanian morphology chapter (Joachim Matzinger and Stefan Schumacher) that the preverbal pronominal clitics, which are a part of nearly every Albanian sentence, are best thought of not as clitics but as verbal affixes of a “polypersonal verb which optionally marks direct and indirect object” (p. 1756).

The syntax chapters (83, 90, 97) categorically reflect the pre-generative notion of syntax. They eschew trying to establish the underlying configurational grammars in favor of focusing on description (e.g. the uses of the various cases and the surface word orders) and occasionally offering hypotheses about the genesis of various constructions. While all three chapters are informative and highly accessible, it is unfortunate that theory was ignored, not least because there is ample literature especially on the syntax of the Slavic languages, but because it only reinforces the chasm between traditional Indo-Europeanists and Syntacticians.

The fourth section (XVI) of the book focuses on the “Restsprachen,” or those Indo-European languages which are only fragmentarily attested. Each summarizes the documentation, phonology, morphology, lexicon, and – where enough data is attested – the syntax. This section was particularly welcome since, while some of these languages have extensive chapters in Woodard (2004), several do not, such as Illyrian and Thracian. As such, they have often remained wholly inaccessible to non-specialists or at least to linguists without a reading knowledge of at the very least German.

The fifth and sixth sections (XVII and XVIII) target larger language families; namely, Indo-Iranian and Balto-Slavic. Each section consists of a separate chapter on phonology, morphology, syntax, and lexicon. The quality of each is high but especial mention must be made of Mark Hale’s chapter (112) on the syntax of Indo-Iranian. As opposed to the syntax chapters described above, Hale makes the very welcome decision to assume basic modern syntactic theory. The result is an informative chapter which shows the kind of results which adopting a configurational theory can yield, such as the rejection of the century’s old existence of Wackernagel’s Law. Hale does a masterful job at showing why the law is epiphenomenal (p. 1936) and how a deeper understanding of the structure of Vedic Sanskrit can be attained by dispensing with it.

Section seven (XIX) offers two chapters on languages whose relation to each other has long been open to debate. In the first (chapter 119) Nicholas Zair seems to favor coming down against positing an Italo-Celtic node on the PIE family tree. Aside from the superlative in *-is-mmo- and potentially both the genitive singular of o-stems and the 1st pl. passive *-mor, Zair concludes by echoing the words of Cowgill (1970: 114), that if such a family existed, it was for “a rather short period of common development followed by a long period of divergence.” With respect to Greco-Anatolian Bronze Age interaction, Ivo Hajnal (Chapter 120) reviews claims of changes which directly reflect contact ranging from psilosis (i.e. loss of #[h] in Aeolic dialects) to the borrowing of the Cuneiform Luwian particle –tar to conclude that contra Watkins (2000), “there is no evidence for the existence of a virtual Sprachbund” (p. 2049).

Section XX presents four chapters (121 – 124) dealing with PIE itself. The chapter on phonology (Andrew Byrd) is a very clear and organized presentation of the PIE sound system along with the assortment of phonological rules which have been posited for PIE as it neared the precipice of splintering. The morphology chapter (Jesse Lindquist and Anthony Yates) is a tour de force 100+ page article offering a very non-superficial overview of PIE morphology. It deals with all aspects of PIE nominal and verbal derivation and inflection, not only outlining the communis opinio of reconstructed forms, but succinctly indicating which forms from the daughter languages are used to justify each such reconstruction. They judiciously lay bare where the problem areas lie and do not shy away from indicating their preference for whichever alternative. Their acceptance of and seeming respect for work with a theoretical bent (e.g. Kiparsky & Halle 1977) is particularly welcome. Finally, the chapter on the lexicon (Daniel Kölligan) is a surprisingly thorough article in the vein of Benveniste (1969) which should serve as a welcome introduction to anyone wishing to glean a sense of what the PIE lexicon can tell us about the culture of its speakers.

The final section of the book (XXI) consists of one chapter dealing with long range language comparison. Petri Kallio and Jorma Koivulehto come down hard against proposals linking Indo-European to any other language family such as Uralic and Afro-Asiatic. It would be ideal if this chapter could be expanded into a book intended for the general reader since notions of Nostratic and Eurasiatic sadly pervade the linguistics sections of many general bookstores.

The book ends with a detailed general index as well as a language and dialect index for all three volumes of the series.


Aside from the comments sprinkled in the summary above, it is necessary to add that one of the greatest strengths of this volume is its rich bibliographies. I think it was a very wise decision on the part of the editors to have a full bibliography with each chapter rather than a single bibliography for the entire volume. It makes it far easier to pinpoint citations while reading a chapter and to browse thematically related sources. It should be mentioned that the length of the chapters are consistently capped around 25 pages with two exceptions: the chapter on Slavic phonology and on PIE morphology both exceed 100 pages. This inconsistency is odd but such is the difficulty in editing volumes.

Naturally enough in any edited volume, there is repetition across chapters. This is especially true in the chapters on evolution which understandably repeat contents of the phonology and morphology chapters. While some may find this bothersome, I can find no fault with this and at times found it welcome since I was not forced to jump back to another chapter to brush up on sound changes for instance. Finally, the editors must be commended for the near non-existence of errors found in the book. While this volume does not contain anything much beyond overview chapters, it is nonetheless a very welcome volume, not because it will be changing the field per se, but because it will make the field far more accessible to aspiring Balticists or Indo-Europeanists, or just any linguist interested in getting a reliable summary of a topic outside of his/her comfort zone.


Beekes, Robert S. P. 1995. Comparative Indo-European Linguistics: An Introduction.
Amsterdam: Benjamins.

Benveniste, Emile. 1969. Le vocabulaire des institutions indo-européennes. 2 vols. Paris:

Cowgill, Warren. 1970. “Italic and Celtic superlatives and the dialects of Indo-European,” in
(eds. G. Cardona et al.) Indo-European and the Indo-Europeans. Philadelphia:
University of Pennsylvania Press, 113-153.

Kiparsky, Paul and Morris Halle. 1977. “Towards a reconstruction of the Indo-European
accent,” (ed. Larry Hyman) Studies in Stress and Accent. Los Angeles: USC Press,

Ringe, Donald. 1996. On the Chronology of Sound Changes in Tocharian, vol. 1: From Proto-
Indo-European to Proto-Tocharian. New Haven: American Oriental Society.

Watkins, Calvert. 2000. “L’Anatolie et la Grèce: Résonances culturelles, linguistiques et
poétiques,” Comptes Rendus des Séances de l’Académie des Inscriptions et Belles-
Lettres: 1143-1158.

Woodard, Roger. 2004. The Cambridge Encyclopedia of the World’s Ancient Languages.
Cambridge University Press.
Associate Professor of Foreign Languages at Minot State University. Primarily focus on theoretical morphology (Distributed Morphology), Indo-European Linguistics (Armenian, Celtic) and language pedagogy.

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