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Review of  American Indian Languages: The Historical Linguistics of Native America

Reviewer: Marc Picard
Book Title: American Indian Languages: The Historical Linguistics of Native America
Book Author: Lyle Campbell
Publisher: Oxford University Press
Linguistic Field(s): Historical Linguistics
Language Family(ies): Caddoan
Issue Number: 12.1544

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Campbell, Lyle (1997) American Indian Languages: The Historical
Linguistics of Native America. Oxford Studies in Anthropological
Linguistics 4. Oxford and New York: Oxford University Press,
xiv+512pp. ISBN: 0195094271 (cloth), $75.00; 0195140508 (paper,
published in 2000), $35.00.

Reviewed by Marc Picard, Concordia University

As stated by the author, "[t]he aim of this book is to . . . attempt to
take stock of what is known currently about the history of North
American languages" (p. 3). More specifically, the main concerns of this
book are to try to establish where these languages came from, to what
extent they are related to each other, and what their study reveals
about the past of their speakers and about the languages themselves. The
text itself is divided into nine chapters, and this is followed by 24
pages of maps, over 50 pages of notes, an extensive reference section of
some 54 pages, an index of languages, language families and proposed
genetic relationships, an author index, and a subject index.

Chapter 1 is the "Introduction" in which Campbell tries "to dispose of a
few misunderstandings concerning Native American languages and their
history" (p. 5). For example, he shows how their study is sometimes
complicated by the fact that a particular language may be (or may have
been) known by a variety of names. There is also a problem with the
terminology linguists use to designate levels of relationship within
their classifications, e.g., dialect, language, family, subgroup, etc.,
so he explains exactly what he means by each of these terms. The chapter
ends with an appendix listing various Native American pidgins and trade

Chapter 2 is entitled "The History of American Indian (Historical)
Linguistics", and the author's purpose here is "to present an overview
of the history of the historical linguistic study of Native American
Languages" (p. 26). He thus sets out to determine what has been
established in this area, and he then seeks to distinguish this from
past ideas that have proven incorrect and should now be abandoned. In
essence, the focus of this section is on the history of the
classification of Native American languages and on the methods that have
been used to determine their genetic relationships. There is an appendix
to this chapter in which Campbell compares the major classifications of
North American languages.

Chapter 3 is on "The Origin of American Indian Languages", and here
Campbell's goal is "to consider the implications that the classification
of these languages has for how and when the first people came to the New
World" (p. 90). Some of the possibilities he looks into and discusses
are: (a) a single, one-language migration, (b) a few linguistically
distinct migrations, (c) multiple migrations, (d) multilingual
migrations, (e) the influx of already diversified but related languages,
(f) the extinction of Old World linguistic relatives, and (g) some
rather implausible hypotheses such as immigration from Africa, Japan,
Polynesia, Australia, etc.

Chapters 4, 5 and 6 together cover approximately 100 pages, and deal
successively with the classification of the "Languages of North
America", the "Languages of Middle America", and the "Languages of South
America". In the first of these, "[o]nly well-established and generally
uncontested families are treated, with the focus on their linguistic
history as currently understood" (p. 107). Similarly, "[t]he
classification of Middle American languages presented here is generally
accepted and not considered very controversial" (p. 157). However,
because South America seems to exhibit considerably more linguistic
diversity than North and Middle America put together, and because
significant historical linguistic research has been conducted on only a
few of the languages spoken there so that much remains to be done to
clarify the history of individual genetic units and their possible
broader connections, most of the groupings Campbell presents "are
definitely not to be taken as anything more than hypotheses for further
testing" (p. 172).

The next two chapters deal with the validity and plausibility of the
attempts to establish more remote linguistic relationships and broader
family groupings that have been put forth by various Amerindianists.
"Distant Genetic Relationships: The Methods" is the title of Chapter 7,
and Campbell's intent here is "to assess the methods for determining
family relationships, particularly distant genetic affinities" (p. 206).
He discusses such criteria as basic vocabulary, sound correspondences,
borrowing, semantic equivalence, grammatical evidence, morphological
analyses, the reliability of sound/meaning comparisons, onomatopoeia,
erroneous reconstruction, sound symbolism, spurious forms, philological
and scribal problems, and the avoidance of chance. In Chapter 8, viz.,
"Distant Genetic Relationships: The Proposals", he sets out to "apply
the methods and criteria advocated in Chapter 7 to the evaluation of
most of the main proposals of distant genetic relationships that have
received attention in the linguistic literature" (p. 4).
Finally, Chapter 9 is an attempt to survey the "Linguistic Areas of the
Americas". The author stresses the importance of properly delimiting
such areas in order to facilitate the distinction of similarities that
are due to common inheritance from those that are due to diffusion.
Thus, his general conclusion is that "[t]he continued investigation of
areal linguistics in the Americas is essential, for in many instances
proposals of remote genetic relationship will remain inconclusive until
we can distinguish between traits that have been diffused and traits
that may be inherited" (p. 352).

This is a work of consummate scholarship and erudition which offers a
wealth of information on the history of Native American linguistic
research. It is the perfect complement to Marianne Mithun's "The
Languages of Native North America" (Cambridge University Press, 1999),
doing for the diachronic aspect of Amerindian studies what her book does
for the contemporary scene. As such, it is a must-have for anyone with
an interest in the indigenous languages of America.

If any fault is to be found with this book, it lies in the presentation
rather than the content. First and foremost, there is the questionable
decision to place all the notes at the end rather than at the bottom of
the page. Since there are so many of them -- they take up more than 50
pages as mentioned above -- the reader is forced to go to that section of
the book at every turn. Having to use two bookmarks to read something is
more than a little annoying. And why so many notes in the first place?
Many of them, especially the numerous (and often lengthy) quotations
could have easily been incorporated into the text. For instance,
Campbell presents two successive quotations from Daniel Garrison Brinton
concerning his belief in "an overall grammatical unity transcending
lexical diversity among the American Indian Languages" (p. 56), then
adds a third on the very same topic in a note for no discernible reason.

Also questionable is Campbell's decision to place the original version
of quotations from French, Spanish and German scholars in these notes.
These should have either been omitted altogether or placed in the text
in square brackets after the English translations. Furthermore, it is
disconcerting for anyone familiar with any of these languages to find so
many grammatical and spelling errors in these quotations. In French, for
instance, one finds "le ressemblance" for "la ressemblance" (p. 39),
"decouvrir" for "d�couvrir" (p. 382), "etymologistes" for
"�tymologistes" (p. 384), "une sort de" for "une sorte de" (p. 384),
"langues Am�ricaines" for "langues am�ricaines" (p. 384), "la lexique"
for "le lexique" (p. 384), "leurs dialects" for "leurs dialectes" (p.
384), "ce qui �cart" for "ce qui �carte", (p. 385), "l'etymologie" for
"l'�tymologie" (p. 385), "langue commune initial" for "langue commune
initiale" (p. 411).

Still, these few editorial lacunae should not deter anyone with a
modicum of interest in the history and development of the study of
Native American languages from perusing this excellent work from cover
to cover. The systematic debunking of the fanciful and methodologically
unsound multilateral comparisons of Greenberg, Ruhlen, Bengtson and
their ilk should be worth the cost of the book alone.
In sum, this work received the "Leonard Bloomfield Book Award" for 1998,
and it was also selected that same year as the Outstanding Academic Book
by "Choice", a magazine that reviews over 6,500 titles yearly for
academic libraries. I, for one, am not the least bit surprised.

Marc Picard teaches phonetics, phonology and general linguistics at
Concordia University in Montr�al. He is the author of "Principles and
Methods in Historical Phonology: From Proto-Algonkian to Arapaho"
(McGill-Queen's University Press, 1994) and has also published various
articles on Algonkian historical phonology, notably in the International
Journal of American Linguistics (IJAL) and Algonquian & Iroquoian