Language Evolution: The Windows Approach addresses the question: "How can we unravel the evolution of language, given that there is no direct evidence about it?"
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Review of Historische Sprachwissenschaft des Deutschen
AUTHORS: Nübling, Damaris; Dammel, Antje; Duke, Janet; Szczepaniak, Renata TITLE: Historische Sprachwissenschaft des Deutschen, 3rd ed. SUBTITLE: Eine Einführung in die Prinzipien des Sprachwandels SERIES TITLE: Narr Studienbücher PUBLISHER: Narr Verlag YEAR: 2010
Robert Mailhammer, Department of English, Arizona State University
SUMMARY This textbook does not claim to be another introduction to the history of German covering all its developments in detail. Rather, it intends to account for and explain linguistic changes that German has undergone since its first attestation in the 8th century, focusing on principles of language change. Although a specific target audience is not identified, the fact that the completion of some introduction to linguistics is recommend combined with the aim that the book should enable the reader to read fairly simple research literature (''einfachere Forschungsliteratur'', p. 7) suggest that this book is intended for undergraduates with some basic knowledge of linguistics and an interest in historical linguistics.
The book is divided into two main parts; the first examines change on the various descriptive levels (e.g. phonology, morphology), while the second investigates more complex cases of change. There also is an introductory chapter, two indexes and a reference section.
Chapter one introduces the underlying linguistic concepts of this book and gives a general overview of the history of German. Language is seen as having a layered, onion-like structure: the inner layers, phonology, morphology and syntax are seen as being less susceptible to external (non-linguistic) influence than the more peripheral layers, e.g. pragmatics and the lexicon. Language change is always perceived in terms of discrete linguistic levels, such as phonological as opposed to morphological change, though levels can be interrelated in complex cases of language change.
Chapter two addresses phonological change. After giving a brief background on phonetics and historical phonology, this chapter concentrates on presenting phonological developments in the history of German as a result of a fundamental typological shift from a ''syllable language'' to a ''word language'' (Szczepaniak 2007).
Chapter three presents some fundamental principles of morphological change and illustrates these with historical cases of changes in inflection and word formation in German.
The topic of chapter four is syntactic change, focusing on the development of the ''brace'' construction in German, in which elements that belong together syntactically and/or functionally are positioned away from each other (p. 92). In addition, the chapter addresses changes in word order and Jespersen's cycle of change in negation.
Chapter five (semantic change) is divided into three parts. The first addresses common types of change, such as generalisation and pejoration, while the second part examines mechanisms of semantic innovation, which basically covers replacement operations, such as metaphors and metonymies, as well as conventionalised implicatures and ellipses. The chapter finishes with a brief discussion of Rudi Keller's (1994) invisible hand approach and a case study on the development of kinship terms in German.
Chapter six covers lexical change and focuses mainly on different types of borrowing seen as relevant to the history of German. It is asserted that German is comparatively open to borrowing and it therefore is labelled a ''mixed language'' (p. 135). This character is also said to be reflected in German word formation, where a foreign and a native system co-exist (p. 143). The chapter concludes with a brief overview of lexicalisation processes.
The key point made in chapter seven, which is on pragmatic change, is that implicatures are pivotal in language change in general and in pragmatic change in particular.
The changes in the spelling system in the history of German are addressed in chapter eight. It first gives some general characteristics of alphabetic spelling systems, and then examines the nature and history of spelling principles in German.
Chapter nine opens the second part of the book; it presents ablaut and umlaut in the history of German as cases of phonologisation and morphologisation. Ablaut is investigated largely in connection with the history of the strong verbs, whose disintegration is attributed to sound change and analogical levelling (p. 208), as well as to the rise in productivity of the weak verbs (p. 212). The second part of this chapter deals with the development of umlaut from its origins as a coarticulatory effect to its morphologisation and use in other linguistic subsystems.
Chapter ten is on grammaticalisation. After giving a brief overview of the basics of grammaticalisation, this chapter presents cases from the history of German: the origin of the weak verbs, the development of the periphrastic future tense and how typical conjunctions have formed. The last section in this chapter briefly discusses some problems of grammaticalisation, in particular the idea of unidirectionality.
The two last chapters of the book address issues of typological change. Chapter eleven uses the perspective of analytic vs. synthetic expression of grammatical information, differentiating isolating, combining, agglutinative and inflecting mechanisms (Ronneberger-Sibold 1980), to examine how morphology develops into looser, more syntactic structures. The remainder of this chapter deals with the reverse path, i.e. from syntax to morphology, viewing fusion as the central mechanism in this process.
The final chapter attempts a look into the future of German, asserting the mixed typological character of German, in particular with respect to word order and morphological expression of grammatical categories. In addition, German is seen as a language that increasingly emphasises marking the borders of linguistic units in a salient way.
EVALUATION The overall idea and architecture of the book is to look at the history of a language from the viewpoint of historical linguistics and to show how the principles of language change govern pivotal changes in German to elucidate its history and to explain language change. This is certainly an innovative and sound approach, for which the authors deserve much praise. One problem of most textbooks on the history of German is exactly that the connection to fundamental mechanisms and principles of language change doesn't become apparent, and hence a historical account of a language seems more like a narrative than an application of linguistics. Also, connecting individual changes to the bigger picture of more global changes is an excellent idea, because it can show how the individual subsystems of language are interrelated in language change. This is valid in particular for grammaticalisation, which involves semantic, phonological and morphosyntactic change. There is also a lot of information on areas that have received little attention in more traditional textbooks, such as graphemic and pragmatic change, which is certainly welcome. The book contains exercises for each chapter, and recommendations for further readings, both of which are almost mandatory for a modern textbook. One could think of further additions, such as a companion website or a time line, but a key to the exercise problems should definitely be included in a future edition.
However, this textbook also has some problems that have impact especially on its use in class. First, the concept of the book is not consistently followed in each chapter. For example, while chapters three, five, six and seven adhere to the overall idea, chapters two, four and eight are pretty much historical accounts of changes in German. This is not only confusing to the reader, it also makes it difficult to follow and apply the concept of the book, as cross-references are made either to general principles, such as analogy (ch. 3), or changes in the history of German, such as the change from a syllable language to a word language (ch. 2).
Second, there are several instances where concepts or terms are presented that are either not a part of mainstream linguistics or that are used in a different way than in general. While there is nothing wrong with this in principle, a textbook should at least point out that a theory or term is particular to this book. Otherwise it risks confusing the reader, especially undergraduate students, limiting its usefulness. So, for instance, while the phonological typology of syllable vs. word languages may open up some interesting perspectives, it is not part of mainstream linguistic typology. Originally suggested by Donegan & Stampe (1983), it is taken up in Auer (2001). The concept proposes that languages can be classified according to whether the basic rhythmical unit is the syllable or the word, and that this correlates with other phonological properties and phonological changes. However, as Auer (2001: 1398) concedes, this hypothesis is in need of more detailed investigation, particularly on a cross-linguistic level (''Die genauere Untersuchung der typologischen Hypothese Silben- vs. Wortsprachen steht noch aus; sie erfordert neben der eingehenden Untersuchung von Einzelsprachen in ihrer gesamten Erscheinungsbreite (nicht nur der kodifizierten Standardsprache) ... .''). It is by no means a fully developed theory that is part and parcel of linguistic typology; crucially, there are no absolute characteristics that permit a classification of a language as clearly one or the other. Consequently, a textbook should make it explicit that this is an alternative perspective on the historical phonology of German.
There are other instances in which terms are used vaguely, inconsistently or not the way they are commonly used. The term ''mixed language'' is found throughout the book with different denotations. In the section on word formation it refers to a native and a foreign system of word formation, in the chapters on syntax and typology it characterises the inconsistent word order of Modern German and in the chapter on lexical change it is employed with respect to the German lexicon. More broadly, however, ''mixed language'' is a cover term for languages with two or more parents, e.g. creole and pidgin languages, which is not what the authors mean here. Similarly, in the chapter on lexical change, the term ''transference'' (''Transferenz'') simply means 'foreign influence', in particular as a result of borrowing. By contrast, in contact linguistics this term is used in a much more narrow sense; it is primarily associated with structural influence in second language acquisition. Finally, the term ''irregular'' is used repeatedly with unclear meaning, e.g. the ''-en'' plural is called irregular for masculine and neuter nouns in German for no obvious reason; it is clearly stable and highly frequent for animate masculine nouns, a fact that the authors admit (p. 61).
Third, there are some problems of analysis, which are also due to omissions of significant recent literature, which is noteworthy given that this is the third edition. For instance, the frequency-based model of morphological change used in this book can't account for why some strong verbs have resisted regularisation in the history of German. On p. 55 it is asserted that it is either the high token frequency of certain strong verbs or the high type frequency of larger groups of strong verbs that has protected them from regularisation. This would predict that strong verbs with a comparatively low token frequency such as ''schreiten'' 'stride', must have a high type frequency. But it is apparent that the ablaut group of strong verbs ''schreiten'' belongs to -- although it is the largest -- has a considerably lower type frequency than the huge group of weak verbs. In fact, on p. 44 it is explicitly maintained that the highly type-frequent weak verbs are particularly good analogical models. So why doesn't ''schreiten'' simply follow the model of the highest type frequency? From the model the book presents it doesn't follow why the fact that ''schreiten'' belongs to a big ablaut class should be relevant in its ability to resist regularisation, as its size is insignificant against the massive group of weak verbs. However, this issue has been dealt with in the literature. Albright (2002 et passim) demonstrates the significance of local generalisations, called ''islands of reliability'', which usually over-rule default application of rules. Mailhammer (2007b) applies this concept to the strong verbs of German showing not only how the system of strong verbs has changed from Proto-Germanic to Modern German but crucially how class membership makes use of these minimal generalisations and how this is relevant for their continued survival: the well-supported groups of strong verbs form tight-knit groups of verbs due to their similar phonological root structure, which are particularly well-entrenched in the cognitive system. The fact that they all inflect according to the same pattern allows the speakers to abstract a rule that is more reliable than the default rule, i.e. the regular inflection. This is why the loss of members is so significant: as soon as the rule loses its reliability, e.g. that all verbs with a particular root structure inflect according to the same pattern, speakers are more likely to apply the default rule. A particularly reliable rule is likely to stay somewhat productive too (see e.g. Clahsen et al. 1997 for productive patterns of strong verbs in Modern German), not because of the high type frequency, but because it is better than a relatively unspecified default (Albright 2002).
The origin of ablaut and its development in the strong verbs, briefly discussed in chapter nine (p. 206-212), are said to be based on Sonderegger (1979: 93-96). But the relevant pages in Sonderegger (1979) don’t discuss ablaut at all; they describe categorial changes in the verb system from Proto-Indo-European to Proto-Germanic, though this is somewhat dated and has been superseded by more recent work (e.g. Ringe 2006, Mailhammer 2006, 2007a). Crucially, it has been demonstrated that Germanic uses ablaut in a morphologically different way than its parent language (Mailhammer 2007a): in Proto-Indo-European ablaut doesn't usually mark grammatical categories distinctively; this is precisely a Germanic innovation. There are further examples, such as the assertion that originally only the strong verbs showed umlaut in the subjunctive of the preterit (p. 220). This is certainly not true for a significant part of the ''-jan''-verbs, as shown by forms like ''zeliti'' 1sg.pret.subj. of ''zellen'' 'tell' (e.g. Braune 2004: 262). The final case mentioned here is the development of the weak verbs, which omits crucial recent work (e.g. Hill 2004, 2010, Ringe 2006, Kiparsky 2009). In particular, Hill (2010: 418) demonstrates that the weak preterit doesn't contain old reduplicated preterit forms of 'do' (p. 231).
To sum up, ''Historische Sprachwissenschaft des Deutschen'' is based on an innovative concept and a valuable addition to the pool of books dealing with the history of German. Although it doesn't always succeed in convincingly accounting for the historical developments, it presents some interesting and alternative perspectives. But I have reservations about using it as the only textbook of a course on historical linguistics or the history of German. As a supplementary book, however, I can see it being very useful, because it uses non-mainstream concepts such as natural morphology, and because it addresses topics not normally covered in textbooks on historical linguistics, such as graphemic change.
REFERENCES Albright, Adam 2002. Islands of reliability for regular morphology: Evidence from Italian. Language 78. 684-709.
Auer, Peter 2001. Silben- und akzentzählende Sprachen. In: Haspelmath, Martin et al. (eds.), Language typology and language universals. vol. II. Berlin/New York: de Gruyter. 1391-1399.
Braune, Wilhelm 2004. Althochdeutsche Grammatik. 15th ed. by Ingo Reiffenstein. Tübingen: Niemeyer.
Clahsen, Harald, Sonja Eisenbeiss, & Ingrid Sonnenstuhl-Henning 1997. Morphological structure and the processing of inflected words. Theoretical Linguistics. 23: 3. 225--255.
Donegan, Patricia J. & Stampe, David 1983.Rhythm and the holistic organization of language structure. Papers from the Parasession on the Interplay of Phonology, Morphology and Syntax, Chicago Linguistics Society. 337-353.
Hill, Eugen 2010. A case study in grammaticalized inflectional morphology: Origin and development of the Germanic weak preterite. Diachronica 27:3. 411-458.
Kiparsky, Paul 2009. The Old High German weak preterite. In: Steinkrüger, Patrick O. (ed.), On Inflection. Berlin/New York: Mouton de Gruyter. 107-124.
Keller, Rudi 1994. On language change: the invisible hand in language. London: Routledge
Mailhammer, Robert 2006. On the origin of the Germanic strong verb system. Sprachwissenschaft 31. 1-52.
Mailhammer, Robert 2007a. The Germanic Strong Verbs. Foundations and Development of a New System. Berlin/New York: Mouton de Gruyter.
Mailhammer, Robert 2007b. Islands of Resilience: The history of the German strong verbs from a systemic point of view. Morphology 17. 77-108.
Ringe, Donald 2006. From Proto-Indo-European to Proto-Germanic. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Sonderegger, Stefan. 1979. Grundzüge deutscher Sprachgeschichte. Bd 1: Diachronie des Sprachsystems. Berlin/New York: de Gruyter.
Szczepaniak, Renata 2007. Der phonologisch-typologische Wandel des Deutschen von einer Silben- zu einer Wortsprache. Berlin/New York: de Gruyter.
ABOUT THE REVIEWER
ABOUT THE REVIEWER:
Robert Mailhammer is Assistant Professor of Linguistics in the Department
of English at Arizona State University. His main research interests are
historical linguistics, language documentation and the languages of Europe,
the Pacific and North America in general. (www.lrz-muenchen.de/~mailhammer)