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Review of  Studies in the History of the English Language II

Reviewer: Margaret J-M Sonmez
Book Title: Studies in the History of the English Language II
Book Author: Anne Curzan Kimberly Emmons
Publisher: De Gruyter Mouton
Linguistic Field(s): Historical Linguistics
Subject Language(s): English
Issue Number: 16.520

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Date: Mon, 21 Feb 2005 10:14:13 +0200
From: Margaret Sonmez
Subject: Studies in the History of the English Language II: Unfolding

EDITORS: Curzan, Anne; Emmons, Kimberly
TITLE: Studies in the History of the English Language II
SUBTITLE: Unfolding Conversations
SERIES: Topics in English Linguistics 45
PUBLISHER: Mouton de Gruyter

Margaret J-M Sonmez, Assistant Professor, Department of Foreign
Language Education, Education Faculty, Middle East Technical University,

The volume presents a selection of papers presented at the Studies in the
History of the English Language conference in Seattle in 2002. Organized
into four sections, Philology and Linguistics, Corpus- and Text-based
Studies, Constraint-based Studies, and Dialectology, each paper represents
an exercise in scholarship that explores interactions between text(s), theory
and reconstruction. Thus the focus of the first section, in which relations
between the disciplines of philology and linguistics are explored, remains,
one way or another, central to the "conversations" unfolded through the
book's four hundred-plus pages. The introductory essays provide useful
summaries of the main arguments in the papers for each section, and will
not be discussed further in this review.

The leading paper of Section 1, is Donka Minkova's exploration of how
philological and linguistic approaches can fruitfully be combined, here in a
study of the history of word-initial [hw]/[w]. Using alliteration in literary
texts as primary data, she charts the gradual loss of the distinction in
writings of much of the south of England through the Old and Middle
English periods. Turning to the accepted understanding of this merger as it
apparently occurred again in "uneducated" speech of the early modern
period, and providing a clear outline of the merger, "un-merger" and
remerger of these sounds in the canonical accounts, she sensibly asks "how
did the non-vulgar speakers of the 16th and 17th Southern English know
which was which? How real was the un-merger of [these sounds]?" (17).
Her supposition that the [hw] variant was never lost to all registers and all
speakers makes sense sociolinguistically and in terms of providing a more
elegant solution than that of an un-merger, as well as finding support from
the persistence into the 15th century of spellings for Old
English (OE) in East Anglian texts (according to the Oxford English
Dictionary) (29), to which, most probably, could be added further evidence
from the Linguistic Atlas of Late Middle English (henceforth LALME; most
unfortunately there is no copy of this great work anywhere near the
reviewer, so she cannot check this). Samuels has, for instance, incidentally
noted "some evidence for the spread of qw(h)- into Essex ... in the [early]
fifteenth century" and the spelling qwhom in early sixteenth century Essex
wills (Samuels 1981: 45). Looking at the relations between this evidence
and linguistic theories, and citing Vennemann's Head Law ("Good syllable
heads ... are those with a continual drop of consonantal strength from the
beginning toward, and including, the nucleus" [1988: 18]) Minkova
postulates a merger of the /h/ with zero in the South, where a de-
spirantized first element had already resulted in /hw/ being
indistinguishable from /0w/, but retention of a first element in the North,
where an earlier strong onset to /xw/ had resulted in the devoicing of the
second segment (33). She notes that Steriade's (2001) P-map
(which "accounts for the change or stability of a segment with reference to a
mental map of similarities and contrasts" (34)) can provide a suitable
framework for such a reconstruction.

As in all four sections, the leading paper is followed by an essay-length
response, in this case written by Lesley Milroy, and this in turn has a brief
response from the first writer (Minkova). Milroy praises Minkova's article
and emphasizes the links between this study and the interest of
sociolinguistics, and particularly of historical sociolinguistics, in "the social
trajectories" of a number of language changes, observing that variationist
theories of change fit very well with Minkova's proposed scenario of
maintenance of the older variant in certain speech communities and certain
registers, and noting that the Helsinki group and others have identified a
spread of Northern features into the speech of London and the South in the
same (Early Modern) period as the evidenced re-emergence of [wh] in the
utterances of some careful speakers (49).

The next paper is David L White's re-opening of the debate concerning the
existence or otherwise of short diphthongs, in which he supports the Daunt
Hypothesis of 1939, that short diphthongs do not exist (59). White
discusses and dismisses with detailed arguments a very thorough list of
counterarguments before reaching his conclusion, in which he suggests
that OE in fact represents a velarized vowel, as it did in Old Irish. His
at times controversial arguments are clearly expressed and mostly
convincing, including the suggestion that Irish missionaries imported this
spelling into England, along with the insular hand; but it can still be
wondered how and why this spelling was maintained so regularly and by so
many generations of non Irish-speaking OE scribes if it was not phonemic.
White argues for the importance of spelling rules in this case, which is fair
enough so long as one does not expect such rules or conventions to be
applied more to this spelling than to others; and the previous paper has just
shown the readers how a de-phonemicized segment ([wh]) will give rise to
spelling uncertainty in this period, however much the forces of local or
literary standards of OE spelling may have worked to maintain the spelling
in frequently written words. An investigation to see if variations in
words, or reverse (noncanonical) spellings in other words, correlate
with scriptoria known to have had greater or lesser links with Irish
missionaries could, perhaps, be a useful addition to his argument. In short,
this paper is stimulating and provocative and reopens the issue of OE short
diphthongs to discussion.

Anatoly Liberman's paper on extended forms in English follows. This
largely neglected area of word-formation involves a wide range of infixing
from the /n/ in sta-n-d to the damn in fan-damn-tastic, as he puts it (87).
After identifying and categorizing different types of this phenomenon, the
paper demonstrates how awareness of this infixing process as it is found in
English and other Germanic languages can be helpful in reconstructing the
origins of etymologically "difficult" (97) words. Bringing together a wide
range of etymological and other scholarly work, Liberman presents an
enjoyable and authoritative history of the words ragamuffin and

The section closes with Ronald R Butters's and Jennifer Westerhaus's work
on the legal and linguistic distinctions between trademarks and generic
terms, in which the legal arguments in the making of such a distinction are
given priority. This decision seems to have been made in order to overcome
the less useful definitions of "syntax, semantics and pragmatics wherein any
noun can be said to be in generic usage if, in a given context, it is construed
as referring to all members of the class" (111), although the paper makes
clear that the matter is not always that clear to the law, either. "Genericide"
is the legal expression for the changed status of a word (like aspirin) from
trademark to generic term, and it is the stated belief of the writers that
genericide is "dying out" in American English (115). This argument relies
on an understanding of genericide as largely due to "the forces of modern
marketing and advertising" (113) and of its decease as a fact monitored by
the decisions of law courts, where certain cases have ruled that when the
public uses an established trademark as a generic term but is
simultaneously aware that this word is also a brand name (as might, e.g.,
be the case in uses of the words Band-Aid or Kleenex), no genericide has
occurred and the full 'trademark' status of these names is retained. The
writers in their conclusion require lexicographers to fall in line with such
legal opinions (121). From the linguistic point of view, though, their
unwillingness even to mention the common phenomenon of synonymy may
be seen as a weakness in their argument, for synonyms show us how
frequent and, indeed, "natural" it is to use a form in one meaning within one
context while being simultaneously aware of its other potential meaning(s)
in other contexts, and in this respect words like kleenex can be seen as
belonging to the set of all (linguistic) synonyms, regardless of their legal
status. The question then is, do lexicographers serve the language or the
lawyers? There can be little doubt about what Samuel Johnson's answer
would have been.

After an editors' introduction, Section 2 (Corpus- and text-based studies)
opens with Susan M. Fitzmaurice's "The meanings and uses of the
progressive construction in an early eighteenth-century English network".
This work investigates correlations between uses of the progressive (in
particular, of the non-aspectual or subjective uses of this construction) and
a number of variables. Special attention is paid to register but the variables
considered also include grammatical setting (evoked to aid in constructing
a non-subjective diagnostic test for the non-aspectual uses), gender and
generation. With a group of 17 writers, Fitzmaurice is able to supplement
her analyses with "close readings" and personal information about the
writers and the result is, as she states "a detailed account of the relation of
meaning and use of the progressive construction in a set of literary and
nonliterary registers produced over a period of about 100 years" (135). The
analyses are illustrated by excellent graphs, which are very necessary when
dealing with interactions between multiples of variables; for instance, a bar
chart on page 152 shows frequencies of the construction in 4 registers and
6 verb types. The small number of writers inevitably results in limitations to
the study, as the writer notes: there are for instance considerable
imbalances between numbers of representatives of the sexes and of the
generations. As a minor quibble it should be noted that although the
word "network" is used in this paper, the group of writers providing the
data is not closely analyzed for strength of network ties, and thus the
quantitative analyses are not conducted upon conventional network study
lines; it might be more useful to consider the nature of the group of writers
as presented in this case as a circle, rather than network (for circles can
have centres too, but do not require specification of the precise nature of
links between members).

The response from Erik Smitterberg expands on the background to
Fitzmaurice's study while adding to the discussion. He shows how her
findings confirm and are useful additions to other works (Biber and
Finnegan 1997, Smitterberg 2000) that demonstrate an increase in cross-
genre differences in the Modern English period (176). His comments upon
the details of her quantitative results and close readings concentrate on the
fact that findings based upon such a small number of writers need to be
supplemented before generalizable conclusions can be made. In her own
response, Fitzmaurice makes some useful expansions to her paper,
including a consideration of the analytic difficulties posed by figurative

Douglas Biber's paper on "Modal use across registers and time" presents a
detailed analysis of the frequencies of main modals in both British and
American English based on the ARCHER corpus, and covering the period
1650-1990. Multiplicity of variables is again the case here, due to the fairly
large number of modals in English and to the fact that "modal verbs are
notoriously productive in expressing a range of meanings" which have to be
separately assessed, upon which "it turns out that different registers tend to
rely on particular meanings" (193). In addition, semi-modals need to be
taken into consideration. The conclusion to this research shows complex
findings, where "patterns of change for individual verbs often differ across
registers" (210). In general, though, "modals have undergone a marked
decline in all registers over the last 50-100 years", but there has been an
increase in the use of semi-modals (199). Providing commentary on his
own paper, Biber ends with a reminder of the importance of situating this
study in the broader context of a study on the linguistic expression of
stance, and points to a forthcoming paper that will examine this area.

Richard Bailey's corrective study of the history of (mis-) transcriptions of
Machyn's Day Book follows, a paper which should be read by all researchers
who use printed editions of earlier works. Long ago, the unreliability of the
old Camden or EETS series of reprints of Early English texts was
mentioned - I think by Alston - , but this warning was just a footnote in an
article and does not appear to have been taken as seriously as it deserved.
As Bailey's comments imply, the current proliferation of corpus studies is
likely to multiply errors that have been put into the scholarly chain through
out-dated and to our present way of thinking downright cavalier attitudes
towards transcription. His tracing of the transmission of mis-transcriptions
from the Machyn manuscript includes the important case of Wyld's use of
this source, a matter that is particularly close to my heart, having a decade
ago written in my list of pie-in-the-sky projects to suggest to Blackwells a
rewriting of Wyld, going over the MS materials on which his work is based
and calculating frequencies of occurrences and non-occurrences of his
spelling evidence. (If any publisher reading this is interested, please contact
me!) In the particular case of this history of the linguistic study of the
Machyn Day Book, Bailey shows how Wijk's "nearly exhaustive word index"
to the whole manuscript, combined with evidence from the LALME (Britton
and Williamson) and supplemented by genealogical research of a historian
(Mortimer) point to the West Riding of Yorkshire and northeast of Leicester,
respectively (224). Nowhere near Wyld's London. For the sake of any
readers who are embarking on a study of printed manuscript texts, it is
worth repeating Bailey's warning that both in these texts and in linguistic
studies based upon them, as Zachrisson finally admitted of his study of
Margaret Paston's letters "many of the supposedly significant 'occasional
spellings' [are] in fact no more than editorial misreading" (217). Of course
the misreadings are not always in the direction of odd or "occasional"
spellings; many editors have silently "normalised" their texts in ways and to
extents that can only be discovered by going back to the manuscript
sources. The work of the Michigan team in preparing an electronic edition
that will include images of the MS pages, announced in the conclusion of
this paper (225), is clearly of fundamental importance to linguists studying
this period of the language, and it is to be hoped that similar projects for
other texts will follow. Perhaps they will rewrite Wyld, too.

The next paper is Ian Lancashire's close reading and re-dating of the
Rawlinson lexicon, an on-line transcription of which is to be published by
the University of Toronto Press and the University of Toronto Library as
part of their Lexicons of Early Modern English database (269, n.4). Here
again a new look at manuscript materials results in a reassessment of
previously accepted conclusions. While the Bodleian summary catalogue
and Osselton (1986) date this fragmentary "dictionary" to 1589-6000 (231),
Lancashire's exhaustive sorting of the separate parts and sources of the
document, including noticing where entries have been written over or
around earlier script, provides apparently incontrovertible evidence of an
earliest possible starting date of 1612 (235), with additions from 1655 or
later (234). For the rest of his paper, his more general point is that
assignments of 'firsts' to genres like that of monolingual dictionaries can be
misconceived because they rest upon the concept of stable and
recognizable genre categorization which is found in neither the history of
the dictionary not the methods of dictionary compilation. (This fits in with
the evidence and arguments put forward in the last few years by Thomas
Kohnen). In his summing-up, he notes that vernacular glossaries routinely
worked from bilingual French- or Latin-English dictionaries (as Starnes and
Noyes have also noted and demonstrated), they plundered monolingual
printed glossaries or lists of "hard words", and also, Lancashire suggests,
used lexical encyclopedias like Bankes's Herbal (236-238). All this adds to
the growing ranks of evidence from different sources that generic
categorization should not to be undertaken without careful consideration
of the fluid and dynamic aspects of the concepts "genre" and "text type".

The leading paper of Section 3 (Constraint-based studies) is Geoffrey
Russom's comparative analyses of Old and Middle English alliterative
metres, presented a contribution to the discussion concerning the origins
of the Middle English poetic form. Using his previously described "word-
foot theory" (282) he argues that OE metre was "changed, but through
reanalysis rather than reinvention" (281). Robert D. Fulk responds,
expressing doubts about a method of analysis that concentrates entirely on
metrical structure (306) but agreeing with and expanding on Russom's
assessment of Ælfric's writings as not being suitable for consideration as
part of a specifically poetic tradition. Russom in his acknowledgement of
this response then again underlines this "exclusion" of Ælfric as a point of
major importance, and expresses his wish to reopen the "profoundly
unfashionable" (313) issue of the relation between rhetorical prose and

More on metre follows, with Xingzhong Li's admirably coherent
presentation of "a central metrical prototype for English iambic tetrameter
verse" using a corpus of Chaucer's octo-syllabic lines as evidence of its
power. This paper provides the reader first of all with a tree-diagram of the
metrical prototype underlying - it is tentatively claimed - all English iambic
tetrameter verse (315). Then, step-by-step constructions and descriptions
of the relative syllable weightings, or "gradient saliencies" (317) that arise
from this prototype are given. In this way each metrical position, foot, and
hemistich is seen to add a strong or a weak element to the syllables that lie
at the terminals of each branch, and each syllable is found to have a unique
combination of strong and weak elements (in different orders), being the
nodes that lead down to it. From this a prototypical gradient salience for
each syllable is calculated, along with positions where metrical deviations
and pauses would be most and least likely to be found. An analysis of over
one thousand of Chaucer's lines, supplemented where appropriate by other
data, shows very convincingly "that metrical deviations tend to occur in less
salient metrical constituents" (325) and, furthermore, that 96.5% of the
syntactic inversions not involved in rhyme can be explained by this model

Brady Z. Clark's "Early English clause structure change in a stochastic
optimality theory setting" is a defence of the model named in the title (as
developed by Boersma and others) over the more traditional "competing
grammars" account of Early English clause structure variation and change
(343). He demonstrates that the newer approach not only accounts for
existing constructions, but also successfully "rules out a head-final IP
structure" (363).

The last paper of this section is Olga Petrova's "The role of perceptual
contrast in Verner's Law". Here it is the chronology and causality of Verner's
Law that is once again under scrutiny. Paying close attention to the
relationship between stress, pitch contours and perception, and discussing
auditory phonetics in some detail, she proposes that Verner's Law
happened as a result of the Germanic change in stress to root-initial
position (371). The proposed account is enticing and placed alongside an
alternative analysis and an account of certain objections raised by a
reviewer. In the end the writer politely leaves it to the reader "to decide
which account is more adequate and explanatory" (397)

Section 4 is dedicated to dialectology, and the first paper is a study of the
pen/pin merger in Southern American English by Michael Montgomery and
Connie Eble. Using materials from an earlier period of American history
than has previously been studied for this change, they "push back the time
line on this feature a century" (415), discuss existing theories about its
origins and spread, and tentatively suggest the involvement of African
American speech. (430). A limitation of their research is, undoubtedly, the
patchy nature of their evidence, a matter to which they themselves draw
some attention. This makes it difficult to see the figures they present as
anything more than an approximation of what might have been the case
had they been luckier in having more and more evenly socially distributed
evidence. As it is, the writers treat each group of their source texts
individually. This in turn may be one of the reasons for Guy Bailey, in his
response to the paper, to question their methodology, while at the same
time applauding the expansion of sources that Montgomery and Eble
provide. The writers of the earlier paper reply to these comments, agreeing
to differ.

Staying with mergers in American English, Betty S. Phillips brings a
description of the present state of the naughty/knotty vowel merger in west
central Indiana, using data gathered as a class project, and showing
that "the distinction still maintained in production by many older speakers is
being gradually lost by the younger generation" with females leading the
change (456). Richard M Hogg completes the volume with his analysis
of "the spread of negative contraction in early English". This takes us back
to the sort of sources used in the first papers of the book, and once more to
the sensitive negotiations between data and theory that comprise the
present-day philological approach. This fine piece of research covers many
sources and takes into consideration many possibilities, and shows that the
geographical picture of negative contraction (of the ne + habban = naebbe
type (459)) in Old and Middle English is a complicated one. Nevertheless,
an "alternative approach" to earlier explanations is put forward, in which
the contractions are found first in around Gloucestershire, and then "fanned
out", going through Wessex and South East relatively fast, but much
spreading more slowly in the West Midlands.

The papers brought together in this work are all interesting and, in some
cases, groundbreaking studies by scholars whose standards are
consistently and demonstrably high. As a book, however, this volume is not
able to break away from its origins as a collection of papers presented in a
conference; that is to say, the theme of interaction between philology and
linguistics is too general and too overriding to provide any strong sense of
a common theme, let alone focus, to papers that were in many cases not
written with this topic in mind. This remains the case in spite of the paper-
response-counter response trio at the start of each section and the editors'
introductions to each section. The addition of responses to key papers
provides useful clarifications and additions to the subjects under discussion
and editors of future volumes could perhaps further expand this practice,
although (in my humble opinion) a less dispersed content would be easier
to aim at a specific readership. As it stands, individual readers will probably
prefer once again to let their libraries order the book for the sake of the
single section or paper that may be relevant to their particular research
interests. There are so very many excellent papers scattered in so very
many books and journals that it is easy to miss important additions to the
field, and one may wish for enlightened publishers to consider reprinting
collections of such papers around single areas of research in order for
these pieces of work not to be hidden from those who most need them.
Meanwhile, it is to be hoped that the great improvements in bibliographic
searching that the Internet now provides will allow these papers to be found
and read by all scholars involved in the various areas of the history of
English represented in the book.


LALME. The Linguistic Atlas of Late Middle English. Eds. McIntosh, Angus, M.
K. Samuels, and Michael Benskin. Aberdeen: Aberdeen University Press,

Samuels, M. L. "Spelling and Dialect in the Late and Post-Middle English
Periods" in Benskin and Samuels (eds) So meny people longages and
Tonges. Edinburgh: Benskin and Samuels, 1981

Starnes, DeWitt T. and Gertrude E. Noyes. The English Dictionary from
Cawdrey to Johnson, 1604-1755. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina
Press, 1964

Wyld, Henry Cecil. A History of Modern Colloquial English. 3rd ed. Oxford:
Basil Blackwell, 1936


Margaret J-M Sonmez is Assistant Professor at the Middle East Technical
University, where she teaches among other things the History of the English
Language. Her research interests centre on Early Modern English written
language variation and change and the perception of written language.