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Review of  Historical Linguistics (Second Edition)

Reviewer: Peter G. Öhl
Book Title: Historical Linguistics (Second Edition)
Book Author: Lyle Campbell
Publisher: Edinburgh University Press
Linguistic Field(s): Historical Linguistics
Issue Number: 16.1785

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Date: Sun, 05 Jun 2005 19:31:05 +0200
From: Peter Öhl
Subject: Historical Linguistics: An Introduction, 2nd edition

AUTHOR: Campbell, Lyle
TITLE: Historical Linguistics, Second Edition
SUBTITLE: An Introduction
YEAR: 2004

Peter Öhl, Institute for Cognitive Linguistics, University of Frankfurt/
Main, Germany

The content of the second edition of Campbell's introduction to is by
and large the same as in the first edition. It is a student's textbook
presenting the major areas of historical linguistics, with emphasis on
practise and broad empirical information. The book addresses
students of historical linguistics with little theoretical and philological
background. If it exceeds the basic introductory level, linguistic
terminology -- both historical and non-historical -- is mostly explained.
The topics covered in the book are (by chapter heading):

(1. Introduction)
2. Sound Change (kinds of sound change, including a list and
examples of the most common changes; relative chronology)
3. Borrowing (lexical borrowing: definition, motivation; a short
description of phonological and semantic borrowings and of the
cultural inferences)
4. Analogical change (proportional analogy; levelling, extension;
5. The Comparative Method (assumptions of the model -- regularity of
sound change; a case study: cognates in Finno-Ugric)
6. Linguistic classification (the world's language families; terminology;
explanation of the subgrouping; glottochronology/ lexicostatistics)
7. Models of language change (discussion of the family tree model
and wave theory; dialectology; sociolinguistics and language change;
lexical diffusion)
8. Internal reconstruction (illustrations of the method; limitations; the
comparative method)
9. Semantic and lexical change (traditional considerations; explaining
change; production of new words (numerous examples) )
10. Syntactic change (mechanisms; generative approaches;
grammaticalisation; reconstruction)
11. Explaining linguistic change (early theories; internal and external
causes, explanation and prediction)
12. Areal linguistics (the concept of areal linguistics; examples of
linguistic areas; how to determine an area; subgrouping; distant
genetic relationship?)
13. Distant genetic relationships (types of evidence used; chance
similarities; problems in the methods used)
14. The role of written records (philology; the role of writing; getting
historical linguistic information for (sic!) written sources (same typo in
1st ed.) )
15. Linguistic prehistory (Indo-European; methods; limitations and

Each topic is illustrated with rich empirical evidence from various
language families, most commonly Indo-European, Uralic, Mayan and
Uto-Aztecan. All chapters except 7, 11, 12, 13 & 15 are followed by a
large number of refined exercises that often cover the topics in detail
and comprise data from numerous language groups. In comparison to
the first edition, the empirical basis and the exercises were enriched,
some tables and maps were replaced and added in favour of
illustration. The organisation of the chapters has for the most part
been retained, except that the chapters on syntax and on semantics
(now 9&10) have been switched.

To make it short: This is still a very good text book for the purposes it
has been written for. However, those who have found shortcomings in
the theoretical aspects of historical linguistics in the first edition, will
still find them here. And those who would have liked to find more
discussion of methods and data from research on linguistic subfields
other than phonology and lexicology, will still miss them. Campbell has
not made many changes in the second edition, which may have been
his intention: In the main, the presentation of the material has been
made more transparent, and the empirical and the practical parts have
been refined and amended.

Campbell's introduction stands in the long tradition of (morpho-)
phonological comparison of languages and language groups,
respectively their historical stages. Not much has to be added to the
chapter on phonological change. The chapters on borrowing and on
analogy also both rely very much on the role of sound change, they
present only little data from morphology and syntax. Lexical borrowing
is presented in its most relevant aspects, though not as concisely and
systematically as the chapter on sound change. This might be
attributed to Campbell's intent to not refer to linguistic theories in the
chapters building on the presentation of empirical data. A little more
attention could have been paid to different types of loanwords and
their correlation with cultural inferences, especially as the calques are
concerned, which he presents on page 81. Instead, he tries to give an
intuitive explanation of how and why languages borrow from each
other -- which may in fact meet the interests of the target group better
than the discussion of theoretical aspects would.

The textbook definitely has its strength in the presentation of data
making the classification of languages plausible to students -- even if
Campbell's approach is rather conservative. His main effort is to be
concise about the world's language families and their rationale, not
avoiding to present the challenge of the family tree model by wave
theory in the chapter about models of linguistic change. Significantly,
the models he is presenting go back to very early ideas of explaining
linguistic change. The chapter on analogy -- which is in fact a
theoretical one -- definitely lacks theoretical elaboration. The ideas of
analogical change are presented, but much more attention should
have been paid to the syntagmatic and paradigmatic effects on
grammatical systems. What is missing in all chapters is the reference
to more recent models of change, e.g. nativist models as used in
generative explanations of linguistic change (see below), or recent
developments in functional grammar that are reflected in the research
on grammaticalisation. Both, he treats quite superficially in his chapter
on syntactic change that is, with 28 pages, remarkably short, anyway.

This is in fact the general criticism I have for the whole book: Campbell
treats syntax only marginally before his chapter 10, and much more
could be said about morphological changes. Phonology is a major, but
not the main factor constituting linguistic change and putting
languages into relationship. It is a common fallacy in linguistic didactics
that syntax may be deferred to advanced courses. In fact, syntactic
typology and syntactic change are essential elements of
understanding historical and comparative linguistics. This is why in my
view important aspects are missing also in the presentation of
linguistic reconstruction and linguistic classification (including the
chapters on genetic relationship and areal linguistics) -- if this
textbook is meant to be concise.

On page 283, Campbell states that there is no generally recognised
approach to the treatment of syntactic change as there is for sound
change. This statement is a little too suggestive, taking into
consideration that this is a textbook for students who take their basic
knowledge and their first impressions about historical linguistics from
it. Since Campbell does not refer to recent theoretic approaches to
phonological changes, he makes the reader think that only in syntax,
there is some heterogeneous research done in more or less isolated
research communities, whereas everybody in the world agrees that
the approach to sound change he describes is the only and the right
one. That Campbell's main interests are phonology and lexicology is
evident. This could be stated without devaluating the generative
approach to syntactic change, which he surprisingly treats in this
chapter (Why didn't he, then, inform the reader about generative
approaches to phonology, e.g. Kiparsky 1978, 1995b?).

Quite a lot has happened in diachronic syntax within the last two
decades. Numerous works on syntactic change could have been
mentioned, like Lightfoot (1991, 1997), Gelderen (1996), Kiparsky
(1995a, 1996, 1997), Kroch (1989, 2000), Kroch & Taylor (1997),
Pintzuk (1991), Pintzuk & al. (2000), Roberts (1992). Instead,
Campbell discusses approaches to rule-based changes through
language acquisition, like Klima (1964). What Campbell apparently
takes as representative for generative models, is nowadays still
respected, but history. (Note that in the first edition, Campbell gave
here an example from sound change to demonstrate rule-based
changes.) Lightfoot's (1979) model, which Campbell criticises on page
291, has been amended by Lightfoot himself several times. The latest
generative approach to syntactic change Campbell lists is Lightfoot
(1991), but its central idea, how to explain grammatical change
through a change in parameter setting, isn't even mentioned.

It is quite surprising to find generative explanations reduced to the
1970's models of rule acquisition in a textbook published in 2004.
Even Campbell's claim that in the generative view, 'linguistic change in
general (...) takes place (...) in the transition of grammars from one
generation to the next', is not justifiable, since most of the modern
approaches (especially Lightfoot 1991) do in fact not neglect
performative changes. It is just that the specific topic is the role of
language acquisition in grammatical change, which is indeed a central
one. The chapter on syntax could certainly have been done without
referring to the generative approach in this way.

It is a pity that this influential textbook on historical linguistics obviously
treats syntax as a minor subject. Even if one does not adopt the
generative approach, less theoretical literature on syntactic change
could have been referred to, like Denison (1993) or Faarlund (1990).
However, as Campbell himself states on page 283, it is quite
traditional that syntax is underrepresented in historical linguistic
textbooks. The plenitude of information about specific areas (mainly
historical and comparative phonology and lexicology; how to derive
kinds of relationships between languages) makes this textbook
nevertheless an essential reading for students of comparative and
historical linguistics who want to acquire a broad empirical database
and knowledge about the languages of the world. I would recommend
it as a reader for corresponding courses, though for classes on topics
covered by the chapters criticized here, it will be necessary to use
some additional literature.


Denison, David (1993). English Historical Syntax: Verbal
Constructions. Longman.

Gelderen, Elly van (1996). The Rise of Functional Categories. John

Faarlund, Jan T. (1990). Syntactic Change: Toward a Theory of
Historical Syntax. Mouton de Gruyter.

Kemenade, Ans van & Nigel Vincent (eds.). Parameters of
Morphosyntactic Change. Cambridge University Press.

Kiparsky, Paul (1978). "Rule Reordering." In Philip Baldi & Ronald N.
Werth (eds.). Readings in Historical Phonology: Chapters in the
Theory of Sound Change. Pennsylvania State University Press. 218-

Kiparsky, Paul (1995a). "Indo-European origins of Proto Germanic
syntax." In: Adrian Battye, & Ian Roberts (eds.). Clause Structure and
Language Change, pp. 140-169. Oxford University Press.

Kiparsky, Paul (1995b). "The Phonological Basis of Sound Change."
In: John Goldsmith (ed.). The Handbook of Phonological Theory, pp.
640-670. Blackwell Publishing.

Kiparsky, Paul (1996). "The shift to head-initial VP in Germanic". In:
Höskuldur Thráinsson (ed.) Studies in comparative Germanic syntax.
Papers from the 9th Comparative Germanic Syntax Workshop,
Harvard University, Jan. 1994. Trends in Linguistics/ Studies and
Monographs 83. Kluwer.

Kiparsky, Paul (1997). "The rise of positional licensing." In: Kemenade
& Vincent (eds.). 460-94.

Klima, Edward (1964). "Relatedness between grammatical systems."
Language 40, 1-20.

Kroch, Anthony & Ann Taylor (1997). "Verb movement in Old and
Middle English: Dialect variation and language contact." In: Kemenade
& Vincent (eds.). 297-325.

Kroch, Anthony (1989). "Reflexes of grammar in patterns of language
change." Journal of Language Variation and Change 1.3.: 199-244.

Kroch, Anthony (2000) "Syntactic change." In: Mark Baltin &
Christopher Collins (eds.). The Handbook of Contemporary Syntactic
Theory, pp. 629-739. Blackwell Publishing.

Lightfoot, David (1979). Principles of Diachronic Syntax. Cambridge
University Press.

Lightfoot, David (1991). How to Set Parameters. Arguments from
Language Change. MIT Press.

Lightfoot, David (1997). "Shifting triggers and diachronic reanalyses."
In: Kemenade & Vincent (eds). 253-272.

Pintzuk, Susan (1991) Phrase structures in competition: Variation and
change in Old English word order. PhD. Dissertation, Univ. of

Pintzuk, Susan & al. (2000). Diachronic Syntax: Models and
Mechanisms. Oxford University Press.

Roberts, Ian (1992) Verbs and Diachronic Syntax: A Comparative
History of English and French. Kluwer.


I studied German and English Philology and some Indo-European
Linguistics at the University of Freiburg, Germany. I was also trained
in historical linguistics and comparative syntax at the Universities of
Massachusetts at Amherst (USA) and Stuttgart (Germany). I have
taught courses on historical linguistics at the universities of Stuttgart
and Frankfurt (Germany). Currently, I am researcher in a project
(generative approach) on the role of functional projections in
processes of grammaticalisation and syntactic change, specialising on
the diachrony of verbal inflection and of hypotaxis.

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