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Article

David Fertig

Analogy is traditionally regarded as one of the three main factors responsible for language change, along with sound change and borrowing. Whereas sound change is understood to be phonetically motivated and blind to structural patterns and semantic and functional relationships, analogy is licensed precisely by those patterns and relationships. In the Neogrammarian tradition, analogical change is regarded, at least largely, as a by-product of the normal operation (acquisition, representation, and use) of the mental grammar. Historical linguists commonly use proportional equations of the form A : B = C : X to represent analogical innovations, where A, B, and C are (sets of) word forms known to the innovator, who solves for X by discerning a formal relationship between A and B and then deductively arriving at a form that is related to C in the same way that B is related to A. Along with the core type of analogical change captured by proportional equations, most historical linguists include a number of other phenomena under the analogy umbrella. Some of these, such as paradigm leveling—the reduction or elimination of stem alternations in paradigms—are arguably largely proportional, but others such as contamination and folk etymology seem to have less to do with the normal operation of the mental grammar and instead involve some kind of interference among the mental representations of phonetically or semantically similar forms. The Neogrammarian approach to analogical change has been criticized and challenged on a variety of grounds, and a number of important scholars use the term “analogy” in a rather different sense, to refer to the role that phonological and/or semantic similarity play in the influence that forms exert on each other.

Article

Markku Filppula and Juhani Klemola

Few European languages have in the course of their histories undergone as radical changes as English did in the medieval period. The earliest documented variety of the language, Old English (c. 450 to 1100 ce), was a synthetic language, typologically similar to modern German, with its three genders, relatively free word order, rich case system, and verbal morphology. By the beginning of the Middle English period (c. 1100 to 1500), changes that had begun a few centuries earlier in the Old English period had resulted in a remarkable typological shift from a synthetic language to an analytic language with fixed word order, very few inflections, and a heavy reliance on function words. System-internal pressures had a role to play in these changes, but arguably they were primarily due to intensive contacts with other languages, including Celtic languages, (British) Latin, Scandinavian languages, and a little later, French. As a result, English came to diverge from its Germanic sister languages, losing or reducing such Proto-Germanic features as grammatical gender; most inflections on nouns, adjectives, pronouns, and verbs; verb-second syntax; and certain types of reflexive marking. Among the external influences, long contacts with speakers of especially Brittonic Celtic languages (i.e., Welsh, Cornish, and Cumbrian) can be considered to have been of particular importance. Following the arrival of the Angles, Saxons, and Jutes from around 450 ce onward, there began an intensive and large-scale process of language shift on the part of the indigenous Celtic and British Latin speaking population in Britain. A general wisdom in contact linguistics is that in such circumstances—when the contact is intensive and the shifting population large enough—the acquired language (in this case English) undergoes moderate to heavy restructuring of its grammatical system, leading generally to simplification of its morphosyntax. In the history of English, this process was also greatly reinforced by the Viking invasions, which started in the late 8th century ce, and brought a large Scandinavian-speaking population to Britain. The resulting contacts between the Anglo-Saxons and the Vikings also contributed to the decrease of complexity of the Old English morphosyntax. In addition, the Scandinavian settlements of the Danelaw area left their permanent mark in place-names and dialect vocabulary in especially the eastern and northern parts of the country. In contrast to syntactic influences, which are typical of conditions of language shift, contacts that are less intensive and involve extensive bilingualism generally lead to lexical borrowing. This was the situation following the Norman Conquest of Britain in 1066 ce. It led to an influx of French loanwords into English, most of which have persisted in use up to the present day. It has been estimated that almost one third of the present-day English vocabulary is of French origin. By comparison, there is far less evidence of French influence on “core” English syntax. The earliest loanwords were superimposed by the French-speaking new nobility and pertained to administration, law, military terminology, and religion. Cultural prestige was the prime motivation for the later medieval borrowings.

Article

John E. Joseph

Ferdinand de Saussure (1857–1913), the founding figure of modern linguistics, made his mark on the field with a book he published a month after his 21st birthday, in which he proposed a radical rethinking of the original system of vowels in Proto-Indo-European. A year later, he submitted his doctoral thesis on a morpho-syntactic topic, the genitive absolute in Sanskrit, to the University of Leipzig. He went to Paris intending to do a second, French doctorate, but instead he was given responsibility for courses on Gothic and Old High Gerrman at the École Pratique des Hautes Études, and for managing the publications of the Société de Linguistique de Paris. He abandoned more than one large publication project of his own during the decade he spent in Paris. In 1891 he returned to his native Geneva, where the University created a chair in Sanskrit and the history and comparison of languages for him. He produced some significant work on Lithuanian during this period, connected to his early book on the Indo-European vowel system, and yielding Saussure’s Law, concerning the placement of stress in Lithuanian. He undertook writing projects about the general nature of language, but again abandoned them. In 1907, 1908–1909, and 1910–1911, he gave three courses in general linguistics at the University of Geneva, in which he developed an approach to languages as systems of signs, each sign consisting of a signifier (sound pattern) and a signified (concept), both of them mental rather than physical in nature, and conjoined arbitrarily and inseparably. The socially shared language system, or langue, makes possible the production and comprehension of parole, utterances, by individual speakers and hearers. Each signifier and signified is a value generated by its difference from all the other signifiers or signifieds with which it coexists on an associative (or paradigmatic) axis, and affected as well by its syntagmatic axis. Shortly after Saussure’s death at 55, two of his colleagues, Bally and Sechehaye, gathered together students’ notes from the three courses, as well as manuscript notes by Saussure, and from them constructed the Cours de linguistique générale, published in 1916. Over the course of the next several decades, this book became the basis for the structuralist approach, initially within linguistics, and later adapted to other fields. Saussure left behind a large quantity of manuscript material that has gradually been published over the last few decades, and continues to be published, shedding new light on his thought.

Article

James McElvenny

The German sinologist and general linguist Georg von der Gabelentz (1840–1893) occupies an interesting place at the intersection of several streams of linguistic scholarship at the end of the 19th century. As Professor of East Asian languages at the University of Leipzig from 1878 to 1889 and then Professor for Sinology and General Linguistics at the University of Berlin from 1889 until his death, Gabelentz was present at some of the main centers of linguistics at the time. He was, however, generally critical of mainstream historical-comparative linguistics as propagated by the neogrammarians, and instead emphasized approaches to language inspired by a line of researchers including Wilhelm von Humboldt (1767–1835), H. Steinthal (1823–1899), and his own father, Hans Conon von der Gabelentz (1807–1874). Today Gabelentz is chiefly remembered for several theoretical and methodological innovations which continue to play a role in linguistics. Most significant among these are his contributions to cross-linguistic syntactic comparison and typology, grammar-writing, and grammaticalization. His earliest linguistic work emphasized the importance of syntax as a core part of grammar and sought to establish a framework for the cross-linguistic description of word order, as had already been attempted for morphology by other scholars. The importance he attached to syntax was motivated by his engagement with Classical Chinese, a language almost devoid of morphology and highly reliant on syntax. In describing this language in his 1881 Chinesische Grammatik, Gabelentz elaborated and implemented the complementary “analytic” and “synthetic” systems of grammar, an approach to grammar-writing that continues to serve as a point of reference up to the present day. In his summary of contemporary thought on the nature of grammatical change in language, he became one of the first linguists to formulate the principles of grammaticalization in essentially the form that this phenomenon is studied today, although he did not use the current term. One key term of modern linguistics that he did employ, however, is “typology,” a term that he in fact coined. Gabelentz’s typology was a development on various contemporary strands of thought, including his own comparative syntax, and is widely acknowledged as a direct precursor of the present-day field. Gabelentz is a significant transitional figure from the 19th to the 20th century. On the one hand, his work seems very modern. Beyond his contributions to grammaticalization avant la lettre and his christening of typology, his conception of language prefigures the structuralist revolution of the early 20th century in important respects. On the other hand, he continues to entertain several preoccupations of the 19th century—in particular the judgment of the relative value of different languages—which were progressively banished from linguistics in the first decades of the 20th century.

Article

Ever since the fundamental studies carried out by the great German Romanist Max Leopold Wagner (b. 1880–d. 1962), the acknowledged founder of scientific research on Sardinian, the lexicon has been, and still is, one of the most investigated and best-known areas of the Sardinian language. Several substrate components stand out in the Sardinian lexicon around a fundamental layer which has a clear Latin lexical background. The so-called Paleo-Sardinian layer is particularly intriguing. This is a conventional label for the linguistic varieties spoken in the prehistoric and protohistoric ages in Sardinia. Indeed, the relatively large amount of words (toponyms in particular) which can be traced back to this substrate clearly distinguishes the Sardinian lexicon within the panorama of the Romance languages. As for the other Pre-Latin substrata, the Phoenician-Punic presence mainly (although not exclusively) affected southern and western Sardinia, where we find the highest concentration of Phoenician-Punic loanwords. On the other hand, recent studies have shown that the Latinization of Sardinia was more complex than once thought. In particular, the alleged archaic nature of some features of Sardinian has been questioned. Moreover, research carried out in recent decades has underlined the importance of the Greek Byzantine superstrate, which has actually left far more evident lexical traces than previously thought. Finally, from the late Middle Ages onward, the contributions from the early Italian, Catalan, and Spanish superstrates, as well as from modern and contemporary Italian, have substantially reshaped the modern-day profile of the Sardinian lexicon. In these cases too, more recent research has shown a deeper impact of these components on the Sardinian lexicon, especially as regards the influence of Italian.

Article

André Thibault and Nicholas LoVecchio

The Romance languages have been involved in many situations of language contact. While language contact is evident at all levels, the most visible effects on the system of the recipient language concern the lexicon. The relationship between language contact and the lexicon raises some theoretical issues that are not always adequately addressed, including in etymological lexicography. First is the very notion of what constitutes “language contact.” Contrary to a somewhat dated view, language contact does not necessarily imply physical presence, contemporaneity, and orality: as far as the lexicon is concerned, contact can happen over time and space, particularly through written media. Depending on the kind of extralinguistic circumstances at stake, language contact can be induced by diverse factors, leading to different forms of borrowing. The misleading terms borrowings or loans mask the reality that these are actually adapted imitations—whether formal, semantic, or both—of a foreign model. Likewise, the common Latin or Greek origins of a huge proportion of the Romance lexicon often obscure the real history of words. As these classical languages have contributed numerous technical and scientific terms, as well as a series of “roots,” words coined in one Romance language can easily be reproduced in any other. However, simply reducing a word’s etymology to the origin of its components (classic or otherwise), ignoring intermediate stages and possibly intermediating languages in the borrowing process, is a distortion of word history. To the extent that it is useful to refer to “internationalisms,” related words in different Romance languages merit careful, often arduous research in the process of identifying the actual origin of a given coining. From a methodological point of view, it is crucial to distinguish between the immediate lending language and the oldest stage that can be identified, with the former being more relevant in a rigorous approach to comparative historical lexicology. Concrete examples from Ibero-Romania, Gallo-Romania, Italo-Romania, and Balkan-Romania highlight the variety of different Romance loans and reflect the diverse historical factors particular to each linguistic community in which borrowing occurred.

Article

Several attempts have been made to classify Romance languages. The subgroups created can be posited as intermediate entities in diachrony between a mother language and daughter languages. This diachronic perspective can be structured using a rigid model, such as that of the family tree, or more flexible ones. In general, this perspective yields a bipartite division between Western Romance languages (Ibero-Romance, Gallo-Romance, Alpine-, and Cisalpine-Romance) and Eastern Romance languages (Italian and Romanian), or a tripartite split between Sardinian, Romanian, and other languages. The subgroups can, however, be considered synchronic groupings based on the analysis of the characteristics internal to the varieties. Naturally, the groupings change depending on which features are used and which theoretic model is adopted. Still, this type of approach signals the individuality of French and Romanian with respect to the Romània continua, or contrasts northern and southern Romània, highlighting, on the one hand, the shared features in Gallo-Romance and Gallo-Italian and, on the other, those common to Ibero-Romance, southern Italian, and Sardinian. The task of classifying Romance languages includes thorny issues such as distinguishing between synchrony and diachrony, language and dialect, and monothetic and polythetic classification. Moreover, ideological and political matters often complicate the theme of classification. Many problems stand as yet unresolved, and they will probably remain unresolvable.

Article

An agent noun is a derived noun whose general meaning is ‘person who does . . .’. It is thus characterized by the feature [+ Human], regardless of whether the person involved actually performs an action (e.g., French nageur ‘swimmer’, i.e., ‘a person who swims’), carries out a profession (e.g., Spanish cabrero ‘goatherd’, i.e., ‘a person who looks after goats’), adheres to a certain ideology or group (e.g., Italian femminista ‘feminist’, i.e., ‘a person who supports or follows the feminist movement’), and so on. Agent nouns are for the most part denominal (as with cabrero and femminista above) and deverbal (as with nageur above). Latin denominal agent nouns were mainly formed with -arius, though the Latin agentive suffix par excellence was -tor, which derived nouns from verbs. Latin denominal agents were also formed with -ista, a borrowing from Greek -ιστήϛ. The reflexes of all three suffixes are widespread and highly productive in the Romance languages, as in the case of Portuguese/Spanish/Catalan/Occitan pescador ‘fisherman’ (-dor < -torem), French boucher ‘butcher’ (-er < -arium), and Romanian flautist (-ist < -ista). At any rate, the distinction between denominal and deverbal agent nouns is not always straightforward, as demonstrated by the Romance forms connected with the Latin present particle -nte, for whereas the majority display a verbal base (e.g., Italian cantante ‘singer’ ← cantare ‘to sing’), there are some which do not (e.g., Italian bracciante ‘hired hand’ ← braccio ‘arm’), thus allowing them to be regarded as denominal derivations. A minor group of agent nouns is made up of deadjectival derivations, often conveying a pejorative meaning; such is the case with Italian elegantone ‘person of overblown elegance’ (← elegante ‘elegant’) and French richard ‘very rich person’ (← riche ‘rich’).

Article

Matthew J. Gordon

William Labov (b. 1927) is an American linguist who pioneered the study of variationist sociolinguistics. Born and raised in northern New Jersey, Labov studied English and philosophy at Harvard University (BA, 1948) and worked as an industrial chemist for several years before entering graduate school in linguistics at Columbia University in 1961. He completed his PhD in 1964, under the direction of Uriel Weinreich. He worked at Columbia until 1971, when he joined the faculty of the University of Pennsylvania, where he taught until his retirement in 2014. Labov’s influence on the field began with research he conducted in graduate school. His study of changing pronunciations on Martha’s Vineyard, the subject of his master’s thesis, introduced a method for observing sound change in progress and broke with tradition by exploring social motivations for linguistic innovations. For his PhD dissertation, Labov carried out a study of dialect patterns on the Lower East Side of New York City. Using a systematic, quantitative methodology, he demonstrated that linguistic variation is socially stratified, such that the use of pronunciation features (e.g., dropping of post-vocalic /r/) correlates with social class, ethnicity, etc. in regular patterns. Labov’s early research was greatly influential and inspired many scholars to carry out similar projects in other communities. The paradigm came to be known as variationist sociolinguistics. Much of Labov’s scholarship seeks to advance our understanding of language change. Historical linguists traditionally study completed linguistic changes, often long after they occurred, but Labov developed a method for examining active changes through a quantitative comparison of speakers representing several generations. This approach produces a new perspective on the change process by revealing intermediate stages. Labov has brought insights from this research to bear on theoretical debates within historical linguistics and the field more broadly. His work in this area has also documented many active sound changes in American English. Among these changes are innovations underway in particular dialects, such as the vowel changes in Philadelphia, as well as broader regional patterns, such as the Northern Cities Shift heard in the Great Lakes states. Throughout his career, social justice concerns have fueled Labov’s research. He has sought to demonstrate that the speech of stigmatized groups is as systematic and rule-governed as any other. He led a pioneering study in Harlem in the late 1960s that shone new light on African American English, demonstrating, for example, that grammatical usages like the deletion of the copula (e.g., He fast) are subject to regular constraints. Labov has served as an expert witness in court and before the U.S. Congress to share insights from his study of African American English. He has also worked to promote literacy for speakers of non-standard dialects, carrying out research on reading and developing material for the teaching of reading to these populations.