LING 420/520: Historical & Comparative Linguistics
Instructor: G. Tucker Childs
Historical linguistics analyzes how languages change over time. The study of individual words is, of course, an important component of this study, but represents a relatively minor component of change in terms of the overall grammar of a language. In addition to changes in the lexicon, we will look at sound change as well as changes in morphology and syntax; each of these grammatical sub-components can be considered evolutionary systems in and of themselves.
Equally as important to the study of language change is the methodology used. Some say linguistics began with the work of the Brothers Grimm and the Neogrammarians, but much has changed in the analysis of language and how it changes since that time. Much has been learned about the relevance of social factors in language change as represented in the work of William Labov and his co-workers. Particularly important has been the study of pidgins and creoles, where change is telescoped and thus more susceptible to observation and analysis. The most important question we will consider is why languages change, a perhaps unanswerable question.
Although we will be using English for most of our examples, we will also consider change in languages unrelated to English. In addition to the examples discussed in the text, graduate students will introduce the class to language groups genetically and areally distant from Germanic and even Indo-European.
Prerequisites: It is assumed that all students have taken at least Ling 390 An Introduction to Linguistics. Students who have not taken courses in structural linguistics (Phonetics, Structure of English, Typology, etc.) may have to do some additional reading. A quiz at the beginning of the second week will indicate how much (more) review is needed.
Major Assignments: Students will be expected to attend class on a regular basis and keep up with the assigned reading and exercises. No late assignments will be accepted. If you are unable to attend a class, you may submit your assignment electronically, but electronic versions must be received by the beginning of class.
In addition to fulfill all the course requirements listed above, grad students will be expected to make two short (ten-minute) class presentations (PowerPoint or the like), as sketched below.
1. Report on a linguistic area or Sprachbund not discussed in class or the reading. What are the genetic groups involved? What are the shared areal features? What is the historical and socioeconomic background to the region? What are your predictions as to the future of the area?
2. Report on some classic and/or seminal work, e.g., Weinreich, Labov and Herzog 1968. This involves summarizing and evaluating the article according to criteria to be announced. Article to be chosen in conference with instructor.
Percentages will be as follows:
- 15% Class participation (attendance, preparation, contribution to discussion)
- 45% Quizzes, problem sets, and exercises from the text
- 40% Final exam
- 10% Class participation (attendance, preparation, contribution to discussion)
- 30% Quizzes, problem sets, and exercises from the text
- 30% Two presentations @ 15% each
- 30% Final exam
- Campbell, Lyle. 1999. Historical Linguistics: An Introduction. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press. 0-262-53159-3.
- Croft, William. 2000. Explaining Language Change: An Evolutionary Approach. London: Longman. A fairly sophisticated presentation.
Hewson, John. 2003. Workbook for Historical Romance Linguistics. München: Lincom GmbH. Useful for those interested in Romance languages and for practice with problems.
- Hock, Hans Heinrich. 1986. Principles of Historical Linguistics. Berlin and New York: Mouton de Gruyter. A useful reference volume, covers everything.
- Hock, Hans Heinrich, and Brian D. Joseph. 1996. Language History, Language Change, and Language Relationship: An Introduction to Historical and Comparative Linguistics. Berlin and New York: Mouton de Gruyter. An introductory text, considered as a possible course text.
- Holt, D. Eric, ed. 2003. Optimality Theory and Language Change. Dordrecht, London, and Boston: Kluwer Academic Publishers. Useful for those familiar with the OT framework.
- Joseph, Brian D., Johanna Destefano, Neil G. Jacobs, and Ilse Lehiste, eds. 2003. When Languages Collide: Perspectives on Language Conflict, Competition, and Language Coexistence. Columbus: Ohio State University Press. An edited volume with some useful articles.
- Labov, William. 1994. Principles of Linguistic Change, vol. 1: Internal Factors. Oxford, UK and Cambridge, MA: Blackwell.
- Labov, William. 2001. Principles of Linguistic Change, vol. 2: Social Factors. Cambridge, MA, and Oxford, UK: Blackwell. These two volumes are only for the hearty. Incredibly comprehensive.
- Lefebvre, Claire. 2004. Issues in the Study of Pidgin and Creole Languages. Amsterdam and New York: John Benjamins. Not all of the issues are relevant to historical linguistics.
- Nevalainen, Terttu, and Helena Raumolin-Brunberg. 2003. Historical Sociolinguistics: Language Change in Tudor and Stuart England. London: Pearson Longman. Employs a corpus linguistics approach.
- Trask, R. L. 1996. Historical Linguistics. Oxford: Oxford University Press. Also considered as a possible text for the course
Other Relevant Information: Plagiarism. With the accessibility of information on the internet, plagiarism has become an increasingly widespread problem. Please see the University guidelines if you do not understand what plagiarism is. It is better to err on the side of over-attribution if you’re unsure, so please state the source of ideas that are not your own. Feel free to ask me if you’re uncertain. Students found to be plagiarizing will receive a failing mark in the course and will be reported to school authorities.