Indo-European language and culture

Indo-European language and culture: An introduction. 2nd edn. By Benjamin W. Fortson, IV. (Blackwell textbooks in linguistics 19.) Maldon, MA: Wiley-Blackwell, 2009. Pp. xx, 542. ISBN 9781405188968. $57.95.

Reviewed by Joseph F. Eska, Virginia Polytechnic Institute & State University

The second edition of Benjamin W. Fortson IV’s deservedly much-heralded introductory textbook of Indo-European linguistics is not a complete reworking of the first edition, but it contains revised and/or extended treatments of a number of subjects, including the trimoraic vowels of Balto-Slavic and Germanic, the Balto-Slavic accentual system, the accent-ablaut classes reconstructed for Proto-Indo-European, and the Proto-Indo-European middle voice. The chapters treating individual language families have all been revised and expanded, those on Albanian, Armenian, Balto-Slavic, and Iranian considerably so. The new edition laudably includes images of scripts and important inscriptions.

The first two of the twenty chapters (1–52) establish the extent of the Indo-European language family, introduce the reader to the workings of the most powerful tool for the diachronic analysis of phonology and morphology—the comparative method—and discuss what can be inferred about Proto-Indo-European culture from linguistics and archeology. F then describes the broad scholarly consensus on the reconstruction of Proto-Indo-European phonology and morphology in considerable detail (53–151), followed by a shorter treatment of certain syntactic features (152–69). The remainder of the volume is devoted to the individual language families.

Each chapter is presented clearly and concludes with suggestions for further reading, a list of key terms for the student, and exercises. The chapters on the language families also include samples of texts with linguistic discussion and a list of reconstructed etyma/roots divided into broad semantic fields, e.g. ‘Food and agriculture’, ‘The body’, ‘Natural environment’, and ‘Position and motion.’

A surprisingly large number of handbooks of Indo-European linguistics have appeared in recent years, but F’s volume, though perhaps not the most detailed, is far and away the best for classroom use. Any student who works through it carefully will be well prepared to go on to more advanced studies.