An introduction to historical linguistics

An introduction to historical linguistics. 4th edn. By Terry Crowley and Claire Bowern. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2010. Pp. xxxii, 376. ISBN 9780195365542. $24.95.

Reviewed by Peter Freeouf, Chiang Mai University

This introductory text in historical linguistics is the posthumous edition of a textbook that first appeared in the early 1980s. Claire Bowern has revised and expanded this edition to take into account recent developments and advances in historical linguistics, e.g. the importance of grammaticalization, which in turn serves as a link between historical linguistics and typology.

The text is written in a style that can be easily understood by undergraduate students. The book includes numerous maps, tables, figures, an up-to-date chart of the International Phonetic Alphabet, and illustrative lists of examples. At the end of each chapter are ‘Reading guide questions’, ‘Exercises’, and ‘Further reading’, all of which provide ample opportunities for class activities and homework.

The bulk of the language examples come from languages of the Pacific and Australia, reflecting the scholarly background of the two authors. These languages, which have been extensively studied in the past century, serve also as clear models for the methods of historical linguistics that demonstrate their effectiveness and limitations quite well.

The first chapter, a broad introduction to the field, discusses the reality of language change. Chs. 2–4 discuss the various types of sound changes. The following five chapters, Chs. 5–9, present a traditional account of the principal methods of linguistic reconstruction as developed by scholars beginning in the nineteenth century: the comparative method and internal reconstruction. Recent statistical and computational methods are discussed in Ch 8. The authors use selected data from the closely related Polynesian languages to take the reader step-by-step through the procedures used to establish regular systematic sound correspondences in the basic vocabulary of the selected languages.

The next three chapters, Chs. 10–12, discuss changes in languages above the phonemic level: morphological (introducing the major types of analogical change), semantic, lexical (including borrowing), and syntactic change (including grammaticalization). Chs. 13–14 deal with more recent areas of research in the field, such as language change in progress, language contact, and the origin of pidgin and creole languages. The final chapter, Ch. 15, ‘Cultural reconstruction’, discusses the application of historical linguistics to the cultural sphere to discover undocumented aspects of societies and their histories.

Overall, this is a useful, comprehensive, and up-to-date introductory text in historical linguistics for undergraduate as well as graduate classes in linguistics. More careful editorial attention would have prevented the large number of misspellings and omitted words, among others, disappointing in a work from such a long-established and reputable publisher of linguistics texts.