Historical linguistics: An introduction. 2nd edn. By Lyle Campbell. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2004. Pp. 448. ISBN 0262532670. $33.
Reviewed by Gert Guthenberg, University of Georgia
Among the plethora of introductory textbooks in historical linguistics on the market today Campbell’s book holds a prominent position. In smoothly flowing prose C presents the various types of language change at different levels of linguistic structure and the important schools, theories, and paradigms of historical linguistics. He does not shy away from complex issues and provides a wide range of examples from many languages and language families. This book is therefore easily accessible for any student with a basic prior introduction to linguistics. The abundant data and exercises make this textbook particularly useable within a classroom setting.
C does not hesitate to point out the shortcomings of those neogrammarian comparativists who underestimate the impact of variation and contact for language change. For him both the neogrammarian notion that sound laws have no exceptions and the diffusionist postulate that each word has its own history are equally true. Data collected with less rigid methods have often led diffusionists to reject the neogrammarian regularity principle. Since these methods have been insensitive to different styles and socially conditioned variation, they have failed to identify complex phonetic conditioning environments. Once these environments have been established, the apparent exceptions to the sound laws can, in accordance with the neogrammarian paradigm, be explained by analogy or dialect borrowing. While the family-tree perspective of the neogrammarians gives no provision for dealing directly with language contact and variation, the wave perspective of the diffusionists does not provide the means for identifying existing patterns over and above individual isoglosses and word etymologies. Therefore both are needed for a full understanding of language change.
Several areas thoroughly covered in this book are treated only superficially or not at all in most other introductory textbooks of historical linguistics. The reader will thus encounter topics such as areal linguistics, sociolinguistic contributions to language change, general theories about the nature of the mechanisms that cause languages to change, distant genetic relationships, and linguistic prehistory. The way C integrates these topics shows convincingly that each has direct implications for the more traditional fields and methods of historical linguistics. C’s treatment of the first two topics mentioned above may serve to illustrate this. The chapter on areal linguistics shows that comparativists have in some instances mistaken areal features for common innovations and thereby constructed subgroups on false grounds. Sociolinguistic researchers like William Labov have identified variation down to the individual level as the root of language change. C presents important findings from research in this area. Changes tend to originate in the intermediate social classes, where the innovators have the highest density of social interaction. Women are at the forefront of most linguistic changes. Different ethnic groups who newly enter a speech community participate in changes in progress only to the extent that they begin to gain access to or acceptance in the society. This is where the synchronic and diachronic perspectives of language study meet. The uniformitarian principle allows us to assume that the same mechanisms at work in ongoing change at one point in time should operate at another time period. No contemporary textbook of historical linguistics should omit this perspective.