Historical linguistics

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Historical linguistics is the study of language change.[1] It has five main concerns:

  1. to study changes in particular languages
  2. to discover the pre-history of languages, and group them into language families (comparative linguistics)
  3. to develop theories about how and why language changes
  4. to describe the history of speech communities
  5. to study the history of words, i.e. etymology.

History and development[change | change source]

Modern historical linguistics dates from the late 18th century. It grew out of the earlier discipline of philology, the study of ancient texts and documents dating back to antiquity.

At first, historical linguistics was comparative linguistics. The focus was on the well-known Indo-European languages, many of which had long written histories. Scholars also studied the Uralic languages, another European language family for which less early written material exists.

Since then, there has been linguistic work outside of European languages, such as on the Austronesian languages and various families of Native American languages.

Comparative linguistics is now part of a discipline of historical linguistics. For the Indo-European languages, comparative study is now a well-developed field. Most research is being carried out on the later development of these languages, such as the development of the modern standard varieties.[2]

Some scholars have done studies attempting to establish super-families. They have, for example, linked Indo-European, Uralic, and other families into Nostratic. These attempts have not been accepted widely. The information needed to establish relatedness becomes thinner the further back in time we go. The time-depth of linguistic methods is limited due to chance word resemblances and variations between language groups. Back to around 10,000 years scholars can trace language changes. The dating of the various proto-languages is also difficult; several methods are available for dating, but only approximate results can be got.[3]

References[change | change source]

  1. Bynon, Theodora 1977. Historical linguistics. Cambridge University Press. ISBN 0-521-29188-7
  2. Janda. Richard D. and Joseph, Brian D. (eds) 2004. The handbook of historical linguistics. Blackwell. ISBN 1-4051-2747-3
  3. Trask R L. 2001. (ed) Dictionary of historical and comparative linguistics. Fitzroy Dearborn. ISBN 1-57958-218-4