Historical and Comparative Linguistics

Categories: LanguageLinguistics

Historical linguistics, also called Diachronic Linguistics, the branch of linguistics concerned with the study of phonological, grammatical, and semantic changes, the reconstruction of earlier stages of languages, and the discovery and application of the methods by which genetic relationships among languages can be demonstrated. According to dictionary. com, Historical linguistics is the branch of linguistics which deals with the history and development of languages. Also it can be defined as the branch of linguistics that focuses on the interconnection between different languages in the word and, or their historical development.

Historical linguistics had its roots in the etymological speculations of classical and medieval times, in the comparative study of Greek and Latin developed during the Renaissance and in the speculations of scholars as to the language from which the other languages of the world were descended.

It was only in the 19th century, however, that more scientific methods of language comparison and sufficient data on the early Indo-European languages combined to establish the principles now used by historical linguists.

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Historical linguistics has existed as a scholarly discipline for over 200 years, Trask, R. L (1996) and it was the first branch of linguistics to be placed on a firm footing, none the less, it is of present one of the liveliest and most engaging area of linguistics.

THE HISTORY OF LANGUAGE There are over 5,000 distinct human languages in the world. One very basic question is how did they all get there? One of the greatest mysteries that has confronted ma has been that of the origin of a language, a topic on which there has been much speculation.

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Many of us are familiar with the stories in the genesis concerning the giving of names by a deity and the diffusion of different tongs following the destruction of the tower of Babel.

At times, theorists with an inclination towards experimentation have even gone so far as to try to recreate the conditions which they consider necessary for the origin of language. Herodotus, the Greek historian, tells how the ancient Egyptian king PSametichus raised two children in complete isolation from human speech to see what language they would naturally speak, Wardhaugh, R (1972) It’s hard to imagine a cultural phenomenon that’s more important than the development of language. And yet no human attribute offers less conclusive evidence regarding its origins.

The absence of such evidence certainly hasn’t discouraged speculation about the origins of language. Over the centuries, many theories have been put forward–and just about all of them have been challenged, discounted, and often ridiculed. Each theory accounts for only a small part of what we know about language. Different scholars have been speculating the origin of language by demonstrating different theories of language. The following are the theories; The Bow-Wow Theory According to this theory, language began when our ancestors started imitating the natural sounds around them.

The first speech was onomatopoeic–marked by echoic words such asmoo, meow, splash, cuckoo, and bang. Weakness of the theory Relatively few words are onomatopoeic, and these words vary from one language to another. For instance, a dog’s bark is heard as au au in Brazil, ham ham in Albania, and wang, wang in China. In addition, many onomatopoeic words are of recent origin, and not all are derived from natural sounds. The Ding-Dong Theory This theory, favored by Plato and Pythagoras, maintains that speech arose in response to the essential qualities of objects in the environment.

The original sounds people made were supposedly in harmony with the world around them. Weakness of the theory Apart from some rare instances of sound symbolism, there’s no persuasive evidence, in any language, of an innate connection between sound and meaning. The La-La Theory The Danish linguist Otto Jespersen suggested that language may have developed from sounds associated with love, play, and (especially) song. Weakness of the theory As David Crystal notes in How Language Works (Penguin, 2005), this theory still fails to account for “the gap between the emotional and the rational aspects of speech expression.

“The Pooh-Pooh Theory This theory holds that speech began with interjections–spontaneous cries of pain (“Ouch! “), surprise (“Oh! “), and other emotions (“Yabba dabba do! “). Weakness of the theory No language contains very many interjections, and, Crystal points out, “the clicks, intakes of breath, and other noises which are used in this way bear little relationship to the vowels and consonants found in phonology. ” The Yo-He-Ho Theory According to this theory, language evolved from the grunts, groans, and snorts evoked by heavy physical labor.

Weakness of the theory Though this notion may account for some of the rhythmic features of language, it doesn’t go very far in explaining where words come from. As Peter Farb says in Word Play: What Happens When People Talk (Vintage, 1993), “All these speculations have serious flaws, and none can withstand the close scrutiny of present knowledge about the structure of language and about the evolution of our species. ” But does this mean that all questions about the origin of language are unanswerable? Not necessarily.

Over the past 20 years, scholars from such diverse fields as genetics, anthropology, and cognitive science have been engaged, as Kenneally says, in “a cross-discipline, multidimensional treasure hunt” to find out how language began. It is, she says, “the hardest problem in science today. ” LANGUAGE CHANGE All languages change over time and vary from place to place. They may change as a result of social or political pressures, such as invasion, colonization and immigration. New vocabulary is required for the latest inventions, such as transport, domestic appliances and industrial equipment or for sporting, entertainment and leisure pursuits.

But a language can also change by less obvious means. Every successive generation makes its own small contribution to language change and when sufficient time has elapsed, the impact of these changes become more obvious. Languages that don’t change over time are considered dead languages. The fact that English changes so much show that it is alive as well. Because English has changed over time, speakers of 1500AD would not have understood on English speaker from 500AD or the modern day English, spoken today. The first written English dates back to 450AD.

Overtime it has evolved from the use of Old English to Middle English, early modern English to present day Modern English. These changes are direct reflection of the era in which the English was spoken and the modern day technology available. Eg.

The simple expression Dude in 1880, described a man who went slightly overboard with his fashion and today the expression has become part of the teenage vocabulary as a way to show excitement. |Changes affecting Old English | |Old English |Middle English |Modern English |Word | |[ba? t] |[b?? :t] |[bowt] |Boat | |[a:? ] |[??: ? ] |[ow? ] |Oath | |[sta:n] |[st?? :n] |[stown] |Stone | Cf; O’Gradly & Archibald (2000)

The Indo-European languages The language family to which English belongs is sometimes known as the Indo-European group, a description which indicates the geographical spread of the languages in this family over a long historical period. One convenient way to represent the long-term change as new languages arise out of prototype or “parent” languages is to use a diagram like a family tree or genealogy. This kind of diagram is helpful so long as you are aware of its limitations.

For example, it might lead you to suppose that new languages appear in a definite way, to which we can assign a date (as with the birth of a child). But this is never the case (except with invented languages, like Klingon). Language change does not occur at the same rate in all places. Thus the language of the 14th century author of Pearl and Gawain and the Green Knight has many features we find in Old English, while Chaucer, writing at more or less the same time, uses a variety (or varieties) of written English which are far closer to the forms we use today.

This may be associated with a north-south divide, though we know too little to assert this with any great confidence. CAUSES OF LANGUAGE CHANGE The inevitability of language change is guaranteed by the way in which language is passed on from one generation to the next.

So during the use of the language between individuals is when language can undergo changes because, everyone has his or her own way of using a language. According to O’Grady, W. & Archibald, (2000) the following are causes of language change. 1). Language contact Language contact refers to the situation where speakers frequently interact with the speaker of another language or dialect.

Borrowing of words and constructions from foreign languages affected English language. Among the effects that borrowing can have on the sound system are the introduction of new phonemes or allophones and changes in their distribution. For example, some English speakers pronounce the name of the classical composer Bach with the final velar fricative [x] found in the German pronunciation. If there is a significant number of borrowings from the early Middle English period, the London dialect had [f] but not [v] in word-initial position.

The [v] was later introduced as a result of contact with other English dialects. This contact was a factor in the development of a contrast between [f] and [v] word-initially, as found in modern English pairs such as file and vile. 2). Articulatory Simplification As might be expected, the most changes have a physiological basis. Since such sound changes typically result in articulatory simplification, they have traditionally been related to the idea ease of articulation. articulatory simplification involves, deletion of a consonant in a complex cluster, or in some dialects the insertion of a vowel to break up a complex cluster.

Refer to the following examples; Physiological basis = “ease” of pronunciation Consonant deletion: clothes klo??? z > klo? z fifth fif? s > fifs 3). Spelling Pronunciation Not all changes in pronunciation have physiological motivation. A minor, nevertheless important source of change in English and other language is spelling pronunciation.

Since the written form of a word ca differ significantly from the way it is pronounced, a new pronunciation can arise that seems to reflect more closely the spelling of the word, the case is demonstrated as follows; – often > ?ft? n > ? fn > ? ft? n Although this word was pronounced with a [t] in earlier English, the voiceless stop was subsequently lost resulting in the pronunciation [? fan], however, since the letter t was retained in the spelling, [t] has been reintroduced into many speakers’ pronunciation of this word.

4). Analogy and Reanalysis Analogy: reflects preference of speakers of regular over irregular patterns, extension/generalization of a regularity.

Bases on inference of speakers: elements alike in respect A must be alike in respect B Example; – sting- stung > bring – brung Analogy has large role in morphological change. Reanalysis: common in morphological change root + affix is mapped onto word that is originally not decomposable hamburger > fishburger… even as free morpheme, burger TYPES OF LANGUAGE CHANGE All languages change constantly, and do so in many and varied ways.

According to Marcel, C. (1975). Details various types of language change under the overall headings of the external evolution and internal evolution of languages as follows; Lexical changes. The ongoing influx of new words in the English language (for example) helps make it a rich field for investigation into language change, despite the difficulty of defining precisely and accurately the vocabulary available to speakers of English.

Throughout its history English has not only borrowed words from other languages but has re-combined and recycled them to create new meanings, whilst losing some old words, Lass, R. (1997). Dictionary-writers try to keep track of the changes in languages by recording (and, ideally, dating) the appearance in a language of new words, or of new usages for existing words.

By the same token, they may tag some words as “archaic” or “obsolete”. Phonetic and phonological changes The concept of sound change covers both phonetic and phonological developments. The sociolinguist Labov, W . (2001).

In 1963 recorded the change in pronunciation in a relatively short period in the American resort of Martha’s Vineyard and showed how this resulted from social tensions and processes Even in the relatively short time that broadcast media have recorded their work, one can observe the difference between the pronunciation of the newsreaders of the 1940s and the 1950s and the pronunciation of today.

Semantic change In semantics and historical linguistics, any change in the meaning(s) of a word over the course of time. Common types of semantic change (also called semantic shift) include amelioration, pejoration, broadening, semantic narrowing, bleaching, metaphor, and metonymy. Semantic change may also occur when native speakers of another language adopt English expressions and apply them to activities or conditions in their own social and cultural environment.

Campbell, L. (2004). ? pejoration, in which a term acquires a negative association ? amelioration, in which a term acquires a positive association ? widening, in which a term acquires a broader meaning ? narrowing, in which a term acquires a narrower meaning Spelling changes Standardization of spelling originated relatively recently. Differences in spelling often catch the eye of a reader of a text from a previous century.

The pre-print era had fewer literate people: languages lacked fixed systems of orthography, and the handwritten manuscripts that survive often show words spelled according to regional pronunciation and to personal preference.

Comparative linguistics Comparative linguistics, formerly Comparative Grammar, or Comparative Philology, study of the relationships or correspondences between two or more languages and the techniques used to discover whether the languages have a common ancestor. Comparative grammar was the most important branch of linguistics in the 19th century in Europe. Also called comparative philology, the study was originally stimulated by the discovery by Sir William Jones in 1786 that Sanskrit was related to Latin, Greek, and German.

Anttila, R. (1989) An assumption important to the comparative method is the Neogrammarian principle that the laws governing sound change are regular and have no exceptions that cannot be accounted for by some other regular phenomenon of language. Richard, D. J. & Brian D (2004). As an example of the method, English is seen to be related to Italian if a number of words that have the same meaning and that have not been borrowed are compared: piede and “foot,” padre and “father,” pesce and “fish.

”The initial sounds, although different, correspond regularly according to the pattern discovered by Jacob Grimm and named Grimm’s law after him; the other differences can be explained by other regular sound changes. Because regular correspondences between English and Italian are far too numerous to be coincidental, it becomes apparent that English and Italian stem from the same parent language. The comparative method was developed and used successfully in the 19th century to reconstruct this parent language, Proto-Indo-European, and has since been applied to the study of other language families.

Genetic relatedness implies a common origin or proto-language,and comparative linguistics aims to construct language families, toreconstruct proto-languages and specify the changes that haveresulted in the documented languages. In order to maintain a cleardistinction between attested and reconstructed forms, comparative linguists prefix an asterisk to any form that is not found in surviving texts.

THE GREAT VOWEL SHIFT The Great Vowel Shift was a massive sound change affecting the long vowels of English during the fifteenth to eighteenth centuries. Basically, the long vowels shifted upwards; that is, a vowel that used to be pronounced in one place in the mouth would be pronounced in a different place, higher up in the mouth.

The Great Vowel Shift has had long-term implications for, among other things, orthography, the teaching of reading, and the understanding of any English-language text written before or during the Shift. When we talk about the GVS, we usually talk about it happening in eight steps. It is very important to remember, however, that each step did not happen overnight, Dennis, F. (1992). At any given time, people of different ages and from different regions would have different pronunciations of the same word.

Older, more conservative speakers would retain one pronunciation while younger, more advanced speakers were moving to a new one; some people would be able to pronounce the same word two or more different ways. The same thing happens today, of course: I can pronounce the word “route” to rhyme with “boot” or with “out” and may switch from one pronunciation to another in the midst of a conversation. The following illustration below shows how the vowels shifted from one point of articulation to another with regard to the particular time of the shift. [pic]


Therefore, the historical and comperative linguistics give us the overview of the languages of the world, much on the Indo- european family. From this we get to know how the language we use today, especially english developed from the ancient time to the present. Also it shows the direction of the language change which is very important for the prediction of language situation in the future. References Trask, R. L (1996). Historical Linguistics; Oxford University Press. New York O’Grady, W & Archibald, J (2000) Contemporary Linguistic Analysis, An Introduction, 4th Ed.

Addison Wesley, Longman. Toronto Wardhaugh, R. (1972). Introduction to Linguistics, McGraw-Hill Inc. New York Millward, C. M. (1996). A Biography of the English Language, 2nd ed. Harcourt Brace. Fort Worth. Campbell, L. (2004). Campbell, Lyle. 1999. Historical linguistics: An Introduction. Cambridge, Mass: MIT Press. London Richard, D. J. & Brian D. (2004). The Handbook of Historical Linguistics, Blackwell Anttila, R. (1989) Historical and Comparative Linguistics, Benjamins Lass,R. (1997), Historial linguistics and language change. Cambridge University Press, London.

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Historical and Comparative Linguistics. (2016, Sep 12). Retrieved from https://studymoose.com/historical-and-comparative-linguistics-essay

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