Historical phonology



Before we discuss historical phonology, we have a look at some ancient languages.? The first is Sanskrit, an ancient language of Northern India and the sacred language of the Hindu Vedas. The second is Tocharian, an ancient language of China. The third is Old Persian, the oldest known true writing system works. The information and data of the above-mentioned languages are provided by the website, Welcome to the Linguistics Olympics.

Then, we can see three videos on the history of English on line.? This website is designed and sponsored by the Linguistic Society of America.


Historical phonology focuses on the nature of linguistic change itself, that is, how and why languages change, and the underlying forces and processes which shape, mould and direct modifications. Of paramount concern is the notion of language universals, which shed light on the linguistic behavior of the species. Such universals may reflect tendencies in language to change towards preferable types of sound patterns, syllabic structures and even syntactic arrangements. Such universals may relate to physiological and cognitive parameters inherent in the organism in a form of marked and unmarked features of language. The historian must also identify the various influences that disrupt these tendencies with varying degrees of intensity related to the degree and nature of external contacts and internal conflicts.


Historical phonology studies are important for our understanding of development of natural human language. Only through such studies can we account for many of the social and cultural aspects of language and certain innate linguistic propensities of human kind. In its structural, social and biological complexity, and its relationships to other forms of communication, human language can only be fully understood when we know how it responds to internal and external stimuli.


Historical Background


The Renaissance

With the advent of the Renaissance, language studies underwent a change as both local and non-Indo-European languages came under linguistic scrutiny. Language studies turned to universal linguistic concepts and to the idea of universal grammar as expressed, for example, in the work of the Port-Royal grammarians of the seventeenth century. These concepts of French rationalists were somewhat at odds with the English empiricists, who fostered descriptive phonetics and the grammatical uniqueness of languages. In addition, an important trend in the seventeenth century was the effort to compare and classify languages in accordance with their resemblances. The study of etymology also gained momentum but words were still derived from other languages haphazardly, by arranging the letters, especially those of Hebrew, thought by many to have been the original language.


The Eighteen Century

Early in the eighteenth century, comparative and historical linguistics gained more consistency. For instance, J. Ludolf in 1702 stated that affinities between languages must be based on grammatical resemblances rather than vocabulary, and among vocabulary correspondences, the emphasis should be on simple words such as those which describe parts of the body. In a paper published in 1710, Leibnitz maintained that no known historical language is the source of the worlds languages since they must be derived from a proto-speech. He also attempted to establish language classifications and toyed with the idea of a universal alphabet for all languages.


During this time, attention turned to speculation on the origin of language, especially in the works of Hobbes, Rousseau, Burnett, Lord Mondboddo, Condillac, and Herder. The subject had been treated before as early as the ancient Egyptians but now it took on more substance in relation to supposed universals of language and its global diversity.




The first known reference in the west to Sanskrit occurred at the end of the sixteenth century when F. Sassetti wrote home to his native Italy about the Lingua Sanscruta and some of its resemblances to Italian. Others, such as B. Schulze and Pere Coerdoux made similar observations on the resemblance of Sanskrit to Latin and European languages. The importance of these relationships came to the fore in 1786, when Sir William Jones, a judge in the English colonial administration, announced to the Royal Asiatic Society in Calcutta that Sanskrit, Greek, Latin, Gothic, and Celtic were seemingly from the same origin which perhaps no longer existed.


Sanskrit philological studies were initiated in Germany by W. von Schlegel about the time the first Sanskrit grammar in English was published. The linguistic study of this language set in motion the camparison of Sanskrit with languages of Europe, forming the first period in the grouth of historical lingistics and setting comparative linguistics on a firm footing. Meanwhile, systematic etymological studies helped clarify and cement the family ties of the Indo-European languages.


Indian Linguistic Tradition


Ancient Indian grammarians were centuries ahead of their European counterparts in language studies and from their best-known scholar, Panini, whose studies, still extant, date back to he second half of the first millennium BC. We see brilliant independent linguistic scholarship in both theory and practice.


As far as is known, the inspiration for Sanskrit studies in India semmed from the desire to preserve religious ritual and the orally transmitted texts of the earlier Vedic perios (1200-1000 BC) from phonetic, grammatical, and semantic erosion. Paninis Sanskrit grammar, was a grammarians grammar and not designed for pedagogical purposes. Phonetic description in this and other, later Indian works were not matched in the west until at least the seventeenth century.


The Impact of Sanskrit on the West


The introduction of Sanskrit and its subsequent study in Europe was a prime inducement to comparative-historical linguistics. It came at an auspicious time: from Dante on, various but sporadic attempts had been made to shed light on relationships between languages and their historical developments and the time was right for more cohesive views of historical studies. It is generally accepted that the nineteenth century is the era of comparative-historical linguistics V a century in which most of the linguistic efforts were devoted to this subject, led by German scholarship.


The Nineteenth Century


The best-known historical linguists of the early nineteenth century are the Dane, Rasmus Rask, and the Germans, Franz Bopp and Jacob Grimm. With these scholars comparative-historical linguistic studies of Indo-European languages had a definite beginning.


In his book Uber die Sprache und Weisheit der Inder published in 1808, Friedrich von Schlegel (1772-1829) used the term comparative grammar and in 1816, Bopp published a work comparing the verbal conjugations of Sanskrit, Persian, Latin, Greek, and German. After adding Celtic and Albanian, he called these the Indo-European family of languages. Bopp has often been considered the father of Indo-European linguistics.


Rask (1787-1832) wrote the first systematic grammars of Old Norse and of Old English and, in 1818, he published a comparative grammar outlining the Scandinavian languages and noting their relationships to one another. Through comparisons word forms, he brought order into historical relationships matching a letter of one language to a letter in another, so that regularity of change could be observed.


Jacob Grimm (1785-1863), a contemporary of Bopp (1787-1832), restricted his studies to the Germanic family, paying special attention to Gothic due to its historical value of having been committed to writing in the fourth century. This endeavor allowed him to see more clearly than anyone before him the systematic nature of sound change. Within the framework of comparative Germanic, he made the first statements on the nature of umlaut and ablaut, or as it is sometimes called vowel gradation, and developed, more fully than Task, the notion of sound shift, which became the first law in linguistics and which has been referred to as Grimms Law, or the First Germanic Sound Shift. Besides, the work, published in 1822 and entitled Deutsche Grammatik, contained general statements about similarities between Germanic obstruents, i.e., plosives, affricates, and fricatives, and their equivalents in other languages.


J. H. Bredsdorff (1790-1841), a disciple of Task, tried to explain the causes of language change in 1821. He considered such factors as mishearing, misunderstanding, misrecollection, imperfection of speech organs, indolence, the tendency towards analogy, the desire to be distinct, the need of expressing new ideas, and influences from foreign languages. In addition, some of his ideas are still viable today. For instance, it is recognized that the tendency towards analogy, speakers desire for uniformity, for regular patterns, causes language to become more rather than less regular in syntax and phonology. Colloquial speech, which popular, though rarely expert, opinion often classifies as indolent, can also eventually result in changes in pronunciation, spelling, grammatical patterning, and the semantic system. The influence from foreign languages is clearly observable when new words enter a language and become absorbed in its grammar and pronunciation system.


August Schleicher (1821-68), one of the most influential linguists, set about reconstructing the hypothetical parent language from which most European languages were derived V the proto-language. He also devised the genealogical family-tree model of the Indo European languages. He worked out a typological classification of languages based on the work of his predecessors in which he viewed languages as isolating, agglutinating and inflectional.


In 1863, Hermann Grassmann, a pioneer in internal reconstruction, devised a phonetic law based on observations of the Indo-European languages, showing why correspondences established by Grimm did not always work. His law of the Aspirates demonstrated that when an Indo-European word had two aspirated sounds in the same syllable, one, usually the first, underwent de-aspiration.

In 1875, another phonetic law was proposed by Karl Verner (1846-96). This succeeded in accounting for other exceptions to Grimms statements by showing that the place of the Indo-European accent was a factor in the regularity of the correspondences.


In his Corsi di glottologia, published in Florence in 1870, Gradziadio Ascoli (1829-1907) demonstrated by comparative methods that [k-] in certain places became []. This discovery that [k] remains in some Indo-European languages but became [] in Sankrit ended the belief that Sanskrit was the oldest and closest language to the proto-form or parent language.


The Neogrammarians


Inspired in 1868 by the ideas of Wilhelm Scherer (1841-86) advocated fixed laws in sound change in his book on the history of the German language, the Neogrammarian movement soon dominated linguistic inquiry. To account for situations where phonetic laws were not upheld by the data, Scherer looked to analogy as the explanation for change. THE chief representatives of the movement, Brugmann, Osthoff, Delbruck, Wackernagel, Paul, and Leskien, held that phonetic laws were similar to laws of nature of the physical sciences in their consistency of operation. In 1878, in the first volume of a journal edited by Brugmann (1849-1919) and Osthoff (1847-1909), Morphologische Untersuchungen, they delineated the Neogrammarian doctrine and the special designation Neogrammarian School of Thought. The crux of their doctrine was: sound-laws work with a blind necessity and all discrepancies to these laws were the workings of analogy. Centred around the University of Leipzig, the Neogrammarians saw in sound change the application of laws of a mechanical nature opposed by the psychological process of the speakers towards regularizartion of forms resulting in analogically irregular sound changes. In addition, Hugo Schuchardt (1842-1927) of the University of Graz published an article in 1885 on the sound laws in which he considered language change to be due to a mixing process both within and outside language. Similarly, Ascoli (1829-1907) attributed much of the process of language change to a theory proposed by him called the Substratum Theory, in which languages were influenced by mixture of populations.


The Twentieth Century


The first decade of the twentieth century saw a shift away from German domination of linguistic science with the work of Ferdomamd de Saussure (1857-1913) of the University of Geneva. His view of language as a system of arbitrary signs in opposition to one another, his distinction between language and speech, and his separation of descriptive linguistics and historical linguistics into two defined spheres of interest, earned him the reputation of one of the founders of structural linguistics. From this time on, the field of descriptive linguistics and comparative studies lost their preeminence. Today, twentieth-century advancements in historical-comparative language studies have been on the practical side, with the collection of data and reformulation of previous work.


From The linguistics Encyclopedia.edited by Kirsten. Malmkjr; James Maxwell Anderson, 1933; James Maxwell Anderson, 1933- editor. London.