Bernd Kortmann and Johan Van der Auwera (Eds.) 2011. the Languages and Linguistics of Europe: A Comprehensive Guide (the World of Linguistics 1)

By Mackenzie, J. Lachlan | European English Messenger, Winter 2013 | Go to article overview

Bernd Kortmann and Johan Van der Auwera (Eds.) 2011. the Languages and Linguistics of Europe: A Comprehensive Guide (the World of Linguistics 1)


Mackenzie, J. Lachlan, European English Messenger


Bernd Kortmann and Johan van der Auwera (eds.) 2011. The Languages and Linguistics of Europe: A Comprehensive guide(The World of Linguistics 1). Berlin/Boston: De Gruyter Mouton.

This bulky volume, the first of a new series that aims to achieve complete coverage of linguistic work, past and present, across the entire world (the second is on the languages of South America), is a major addition to the rich library of handbooks and encyclopaedias available to the contemporary graduate student and linguistics professional. LLE, as I shall refer to the object of this review, contains 49 chapters and divides into five sections: (1) Typology of European languages (287 pp.); (2) Areal typology and language contact (255 pp.); (3) Language politics and language policies in Europe (122 pp.); (4) History of European languages (119 pp.); (5) Research traditions in Europe (97 pp.). The emphasis on typology and language contact is one that reflects the areas of excellence of the editors, both of them professors of English Language, who have transcended their home discipline to make strong contributions to the theory and description of diverse languages and varieties. They have succeeded in bringing together a stellar team of experts, almost all of them from European universities; the great majority, it should be observed, hail from the north-west of the continent, where arguably there is a concentration of relatively well-funded universities and research institutes. Despite this bias, the geographical coverage is generally very satisfactory: in Section 1, not only all extant non-Asian branches of Indo-European, including Romani, but also Caucasian, Turkic and Uralic languages are dealt with, thus reaching the shores of the Caspian Sea and the Ural Mountains and beyond; there are also chapters on Basque (isolate), Maltese (Semitic) and a very welcome treatment of the typology of several signed languages of Europe. In Section 2, which offers an unprecedented conspectus of language contact in various areas of Europe, the coverage is impressive, but does not venture nearly so far east; in Section 3, on politics and policies, the scope corresponds more or less to that of the present European Union in accordance with the 'cultural-anthropological definition' (p. 655) of Europe; in Section 4, on (pre)history, the range is appropriately broader, but, in the final Section 5, the focus is strongly (though not exclusively) on linguistics in central and western Europe. The last chapter, on generative grammar, goes into unusual detail about one country in particular, focusing on the breakthrough of Chomskyan linguistics in the universities of the Netherlands in the sixties and seventies.

A theme that is designed to hold several of the chapters together, particularly those of Sections 1 and 2, is that of Standard Average European (SAE). This expression of course originates with Whorf (1956), who wanted to point out how different the characteristics of Native American languages were from the structures standardly found in Europe: for him, then, SAE was little more than a backdrop. Chapter 15, by co-editor Van der Auwera, explores the extent to which typological work, specifically the EUROTYP project of 1990-1995, has provided sustenance for a non-trivial, positive characterization of SAE. Van der Auwera presents maps showing that the languages of the geographical core of Europe share structural properties, specifically in the areas of semantics and morphosyntax, which become gradually less prevalent the more one moves to the periphery. The standard--it emerges--is defined by the features of French and German and hypothesized to form a 'Charlemagne Sprachbund' (p. 297), an allusion to the cross-family contacts that came about and were consolidated during the establishment of the Holy Roman Empire; in a later chapter, Paolo Ramat (p. 693) sees SAE as having Latinate roots, with the morphosyntax of Germanic languages being moulded by Holy Scripts. …

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