Historical Linguistics: An Introduction

Historical Linguistics: An Introduction

Historical Linguistics: An Introduction

Historical Linguistics: An Introduction


This practical introduction to the study of language change does not just talk about topics. With abundant examples and exercises, it helps students learn for themselves how to do historical linguistics.

Distinctive to the book is its combination of the traditional standard topics with others now considered vital to historical linguistics: explanations of why languages change; sociolinguistic aspects of linguistic change; syntactic change and grammaticalization; distant genetic relationships; and linguistic prehistory. In addition, this edition contains two new chapters on morphological change and quantitative approaches; an expanded chapter on language contact with new sections on pidgins and creoles, mixed languages, and endangered languages; new sections on the language families and language isolates of the world; examination of specific proposals of distant genetic relationship; and a new section on writing systems.

With its clear, readable style, expert guidance and comprehensive coverage, Historical Linguistics: An Introduction is not only an invaluable textbook for students coming to the subject for the first time, but also an enlightening read for specialists in the field and non-specialists alike.


  • Practical hands-on approach to the subject, including numerous student exercises
  • Examples taken from a wide range of languages, including numerous non-Indo-European languages, to illustrate concepts and methods
  • Engaging writing style combined with insightful coverage makes this an engrossing introduction


A number of historical linguistics textbooks exist, but this one is different. Most others talk about historical linguistics; they may illustrate concepts and describe methods, and perhaps discuss theoretical issues, but they do not focus on how to do historical linguistics. A major goal of this book is to present an accessible, hands-on introduction to historical linguistics which does not just talk about the topics, but shows how to apply the procedures, how to think about the issues and, in general, how to do what historical linguists do. To this end, this text contains abundant examples and exercises to which students can apply the principles and procedures in order to learn for themselves how to ‘do’ historical linguistics. This text differs also by integrating topics now generally considered important to the field but which are often lacking in other historical linguistics textbooks; these include syntactic change, grammaticalization, sociolinguistic contributions to linguistic change, distant genetic relationships (how to show that languages are related), areal linguistics and linguistic prehistory. Also, the range of examples is greater and the number of languages from which examples are presented is much broader. Many examples are selected from the history of English, French, German and Spanish to make the concepts which they illustrate more accessible, since these are languages with which more students have some acquaintance, but examples from many non-Indo-European languages are also presented; these show the depth and richness of the various concepts and methods, and sometimes provide clearer cases than those available in the better-known Indo-European languages. In short, this text differs in its emphasis on accessibility, its ‘howto’ orientation, its range of languages and examples, and its inclusion of certain essential but neglected topics.

This book is intended as an introductory textbook for historical linguistics courses, and assumes only that readers will have had an introduction to linguistics. It is hoped that linguists in general and others interested in language-related matters will also find things of interest to them in this book, though it is primarily intended for students of historical linguistics who have little background.

Historical linguistic practice today is linked with theories of general linguistics, particularly with regard to attempts to explain ‘why’ language changes. In this book, an attempt is made to keep to a minimum the complications for . . .

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