Academic journal article Southwest Journal of Linguistics

Some Proposals for Historical Linguistic Grammars

Academic journal article Southwest Journal of Linguistics

Some Proposals for Historical Linguistic Grammars

Article excerpt

ABSTRACT. Grammars, including historical grammars, that are compact but complete, should now be produced for all languages. They should include descriptions of comparable length for phonology, inflectional morphology, derivational morphology, syntax, lexicon, and the social setting of the language. Most, if not all, existing historical linguistic grammars fail to meet these standards. They are incomplete and often based in part on inadequate understanding of fundamental works. They fail to provide explanations of the information, in part because they do not take into account recent findings in general linguistic theory. And they often include superfluous material. New grammars in the proposed format would be of immense benefit to providing generalizations about language, for assisting in producing fuller historical accounts of language families, and for their use among non-specialists as well as linguists.

INTRODUCTION. Young linguists and graduate students with an interest in historical linguistics may assume that the important problems in the field have been solved, that the major works have been completed, and that little is left other than touching up odds and ends and making another try at etymologies such as that of apple. After all, more than two hundred years have elapsed since Sir William Jones made his celebrated statement on the possible relationship of Sanskrit, Greek, Latin, and other languages like the Germanic. From the beginning of the nineteenth century, this statement was followed with copious publication, especially on the Germanic languages. For example, within fifty years Jacob Grimm (1822-1837 [1819]) produced a four-volume grammar of these languages. Toward the end of the century Grimm's grammar was reprinted, followed by shorter works based on subsequent refinements in linguistic theory, such as those devoted to Proto-Germanic produced by such eminent specialists as Streitberg, Kluge, Meillet, Hirt, and Prokosch, among others. But assuming that adequate grammars are available for Proto-Germanic or the other early dialects would be wrong.

Many of the grammars for the Indo-European dialects have the following shortcomings: (a) The grammars are incomplete. (b) Many grammars are based, at least in part, on erroneous understanding of fundamental works. (c) The grammars describe the data but fail to provide explanations, and (d) this lack of explanation is in great part due to ignorance or disregard of findings in general linguistic theory of the last half century. (e) The grammars include superfluous material. I address each of these matters in turn, dealing especially with grammars for Proto-Germanic.

1. INCOMPLETE GRAMMARS. The grammar of Proto-Germanic that is most likely to be used today is Prokosch's A comparative Germanic grammar (1939). It consists of three parts: Part One: The external history of the Germanic languages (2134); Part Two: Phonology (35-140); and Part Three: Inflections (141-293). The part on inflections does not include derivational morphology, and the book includes no syntax. Streitberg's (1896) grammar is comparable, as is Meillet's (1948 [1921]) shorter work, although he has a section on the vocabulary. Kluge (1913) includes a chapter on derivational morphology, but not one on syntax. Hirt's (1931-1934) third volume deals with syntax, two-thirds of which treats categories such as nominative and subjunctive. Then 60 pages follow on the sentence and its components (158-207) and finally 20 pages on word order (209-228). In these pages Hirt devotes a great deal of attention to the 'actual order of words' but he cannot bring himself to accept Delbruck's (1976:16) conclusion that the basic order of Proto-Indo-European was verb final, with its further implications.

The same situation applies to the other older languages. Whitney's Sanskrit grammar (1896) has no syntax, nor does Buck's Comparative grammar of Greek and Latin (1933). Even Sihler's New comparative grammar of Greek and Latin (1995), Buck's lengthier successor, does not include syntax, and it omits treatment of derivational morphology, which Buck had included. …

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