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19th Century. Linguistics in the 19th century: historicism. Historical-comparative linguistics.

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historical comparative linguistics
Historical-comparative linguistics
  • William Jones 1786: Sanskrit in relation to Greek and Latin “bears a stronger affinity, both in the roots of verbs and in the forms of grammar, than could possibly have been produced by accident; so strong, indeed, that no philologer could examine them all three without believing them to have sprung from some common source, which, perhaps, no longer exists; there is a similar reason,
through not quite so forcible, for supposing that both the Gothick and the Celtick, though blended with a very different idiom, had the same origin with the Sanskrit.”
  • By the first decade of the 19th century, comparative-historical work had begun.
  • Linguistics as genealogy.
  • Explanation as history.
explanation as history
Explanation as history?
  • Things not obvious at all:
  • In comparing languages, put the greatest weight on comparing grammatical aspects (not words).
establishing relationships among languages and the original source
Establishing relationships among languages, and the original source
  • Archeology from modern and ancient languages.
  • Not histories of words, but histories of sounds and a focus on grammatical elements….
Rasmus Rask (1787-1832):

“…experience demonstrates that agreement in words is extremely uncertain. Through the intercourse of different peoples, an incredible number of words may pass from one language to another, however different the two may be in origin and type…. Grammatical agreement is a much more

Certain indication of kinship or of original identity, because a language which is mixed with another seldom or never takes over morphological changes or inflections from it….this kind of agreement, which is the most important and the most certain, has nevertheless been almost entirely overlooked hitherto in the derivation of languages, and this oversight is the principal error in most previous discussions of this subject; for this reason earlier work is so uncertain and of so little scientific value.” (c.1811)
one family
One family
  • Sanskrit
  • Greek
  • Latin
  • Germanic
consonants in germanic
Consonants in Germanic
  • Rask still (I'm missing symbols):
  • p > f: Gr patér (L. pater) Old Norsk fadhir
  • t > th: Gr treis (L. tres) ON thrír
  • k> h: L. cornu, O.N. horn
  • d>t: Gr. damáo ‘I tame’L. domo, ON tamr
  • g>k: Gr. gyné, O.N. kona ‘woman’
  • Gr. génos, ON kyn ‘family’
  • Gr agró-s (L. ager) ON akr ‘field’
a great leap regular sound change
A great leap:regular sound change
  • In Grimm’s first edition (1819), he didn’t see it; in the second (1822), he did.

It is one thing to see relations between sounds in two families (Latin qu- words (quis? who? etc.) correspond to Germanic hw (now English wh, German w);

But quite another to see that the sound changes are regular, and subject to sound law (regular sound change).

schleicher 1837
Schleicher: 1837
  • Not just comparisons among languages, but reconstructions of what the words were in the proto-language, like
  • “Indo-European *ekwo-s ‘horse’ -- not the same as Latin equus, Gr híppo-s, Sanskrit asva-s, OEnglish eoh, etc.
2nd half of 19th century
2nd half of 19th century
  • Verner, de Saussure, Brugmann
  • A vast and complex field of facts from the 12 branches of IndoEuropean was studied, and regular patterns of development from proto-forms were established;
  • Regular patterns of ablaut in the proto-language (sing,sang,sung) were established.
pride in laws the young grammarians junggrammatiker
Pride in laws:The Young GrammariansJunggrammatiker
  • Shift from “No rule without its exception…” to
  • “No exception without its rule”!
when we compare languages do we compare sounds or sound categories
When we compare languages, do we compare sounds, or sound categories?

Spelling systems -- orthographies -- contain within the seed of a theory: that a language has just a small number of sounds that can organized (in a linear fashion…).

So while languages change, it is their categories of sounds that change. Languages don’t have residues of old sounds. Speakers at all times keep just a limited set of sounds.

Sound changes can be small, taken one at a time, but these small, gradual changes build up to great changes over long periods.
  • What does that sound like?
  • Evolution
charles darwin 1809 1882
Charles Darwin(1809-1882)
  • Charles Darwin and Alfred Russel Wallace: theory of evolution by random change/ “indefinite variability” and natural selection.
  • Faced the same issues as the linguists with regard to whether the ancestor was extant today.
  • Combined ideas about the evolution of language, and the economic ideas of Adam Smith, who worked out the concept of the free market, the interaction of local economic agents (The Wealth of Nations).