LINGUIST List 19.3817|
Fri Dec 12 2008
Review: Historical Linguistics: Moskowich-Spiegel & Crespo-Garcia (2007)
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Bells Chiming from the Past
Message 1: Bells Chiming from the Past
From: Jonathan Glenn <jaglennexactitudeink.com>
Subject: Bells Chiming from the Past
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Announced at http://linguistlist.org/issues/19/19-1224.html
EDITORS: Moskowich-Spiegel, Isabel; Crespo-Garcia, Begona
TITLE: Bells Chiming from the Past
SUBTITLE: Cultural and Linguistic Studies on Early English
SERIES: Costerus New Series 174
Jonathan A. Glenn, Department of English, University of Central Arkansas
This volume offers itself as part of a contemporary debate about the
significance of interdisciplinary studies in what the editors call ''the delicate
situation of the Humanities in Europe and elsewhere'' (7). Moskowich and Crespo
indicate that ''academic excellence and innovative character'' were their sole
selection criteria for the articles in this volume and suggest that the essays
in the volume provide a useful survey of twenty-first century approaches to
linguistic, cultural, and literary dimensions of early English texts (7).
Although only three of the essays in the volume acknowledge their previous
association (see 15, n. 1; 37, n. 1; 266), all but one of them appear in some
recognizable form in the academic program of the seventeenth conference of the
Spanish Society for Medieval English Language and Literature (SELIM XVII) at the
University of A Coruna, where both editors are members of the faculty and direct
the Research Group for Multidimensional Corpus-Based Studies in English (MuStE).
Although the volume is not a conference proceedings per se--only 14 of the 51
papers on the conference program are represented here--some of the essays in the
volume retain a distinctive conference-paper flavor.
Moskowich and Crespo indicate that ''the contents of the book slot comfortably
into'' the three categories in which they present these essays: Part 1,
''Linguistic aspects of early English''; Part 2, ''Language and culture''; and Part
3, ''Philology and the study of medieval texts.''
Of the five essays in Part 1, four are self-consciously based on analysis of
linguistic corpora. Agniezka Pysz, ''The (im)possibility of stacking adjectives
in Early English,'' uses the York-Toronto-Helsinki Parsed Corpus of Old English
Prose to challenge the claims of earlier studies about ''the multiple occurrence
of adnominal adjectives in early English prose texts'' (16). Ruth Carol, ''Lists
in letters: NP-lists and general extenders in Early English correspondence,''
uses the Corpus of Early English Correspondence (see 40-41) to undertake some of
the essential groundwork, within a carefully described framework of discourse
analysis, for understanding the occurrence of general extenders in early
English. Francisco Alonso-Almeida, ''Middle English medical books as examples of
discourse colonies: G.U.L. Hunter 307,'' develops the concept of ''discourse
colony'' (see 56 et pass.) as a way to understand the relationships among the
''apparently unconnected'' parts of a medieval book. Rosa Eva Fernandez-Conde,
''The second-person pronoun in late medieval English drama: The York Cycle (c.
1440),'' studies the distribution and contexts of the use of T-pronouns (e.g.,
thee, thou) and Y-pronouns (ye, you) in The York Cycle as corpus (82). Finally
in this section, Isabel Moskowich and Begona Crespo's ''Different paths for words
and money: The semantic field of 'Commerce and Finance' in Middle English''--the
only essay in the volume apparently not presented at SELIM XVII--attempts to
explore from the standpoint of historical sociolinguistics the relationship
between social change and linguistic change by studying the lexicon of ''trade
and finance'' in English before the Early Modern English period; much of their
data is from the Helsinki Corpus of English Texts, Diachronic and Dialectal
Part 2, more various in its essays than Part 1, begins with what is essentially
a careful description of a modern performance of Everyman in John McKinnell's
''How might Everyman have been performed?'' Isabel de la Cruz Cabanillas, ''Shift
of meaning in the animal field: Some cases of narrowing and widening,'' explores
the lexicon of animal names and posits reasons for loss and adoption of terms
and changes related to restriction and broadening of meaning in this lexicon.
Maria Jose Esteve Ramos, ''Different aspects of the specialized nomenclature of
ophthalmology in Old and Middle English,'' uses comparative analysis of the
specialized ophthamological lexicon of selected Old and Middle English texts to
explore the morphology and origin of these terms. Nuria Bello-Pinon and Dolores
Elvira Mendez-Souto's ''Complex predicates in early scientific writing,'' studies
a corpus of late medieval English texts to describe a distribution of complex
predicates in such writing and to survey their language origins. Finally in Part
2, Ma. Victoria Dominguez-Rodriguez and Alicia Rodriguez-Alvarez,
''Sixteenth-century glosses to a fifteenth-century gynaecological treatise (BL,
MS Sloane 249, ff. 180-205v): A scientifically biased revision,'' describe in
detail revisions made by a sixteenth-century physician to update the accuracy
and style of a treatise of the fifteenth century.
Part 3 also presents considerable variety in subject matter and method. Donald
Scragg's ''Rewriting eleventh-century English grammar and the editing of texts''
accomplishes its aim by describing and illustrating the Manchester 11th-century
database (MANCASS C11) and then editing a short eleventh-century text using the
principles developed in the earlier part of the essay. Francisco Jose Alvarez
Lopez, ''DCL, B IV, 24: A paleographical and codicological study of Durham's
Cantor's Book,'' attempts to understand the origins and use of the manuscript in
question by careful analysis of the manuscript itself. Nils-Lennart Johannesson,
''The four-wheeled quadriga and the seven sacraments: On the sources for the
'Dedication' of the Ormulum,'' uses literary analytical techniques to create a
basis for identifying the Latin sources of Orm's ''Dedication.'' Juan Camilo
Conde-Silvestre, ''Verbal confrontation and the uses of direct speech in some Old
English poetic hagiographies,'' explores the use of conventions of Old English
heroic verse in three Old English verse hagiographies. Finally in this part, Tom
Shippey's ''Tolkien, medievalism, and the philological tradition'' laments the
ironic contrast between the immense success of the popular reception of the
fictive products of J. R. R. Tolkien's philological learning and the decline of
academic philology during and after Tolkien's lifetime.
Fuzzy logic and scholarly categories.
Moskowich and Crespo's three organizing categories are of course not intended to
be precise. Like fuzzy logic, their intention is approximate, an organizational
convenience. Nonetheless, it is difficult to read this volume without struggling
with its way of classifying the essays it contains. For example, the final part
of the volume uses as its organizing category ''philology,'' which the editors
define in their introduction as ''the scientific study of language through texts,
tracing linguistic developments over time and investigating the related literary
and cultural phenomena'' (10). To cite another expansive definition, philology is
''study of literature that includes or may include grammar, criticism, literary
history, language history, systems of writing, and anything else that is
relevant to literature or to language as used in literature'' (Webster's). The
problem is, of course, that these common definitions of philology are remarkably
broad. Webster's ''and anything else that is relevant'' of course renders the term
almost useless. Staying with Moskowich and Crespo's definition, it is difficult
to see how some classifying choices were made. In what sense, for example, is
the York Cycle analysis not philology--certainly it has as much affiliation with
the methods of literary analysis as with those of linguistics--or if it is not
philology, why is the study of heroic tropes in hagiographical verse philology
rather than linguistics or ''language and culture''? Similarly, since (as noted
more than once in this volume) early English language is not available to
today's scholar except in texts (see especially 102), linguistic investigations
related to early English are always at least verging on the philological. To
note one more example of fuzzy classification, it is unclear (to me, at least)
in what sense McKinnell's fascinating description of the text and modern
performance of Everyman is about ''language'' as well as ''culture.'' Except for the
fact that the play is preserved and performed using language, the essay is not
about language in any specific sense. If the organizing categories are merely
arbitrary, they seem not to fulfill their purpose.
Statistics and statistical presentation.
Because of several of the studies in this volume are based on queries of
linguistic corpora whose results are quantified, statistics and their
presentation are a relevant matter of criticism when evaluating the volume. Two
examples will suffice to illustrate the kinds of problems that may bedevil such
an enterprise. Nuria Bello-Pinon and Dolores Elvira Mendez-Souto's ''Complex
predicates in early scientific writing'' illustrates a not-uncommon statistical
problem: in the two texts studied--one comprising nearly 15,000 words, the
other, just over 7,000--the study finds, respectively, only 13 and 5 instances
of complex predicates. Yet the findings are presented both as counts and as
percentages. With such tiny returns, of course, percentages are well-nigh
meaningless, or at least they make the results seem more signficant than they
really are when ''1'' may equal ''25%.'' In another study, Fernandez' York Cycle
analysis, the statistical treatment suffers not from low numbers but from opaque
presentation. Fernandez presents most of her statistical comparison of the use
of ''T-forms'' and ''Y-forms'' in just two charts--a pie chart showing percentages
of the two forms in her corpus (93) and a column chart presenting the ratio of
the two forms ''in the whole cycle'' (95). These charts are presented with
virtually no discussion in the text, and are not supported by, for example,
tables presenting the numbers in a non-graphical format. This presentation
leaves at least this reader grappling unsatisfactorily with what the
quantitative analysis actually means. In this case, the study's conclusion seems
not to depend on clarity of the statistical presentation, but if statistics are
presented, they should be presented clearly: any cited percentage or N appears
to mean something quite precise, and the reader should not be left to struggle
with what that meaning is.
Accuracy, consistency, and presentation.
Another set of issues appears to me to detract from this volume's strengths.
These are not all equal in their significance, but instances of each of these
kinds of issues affect me in similar ways, chipping away at the effective
communication of scholarly findings. Accuracy is perhaps primarily the
responsibility of the individual scholar, and one example of a failure in this
regard will suffice: the study of complex predicates locates itself
chronologically in the late Middle Ages, which it identifies as ''the last decade
of the fourteenth century'' (170), yet it makes this claim: ''The
vernacularization of scientific texts in English had to rely on foreign
prestigious texts and authors--mostly Greek and Latin--a reliance, furthermore,
encouraged by the scholastic movement which was taking form around this time''
(171). Though what is meant here by ''scholastic movement'' is not further
explained, many readers will associate the maturity of scholasticism to the
writings of Thomas Aquinas, who died in 1274.
The volume's editors are more responsible than its essays' authors for issues of
consistency and presentation. I fully appreciate how difficult it is to achieve
consistency in a volume incorporating fifteen studies by different scholars. One
might nonetheless expect bibliographies to be consistently treated, yet practice
varies throughout the volume in, for example, the treatment of primary and
secondary materials: sometimes these are offered as two lists, yet at other
times, primary sources are either simply included in a single list or not listed
at all. See, for example, the entry for the primary texts in the bibliography
for the study of ophthalmological terms: Chaucer's work is listed under a modern
editor's name (Robinson, Fred), Benvenutus Grassus is listed as himself, and the
Old English ''leechbook'' is listed under its nineteenth-century collector's name
(s.v. Cockayne, Oswald); for another example, see a reference to Piers Plowman
(157), not reflected in the bibliography at all. In other instances, studies
cited in an essay may get no bibliographical reference; Moskowich and Crespo,
for example, refer to ''Halliday, Sager, Dungworth and MacDonald (1986) and Gotti
(1992)'' (109, n. 4): Gotti is included in the bibliography, but the other study
is not. Matters of presentation demanding attention include the treatment of
tables throughout--see, for example, the tables on 159–60, where it is not
immediately clear that they are to be read as flowing, not parallel,
columns--and typographical consistency (e.g., with the letter yogh).
Moskowich and Crespo's volume promises an academically excellent and innovative
collection of studies in early English language and culture. It partly delivers
on that promise: the studies by Ruth Carroll, Rosa Eva Fernandez-Conde, Ma.
Victoria Dominguez-Rodriguez and Alicia Rodriguez-Alvarez, and Donald Scragg are
particularly useful. The promise would be perhaps more fully realized were the
collection's organizing categories less arbitrary, its treatments of statistics
more sophisticated, and its presentation as a printed book more consistently
MANCASS C11. Manchester Centre for Anglo-Saxon Studies, C11 Database Project.
Web site: http://www.arts.manchester.ac.uk/mancass/C11database/. Accessed
MuStE. Research Group for Multidimensional Corpus-Based Studies in English. Web
site: http://www.udc.es/dep/finc/indexmuse.html. Accessed 2008-09-21.
SELIM XVII. Seventeenth International Conference of the Spanish Society for
Medieval English Language and Literature, 2005. Web site:
http://www.udc.es/dep/finc/selimXVII.htm. Accessed 2008-09-21.
_Webster's Third New International Dictionary of the English Language_,
Unabridged. Springfield, MA: Merriam-Webster, 1961.
ABOUT THE REVIEWER
Jonathan Glenn holds a PhD in English from the University of Notre Dame and
currently serves as Associate Provost and Professor of English at the University
of Central Arkansas. His research focuses on language history and textual
scholarship related to the early Scots prose works of the Hay Manuscript. The
final volume of his edition of The Prose Works of Sir Gilbert Hay is forthcoming
from the Scottish Text Society.
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