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Review of  Connectives in the History of English

Reviewer: Graeme Davis
Book Title: Connectives in the History of English
Book Author: Ursula Lenker Anneli Meurman-Solin
Publisher: John Benjamins
Linguistic Field(s): Historical Linguistics
Text/Corpus Linguistics
Issue Number: 19.862

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EDITORS: Lenker, Ursula; Meurman-Solin, Anneli
TITLE: Connectives in the History of English
SERIES: Current Issues in Linguistic Theory 283
PUBLISHER: John Benjamins Publishing Company
YEAR: 2007

Graeme Davis, Faculty of Education and Language Study, Open University, UK

The volume describes itself as a compilation of papers by scholars active in the
field of English historical linguistics, and acknowledges a debt to the workshop
''Clausal Connectives in the History of English'' at the 13th International
Conference of English Historical Linguistics, Vienna, 2004, where most of the
papers were first presented. In fact revision of the papers has lifted the book
from the limitations of a mere collection of conference papers, and the reader
finds a far more rounded work than its origin might suggest. The two editors,
Ursula Lenker and Anneli Meurman-Solin, have presented a coherent volume which
may be regarded as definitive in its niche area.

The twelve papers in the volumes discuss various specific connectives. These
are: lest, to, till, any, each, every, since, albeit, while, because, if.
Additionally there is an examination of clausal connectives using a
relevance-theoretical view, of relatives as sentence-level connectives, and a
discussion of connectives in oral and literary texts. This represents a new
contribution to knowledge of these areas, and should be applauded.

The book's audience is effectively restricted to specialists working within the
field of English historical linguistics, particularly though not exclusively in
the Middle English period. Within this group it will be of interest to academics
actively researching in connectives, both at post doctoral or doctoral level.
This is a severely restricted audience of specialists. There are few obvious
overlaps with other areas. It is unlikely that the book would be accessible to
most MA students, to specialists in other disciplines, or to the general public.

This is a book whose time has come. It has only been possible to write it
because the corpora have been produced to provide the key materials for the
primary research, and only today do we have a generation of scholars with the
specific skills through advances in corpus-linguistic methodologies to exploit
these tools. Without exception every article in this volume makes a tangible,
new contribution to our understanding of the development of English connectives.
This is an impressive achievement.

The topic covered is one excluded by much linguistic work which takes the
sentence as its largest unit. Indeed there is no comparable body of published
research on connectives in the history of English, and the authors and editors
of this present volume offer something new and worthwhile. Excluded from
detailed discussion are the connectives 'and' and 'but'; arguably these have
been covered previously in other publications.

The quality of the individual articles is uniformly high. While there are
inevitably differences between them in aspects of the underlying theoretical
framework they espouse, they are within broadly the same paradigm, and cohere
together well. Editorial control has ensured a sufficient degree of uniformity
for this to be a book rather than a series of disconnected articles. Thus each
paper provides a history of the connective (or occasionally connectives)
discussed, along with material on their co-occurrence patterns and their
variation and change over time. The whole book reconstructs the history of
connectives in English. There is a pleasing mix of methodologies and both
quantitative and qualitative approaches, with the whole achieving synergy and
suggesting thorough coverage of approaches to the topic.

The subject matter is inevitably technical and targets a specialist audience,
yet the overall impression is of a technical subject approached in a broadly
accessible style and consistently avoiding the excesses of abstruse theories or
transient jargon. This is a volume which will be readable in ten or twenty
years' time - and as it will surely be the key text for the area its durability
is reassuring. The articles concentrate on the databases they are using, the
critical literature which has grown up around them, and the most recent
research. Within these parameters it is hard to fault the book.

The greatest area of weakness for this volume is its tiny potential audience.
However seminal, good, solid and even inspirational the papers are - and all
these qualities can be found - they do themselves no favors when the audience is
so severely restricted. The editors and authors have accepted a format for their
output which restricts readership to a tiny band of academic specialists. There
may be academic satisfaction through the ''fit audience, though few'', yet in view
of the enormous effort that has gone into producing this volume it seems a shame
that some attention was not put into the needs of a broader readership so as to
engage with a larger cross-section of the academic community and get the level
of exposure these articles deserve.

What we have is a hard-back tome for the shelves of major academic libraries
that subscribe to the catalogue of John Benjamins Publishing Company, to be
accessed by scholars through specialist libraries. Most readers will read just a
part of this book. With a price tag of US$155 it will struggle to find
individual purchasers. While recognizing the authorial satisfaction and
institutional kudos of a traditional book format it is difficult to escape the
view that the readers would have been better served by electronic publication
which would have been so much more cheaply and easily available. This
publication is in the wrong format.

Dr Graeme Davis is presently lecturer in English language with the Open
University, UK. A mediaeval linguist specializing in the Germanic languages he
has published books on the syntax of Old English, Old Icelandic and Old High
German. Recent work has included dialect dictionaries for Surrey English, Home
Counties English and West Country English, as well as an account of Orkney and
Shetland Norn within his _The Early English Settlement of Orkney and Shetland_
(Birlinn, 2007).