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Review of  Language and History, Linguistics and Historiography

Reviewer: Sónia Duarte
Book Title: Language and History, Linguistics and Historiography
Book Author: Nils Langer Steffan Davies Wim Vandenbussche
Publisher: Peter Lang AG
Linguistic Field(s): Historical Linguistics
History of Linguistics
Issue Number: 23.2397

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EDITORS: Langer, Nils; Davies, Steffan & Vandenbussche, Wim
TITLE: Language and History, Linguistics and Historiography
SUBTITLE: Interdisciplinary Approaches
SERIES TITLE: Studies in Historical Linguistics - Volume 9
PUBLISHER: Peter Lang.
YEAR: 2012

Sónia Duarte, Centro de Linguística da Universidade do Porto (Portugal).


The reviewed volume collects the proceedings of an International Conference
bearing the same name, held at the University of Bristol (2-4 April, 2009) and
organized by the Historical Sociolinguistics Network (HiSoN) with the support of
the Arts and Humanities Research Council.

This five hundred page volume gathers twenty-three papers by thirty different
authors from the two research fields identified in the publication’s title. The
aim of this volume is precisely to explore the intersections between those
fields. Nevertheless, the great majority of authors are linguists, or dedicate
themselves primarily to linguistics, and the same is true of the editorial team,
as one can confirm in the ''Notes on Contributors'' at the end of the volume (pp.

The papers are organized according to five major topics. In the following, I
will summarize each of the chapters within the five parts of the book.

Part 1: ''Language and History, Linguistics and Historiography: Theoretical
Outlook and Methodological practice''

Stefan Davies, Niels Langer & Wim Vandenbussche, ''Language and History,
Linguistics and Historiography: Interdisciplinary Problems and Opportunities''
(pp. 3-13)

In this introductory chapter, the editors of this volume describe how research
in history and linguistics has evolved from a past state of “mutual isolation''
(p. 4) to the present state of awareness of the benefits of an interdisciplinary
approach. Throughout the paper Davies, Langer & Vandenbussche try to illustrate
such benefits with specific case-studies of integrated research, and,
simultaneously, give an account of other efforts from researchers in both fields
that fill the gap between history and linguistics, stressing the contribution of
the authors in this volume and the areas of potential common interest dealt with

Patrick Honeybone, ''History and Historical Linguistics: Two Types of Cognitive
Reconstruction?'' (pp. 15-47)

After some terminological clarifications concerning the fields of history and
(structural) historical linguistics, as well as some insight into different
theoretical approaches, the author focuses on the differences and similarities
between the two fields, pointing out how each one engages in a different type of
cognitive reconstruction of the past: conscious versus unconscious. According to
Honeybone, ''historians try to re-enact the very same thought of the past;
linguists do not try to re-enact the same mental linguistic processes'' (p. 44).

Nicholas M. Wolf, ''History and Linguistics: The Irish Language as a Case Study
in an Interdisciplinary Approach to Culture'' (pp. 49-66)

Throughout the paper, Wolf explains the focus on Irish language by Irish
historians on the grounds of a widespread perception of an intimate association
between language and nation, and language and identity. He offers a critical
overview of historiographical explanations for language shift (from 1954 to the
present), pointing out major discoveries and also simplifications and
inconsistencies resulting primarily from a problematic approach to the
relationship between language and culture, which requires the joint effort of
both linguists and historians.

Brian D. Joseph, ''Historical Linguistics and Sociolinguistics: Strange
Bedfellows or Natural Friends?'' (pp. 67-88)

The author focuses on the rapprochement between historical linguistics and
sociolinguistics, pointing out that both are interested in variation and change,
but also that each one studies a different kind of variation and approaches
change differently, using different data. Simultaneously, the paper questions
notions and practices that affect the study of change by historical linguistics,
sociolinguistics and social history in order to reveal the complementarity
between these disciplines.

Nicola McLelland, “From Humanist History to Linguistic Theory: The Case of the
Germanic Rootword” (pp. 89-109)

This paper deals with the impact of historiographical representations of the
past in linguistic studies. Although the study aims to reinforce the usefulness
of cooperation between the two disciplines, it also alerts us to the existence
of situations in which ''politically motivated readings of history could skew
German linguistic study'' (p. 90). To do so, McLelland demonstrates how sixteenth
and seventeenth century historiography’s exploitation of patriotic discourse
around Tacitus’ ''Germania'' influenced the monosyllabic Germanic rootword
linguistic theories from the sixteenth century to the present.

Agnete Nesse, ''Editorial Practices and Language Choice: 'Low German Language
Monuments' in Norway'' (pp. 111-126)

This essay focuses on the role of the editor, demonstrating how social,
theoretical and ideological background determine editorial practices, as far as
linguistic choices are concerned, and how all these factors affect the use of
texts by both linguists and historians. The author also emphasizes that
editorial practices are determined by target readers (historians or linguists).
In order to do so, Nesse analyses a corpus of nineteenth and twentieth century
editions of Norwegian manuscripts of historical documents written in Low German
during the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries.

Part 2: ''Standardization and authenticity''

Robert Evans, ''Official Languages: A Brief Prehistory'' (pp. 129-145)

This paper underlines that a scientific approach to the political status of
languages requires a joint effort from both historians and linguists. Evans
supports his thesis with cases of formal recognition and regulation of some
languages, mainly in Great Britain and Central Europe. The author points out
that linguists’ thoughts on these processes reveal the misuse of concepts such
as ''national'' or ''official language'', therefore also revealing linguists’
distance concerning the historical background of such concepts and the need for
historical relativization.

Tomasz Kamusella, ''Classifying the Slavic Languages, or the Politics of
Classification'' (pp. 147-174)

This essay studies the processes of emergence and configuration of several
classificatory systems of Slavic languages, mainly by comparing the genealogical
tree-model with the ‘wave’ model. By doing so, the author demonstrates how, in
this case, political-cum-cultural criteria prevailed in the application of
taxons such as ''subfamily'' or ''language/dialect''. Kamusella explains that the
classificatory systems of Slavic languages result from nineteenth century
linguists’ attempts to provide ethnolinguistically based nationalisms with
scientific support for their theses, while also pointing out that amongst the
factors crucial to the survival/disappearance of those theories was precisely
compliance/non-compliance with nationalist tenets.

José del Valle, ''Linguistic History and the Development of Normative Regimes:
The Royal Spanish Academy's Disputed Transatlantic Authority'' (pp. 175-191)

The author comments on the Spanish Academy’s attitude toward American Spanish
speaking countries, namely by focusing on one particular event of the academy’s
history in America; its absence at the Spanish Academies’ Congress of 1951 in
Mexico. After a historical overview of the institution and its ideological basis
-- described as ''panhispanismo'' and ''hispanofonía'' -- the essay centers on the
Spanish Academy’s attitude concerning the Mexican event, and goes on to deal
with the linguistic representations that dominated such debate, while also
analyzing its impact on the standardization process and its ideological
implications and historical significance.

Juan R. Valdez, ''Colouring Language: Pedro Henríquez Ureña's Representations of
Spanish and Dominican Identity'' (pp. 193-207)

Focusing on the relation between ‘standard’ and ‘variety’, this essay
constitutes an approach to the ideological and social-historical meaning and
background of some aspects of Henríquez Ureña’s linguistic theory concerning
Dominican Spanish. Valdez points out evidence of the existence of a ''link
between linguistic description and extra-linguistic cultural and racial
categories'' (p. 200) in Henríquez Ureñas’ work, thus interpreting his linguistic
representations within processes of ''iconization'' of white and Hispanic cultures
and ''erasure'' of African heritage. The author also emphasizes the role of
language and language representations on Dominican governmental policies since
the nineteenth century, and consequently, the importance of interdisciplinary

Laura Villa, '''Because When Governments Speak, They Are Not Always Right':
National Construction and Orthographic Conflicts in Mid-Nineteenth-Century
Spain'' (pp. 209-227)

Combining a ''linguistic, political and historical approach'' (p. 210) and using
''linguistic ideologies as an analytical tool'' (p. 212), this paper deals with
the concept of linguistic standardization associated with mid-nineteenth century
linguistic policies and orthographic theories, while focusing on the debate that
followed the rejection of the orthographic proposals of Madrid’s Literary and
Scientific Academy of Primary Education, as well as the officialization of the
Royal Spanish Academy’s orthography. The author examines the arguments and
tenets of such controversy, focusing primarily on its extra-linguistic dimension
and emphasizing the linguistic authority dispute, the role of the school-system,
and standardization as a tool to language ideologies and policies.

Gijsbert Rutten & Rik Vosters, ''As Many Norms as There Were Scribes? Language
History, Norms and Usage in the Southern Netherlands in the Nineteenth Century''
(pp. 229-253)

Assuming a historical-sociolinguistic perspective, this paper compares
eighteenth and nineteenth century grammatical and orthographical tradition in
Northern and Southern European Dutch-speaking territories, with the main thrust
being the latter. The essay focuses on how the sparse body of existing research
on the southern territories’ linguistic tradition has been affected by two
''language ideological myths'' (p. 230) concerning the orthographical situation of
this period: i) normative diversity; and ii) chaotic writing practices. After
historical-sociolinguistic contextualization of such myths and after some hints
on their political and ideological background, the authors present, examine, and
reject those myths in light of the data provided by both metagrammatical texts
from the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries and a corpus of judicial and
administrative documents from the 1820s .

Anneleen Vanden Boer, ''Language and Nation: The Case of the German-Speaking
Minority in Belgium'' (pp. 255-267)

This paper addresses the situation of the Belgian, German speaking minority from
the perspective of the relation between language and national identity, focusing
on its role in the nation-building process, while using data provided by a
survey conducted among German and non-German speaking Belgians. According to the
author, the results reinforce widespread stereotypes on the subject.

Part 3: ''Demographics and Social Dynamics''

Richard Ingham, ''The Decline of Bilingual Competence in French in Medieval
England: Evidence from the PROME Database'' (pp. 271-292)

This essay deals with the reasons for the prevalence of French between
1250-1370, its subsequent decline, and its sociolinguistic status in English
Medieval society. To do so, Ingham tries to accomplish the following: i)
understand, through corpus research, the process of L2 transmission after the
Norman Conquest while supporting his conclusions through noun gender agreement
marking case studies from the electronic version of the ''Parliament Rolls of
Medieval England'' -- PROME (petitions from the years 1310-1399); and ii) explain
the results on social, demographic and linguistic grounds via special use of the
contributions of contemporary L2 acquisition studies.

Rembert Eufe, ''Merovingian Coins and Their Inscriptions: A Challenge to
Linguists and Historians'' (pp. 293-321)

In this paper, Eufe gives a detailed account of a joint project between
historians and linguists who embarked upon the study of the inscriptions on the
Merovingian coins collection from the Bode-Museum in Berlin. The study focuses
on the origin of anthroponyms and explains how the information provided by
toponomy sheds light on the role of the monetary system.

Remco Knoohuizen, ''The Use of Historical Demography for Historical
Sociolinguistics: The Case of Dunkirk'' (pp. 323-340)

This paper explains how, after the annexation in France in 1662, ''Dunkirk
shifted from being a predominantly Dutch-speaking to a predominantly
French-speaking town'' (p. 333), focusing on both the integration process of
Francophone immigrants in the town of Dunkirk around and after 1662, and the
French speaking community’s linguistic traits during the same period.

Part 4: ''Language History from below''

Judith Nobels & Marijke Van der Wal, ''Linking Words to Writers: Building a
Reliable Corpus for Historical Sociolinguistic Research'' (pp. 343-361)

In this study, the authors give an account of work on a huge and scarcely
studied collection of seventeenth century, private Dutch sailing letters (i.e.
loot letters) kept in the British National Archives. The essay deals with the
methodological problems of building an autographical corpus and presents both
the advantages of an interdisciplinary approach on solving those problems and
the value of such integrated research to studies on Dutch language history.

Helmut Graser & B. Ann Tlusty, ''Sixteenth-Century Street Songs and Language
History 'From Below''' (pp. 363-388)

This paper deals with a sample of German street songs of rude content, which
were passed down over time until the early modern period, and then preserved
among Augsburg’s records of court interrogations. The first chapters comment on
this particular form of popular culture and put songs, their singers, and their
reception into historical context. The latter chapters focus on linguistic data,
paying special attention to graphemics and orthography as a means of identifying
traits of sixteenth century written or spoken German, as well as standard or
dialectal features and information on normative choices.

Juan Manuel Hernández Campoy, ''Mood Distinction in Late Middle English: The End
of the Inflectional Subjunctive'' (pp. 389-406)

This paper explains the loss of the subjunctive mood throughout language history
using corpus research. Here, the study of the subjunctive in a collection of
fifteenth century family letters and notes entitled ''The Paston Letters'' serves
as a case study to, in a broader perspective, ''analyse the evolution from mood
distinction to mood neutralization during the transition from Middle to Early
Modern English in terms of heterogeneity and variability'' (pp. 391-392).

Part 5: “Language and Ideology”

Lisa Carroll-Davis, ''Identifying the Enemy: Using a CDA and Corpus Approach to
Analyse Sandinista Strategies of Naming'' (pp. 409-427)

In order to illustrate the usefulness of discourse theory for the study of
social phenomena and to probe the use of language as a political and ideological
tool, the author addresses political conflict in Nicaragua through the study of
Sandinista print propaganda from 1980 to 1983 through a combination of corpus
linguistics and critical discourse analysis. After theoretical,
historic-political and methodological considerations, the paper approaches the
linguistic data with an emphasis on naming strategies in Sandinista speech as a
means of self-empowerment and delegitimization of Somoza’s government and
supporters, while exposing biases and identifying patterns in that same speech.

Krassimir Stoyanov, ''Ritualized Slogan Lexis in the Bulgarian Press during the
Times of Violent Contradiction in Ideologies (1944-1947)” (pp. 431-446)

After an introduction to the historical frame and the historical role of the
Bulgarian press, Stoyanov develops the idea of language as part of a ritual and
shows how ritualized language may be manipulated by political agendas, such as
in the case of the Communist Party in Bulgaria. Finally, the author analyzes a
corpus, describing the typology of both the slogans and the ritualized lexis
within, while also presenting verbal and non-verbal ritualization strategies.

Kristine Horner & Melanie Wagner, ''Remembering World War II and Legitimating
Luxembourgish as the National Language: Consensus or Conflict?'' (pp. 447-464)

This essay approaches this particular language ideological debate while focusing
on the ''discursive moves'' (p. 449) behind it, establishes a ''discursive link''
(p. 453) between such debate and certain symbolic historical events that aroused
the association of language and national identity/nationalism, and identifies
controversial issues. For that purpose, Horner & Wagner use as material both
''media representations linking the rise of Luxembourgish to events during World
War II and ethnographic interviews with a World War II letter writer focusing on
his language choices'' (p. 449). The press material as well as the interviews
date back to the first decade of this century.

Michela Giordano & Federica Falchi, “Language as a Social Tool in
Nineteenth-Century Britain and Italy” (pp. 465-482)

This paper compares the theoretical arguments and linguistic strategies in favor
of women’s rights in John Stuart Mill’s and Salvatore Morelli’s parliamentary
addresses, as well as the context and the reception of their ideas and work. The
authors focus on the discourse categories (mainly topoi and lexicalization) of
two of each author’s speeches, while using the theoretical and methodological
framework of critical discourse analysis and emphasizing a view of language as
both a tool and a product of social construction.


As far as similar publications are concerned, like the editors state (p. 4),
their present attempt to promote an interdisciplinary approach was preceded by
other edited volumes in the field of historical sociolinguistics: Linn &
McLelland (2002), Deumert & Vandebussche (2003), Langer & Davies (2005), and
Elspaß et al. (2007). However, in this volume, the focus on interdisciplinarity
is specifically oriented toward the fields of history and linguistics.

Though the call for papers of the original conference tried to encourage joint
efforts between historians and linguists, there is but one such case in the
volume: Graser & Tlusty. However, it should be stressed that in other cases,
such as Eufe, papers present results of on-going joint projects. Such an
integrated approach is a common ground to all papers in this volume.

As for the distribution of the papers, through the five main topics, it should
be noticed that the first two subjects clearly dominate, presenting
approximately twice as many papers as the other three.

The papers within this volume showcase a variety of theoretical and
methodological perspectives, as well as a variety of linguistic traditions.
Throughout, several American and European languages are covered through a
chronological framework that extends from the Middle Ages to the present. Given
this diversity, the final alphabetical index of subjects (pp. 489-503) is a
useful tool. Also, the fact that all papers are written in English and that
there is an English translation of all transcriptions of other idioms turns out
to be very handy.

Despite the wide range of subjects, the volume shows cohesive flow. Two things
contribute strongly to that positive outcome: i) all papers support an
interdisciplinary approach, even those which explicitly deal with the perils of
such a perspective (e.g. McLelland); and ii) the existence of internal
references, which reinforces papers’ intertwining.

Although my evaluation is generally positive, it is noteworthy to mention the
lack of an explicit reference to the role of the history of the language
sciences (or history of linguistics), nor to that of linguistic historiography
as conceived by Koerner (1995: 3-4); the former being ''the actual ‘res gestae’
of linguistic research throughout the ages'' and the latter the ''principled
manner of writing the history of the study of language''. This is quite evident
in Honeybone (p.17, n. 2) when he refers to the expression ''linguisticography''.
Nevertheless, the volume does include several articles that could be ascribed to
the two above-mentioned fields, namely the ones of Honeybone himself, McLelland,
Kamusella, Del Valle, Valdez, Villa, and Rutten & Vosters.

As for the different fields of historical linguistics, there seems to be,
throughout the volume, a stress on historical sociolinguistics, which is only
natural since HiSoN organized the Conference.

Overall, this volume meets its goals, providing an up-to-date, wide overview of
integrated historiographical and linguistic research, while illustrating the
advantages of an interdisciplinary approach. Furthermore, it gives hints on how
to perform such a task and suggestions for further research. In doing so, the
reviewed work constitutes useful material for historians and linguists.


Deumert, Anna & Wim Vandebussche (eds.). 2003. Germanic Standardisations.
Amsterdam: Benjamins.

Elspaß, Stephan et al. 2007 (eds.). Language Histories from Below. (1700-2000).
Berlin, New York: Walter de Gruyter.

Koerner, Konrad. 1995. Professing Linguistic Historiography. Amsterdam: John
Benjamins Publishing Company.

Langer, Nils & Winifred Davies (eds.). 2005. Linguistic Purism in the Germanic
Languages. Berlin, New York: Walter de Gruyter.

Linn, Andrew & Nicola McLelland (eds.). 2002. Standard Germanic. Amsterdam:

Sónia Duarte is a doctoral student at the University of León (Spain) and a member of the Center for Language Sciences at Oporto University (Portugal). She presented her Master's thesis in 2008, at the University of Évora (Portugal), on Nicolau Pexoto’s Spanish grammar (Oporto 1848) -- the first specifically meant for Portuguese --, and is now working on her PhD dissertation on the references to Spanish language and Spanish gramaticography in Portuguese grammars from the seventeenth century to 1848. Her primary research interests include history of the language sciences, applied linguistics, and contrastive studies.

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