Language Evolution: The Windows Approach addresses the question: "How can we unravel the evolution of language, given that there is no direct evidence about it?"
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Review of The Cambridge Encyclopedia of the World's Ancient Languages
Date: Mon, 13 Jun 2005 16:27:06 -0400 (EDT) From: Marc Pierce Subject: The Cambridge Encyclopedia of the World's Ancient Languages
EDITOR: Woodard, Roger D. TITLE: The Cambridge Encyclopedia of the World's Ancient Languages PUBLISHER: Cambridge University Press YEAR: 2004
Marc Pierce, Department of Germanic Languages and Literatures, University of Michigan
According to the dust jacket, this book is "the first comprehensive reference work treating all the languages of antiquity"; it contains 45 chapters on a wide range of languages, all by recognized experts, including the following: 'Sumerian', by Piotr Michalowski; 'Phoenician and Punic', by Jo Ann Hackett; 'Hittite', by Calvert Watkins; 'Avestan', by Mark Hale; 'Etruscan', by Helmut Rix; and 'Epi-Olmec', by Terrence Kaufman and John Justeson. There is also an 'Introduction' by the editor and a chapter on 'Reconstructed Ancient Languages' by Don Ringe. The languages covered were chosen according to chronological parameters, with the 5th century AD serving as the terminus ante quem. As Woodard notes in his 'Introduction', this date is a traditional one; the fall of the Roman Empire in the west in 476 is as good a date as any to mark the end of the period of antiquity. Some 'quite pragmatic linguistic conditions' (1) also support this choice, namely that a number of early languages, including Gothic, Classical Armenian, and Early Old Georgian, are first significantly attested in the 4th or 5th centuries AD. Furthermore, starting in about the 7th century AD a vast number of languages, ranging from Old English to Classical Arabic, appear on the stage; including these languages would have swelled this volume beyond its already significant size. Choosing a terminus post quem was of course much easier, as it was determined by the origins and development of writing. Sumerian appears to have been the first written language, dating from about the 'late fourth millennium BC' (2), with Egyptian emerging a relatively short time later, and Sumerian and Egyptian are therefore the oldest languages treated in this book.
The chapters all follow the same pattern. First, the 'historical and cultural contexts' of the individual language(s) are described, followed by a section on the writing system(s) of the language(s). Then come sections on phonology, morphology, syntax (an area too often neglected by traditional handbooks), and the lexicon. Each chapter concludes with a bibliography; some of the chapters also include a 'reading list' commenting on the various bibliographical entries.
As an exhaustive discussion of every chapter is precluded by the limitations of this forum, I shall comment on the two chapters I am most competent to evaluate, namely those on the early Germanic languages ('Gothic' [881-906], by Jay H. Jasanoff, and 'Ancient Nordic' [907-921], by Jan Terje Faarlund), and then offer a more general appraisal of the work as a whole.
Gothic is the only well-attested East Germanic language, and exists primarily in a partial Bible translation prepared by the bishop Wulfila (or Ulfilas) in the fourth century. There is also a partial commentary on the Gospel of John called the Skeireins ('explanation') and a handful of other fragmentary attestations (including Crimean Gothic, some probably corrupt material collected in the Crimea by a Flemish nobleman around 1560). Jasanoff presents an excellent, well-organized, and clearly- written survey of the Gothic material. In just over two pages he gives a snapshot of the historical and cultural context of Gothic, not neglecting to mention Crimean Gothic. The discussion of the Gothic alphabet is also generally well-done, although possible connections between the Gothic and runic alphabets could have been discussed in somewhat more detail (cf. Mees 2002/03). Phonological and morphological matters like Sievers' Law are presented clearly and succinctly. Syntax is only briefly discussed, but the rationale for this (that Gothic syntax was so heavily influenced by Greek syntax that it is very difficult to tell how much Gothic syntax is 'authentically Gothic and how much is Greek in Gothic disguise' ) cannot be contested. The bibliography is mildly disappointing, in that some fundamental works like Bennett (1960) are not cited. Furthermore, some works are cited in outdated editions, e.g. the 5th edition of Streitberg, published in 1965, is cited, although a 7th edition appeared in 2000.
As to the chapter by Faarlund, the term 'Ancient Nordic' is used here for the language of the ancient runic inscriptions, attested before about 500 AD. The genetic status of this language remains controversial. Was it North Germanic, Northwest Germanic, West Germanic, or what Faarlund calls 'some kind of koine, a common ritual pan-Germanic language' (908)? Faarlund's chapter generally matches the high standard set by Jasanoff's. The 'historical and cultural contexts' section gives a very brief discussion of Germanic prehistory and then discusses the runic corpus and its transliteration. The discussion of the runic writing system is handled well, although the evaluation of its possible origins could have considered the North Italian theory at greater length (cf. Mees 2000). The sections on phonology and morphology are also well-done, and the section on syntax is pleasantly detailed (see Faarlund 2004 for a more extensive discussion of Old Norse syntax). The bibliography is certainly serviceable.
Although there is much to admire in these chapters, there are at least two things that I would have liked to have seen treated differently. First, too often insufficient references are given; the discussion of what type of language 'Ancient Nordic' actually is will suffice as an example. On p. 908, Faarlund outlines the four possibilities listed above, prefacing them by saying 'so and so argues, considers, etc', yet, of the four authorities cited, Faarlund only provides references for two of them. Providing references to all of the authorities cited would certainly make it easier for interested readers to track down the relevant materials. Secondly, possibly controversial issues are too often glossed over. Consider, for instance, Faarlund's discussion of the phonemic status of the velar nasal in the runic alphabet, which simply states '[t]he phonemic status of [the velar nasal] is not quite clear; it may be an allophonic variant of /n/ before velars' (912). This is certainly true, but there is no indication of why this issue might be important, and reference to other works where this problem might be discussed in more detail (e.g. Antonsen 2002 and Schwink 2000) is also missing. A similar complaint applies to Jasanoff's discussion of Holtzmann's Law in Gothic (890). Although a handbook certainly cannot consider all possible solutions, a few relevant references would have been appropriate.
An important question to consider is the intended audience for this book. It is clear, for example, that the individual chapters normally do not render the standard handbooks redundant. However, could students safely be referred to this book? In the case of Jasanoff's chapter on Gothic, for example, the best comparison is to works like Barrack (2001), Robinson (1992), and Marchand (1970). (Other possible comparisons, like Jasanoff 1997 or the appropriate chapter in Fortson 2004 are not entirely fitting, as those chapters are about Germanic in general, not specifically Gothic.) And happily, Jasanoff's chapter certainly measures up well to these other works. Barrack (2001) is too brief, whetting the reader's appetite but ultimately failing to satisfy the reader who wants more detailed information, while Marchand (1970) is too idiosyncratic for beginners. Moreover, Marchand (1970) is written in German, and it is an unfortunate fact of life in the United States at least that it is increasingly difficult to persuade students to read material written in languages other than English. On the other hand, Jasanoff's chapter requires too much linguistic sophistication for an absolute beginner, and the Gothic chapter in Robinson (1992) would therefore be more appropriate in that situation (although I believe that the more linguistically experienced reader would be better served by Jasanoff's chapter here). The same general appraisal applies to Faarlund's chapter.
In sum, although this is certainly not the type of book that one reads from cover to cover, every scholar or student interested in the subject matter should have access to it.
Antonsen, Elmer H. 2002. Runes and Germanic linguistics. Berlin: de Gruyter.
Barrack, Charles M. 2001. Gothic. In: Facts about the world's languages. Edited by Jane Gary and Carl Rubino. New York: H.W. Wilson.
Bennett, William H. 1960. The Gothic commentary on the Gospel of Saint John. New York: MLA.
Faarlund, Jan Terje. 2004. The syntax of Old Norse. Oxford: OUP.
Fortson, Benjamin W. IV. 2004. Indo-European language and culture: An introduction. Malden, MA: Blackwell.
Jasanoff, Jay H. 1997. Germanic. In: Langues indo-europennes. Edited by Francoise Bader. Paris : CNRS Editions.
Marchand, James W. 1970. Gotisch. In: Kurzer Grundriss der germanischen Philologie. Band I: Sprachgeschichte. Edited by L. E. Schmitt. Berlin: de Gruyter. Pp. 94-122.
Mees, Bernard. 2000. The North Etruscan thesis of the origin of the runes. Arkiv for nordisk filologi 115: 33-82.
Mees, Bernard. 2002/03. Runo-Gothica. The runes and the origins of Wulfila's script. Die Sprache 43: 55-79.
Robinson, Orrin W. III. 1992. Old English and its closest relatives. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press.
Schwink, Frederick W. 2000. The velar nasal in the adaptation of the runic alphabet. American Journal of Germanic Linguistics and Literatures 12: 235-249.
Streitberg, Wilhelm. 2000. Die gotische Bibel. Revised by Piergiuseppe Scardigli. 7th edition. Heidelberg: Carl Winter.
ABOUT THE REVIEWER:
ABOUT THE REVIEWER
Marc Pierce is a lecturer in German and Classics at the University of Michigan. His research focuses on historical linguistics, Germanic linguistics, and phonology.