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Review of  Perspectives on Variation

Reviewer: Claudia Lange
Book Title: Perspectives on Variation
Book Author: Nicole Delbecque Johan van der Auwera Dirk Geeraerts
Publisher: De Gruyter Mouton
Linguistic Field(s): Historical Linguistics
Text/Corpus Linguistics
Subject Language(s): Dutch
Language Family(ies): Germanic
East Scandinavian
West Scandinavian
Book Announcement: 16.3121

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Date: Tue, 25 Oct 2005 16:12:33 +0200
From: Claudia Lange <>
Subject: Perspectives on Variation: Sociolinguistic, Historical,

EDITORS: Delbecque, Nicole; van der Auwera, Johan; Geeraerts, Dirk
TITLE: Perspectives on Variation
SUBTITLE: Sociolinguistic, Historical, Comparative
SERIES: Trends in Linguistics. Studies and Monographs 163
PUBLISHER: Mouton de Gruyter
YEAR: 2005

Claudia Lange, English Department, Technische Universitaet Dresden

Recently, the field has witnessed a massive surge of interest in
variation on all levels of linguistic analysis, with a specific focus on
grammatical variation, as e.g. the volumes edited by Rohdenburg and
Mondorf (2003) and Kortmann (2004) testify -- incidentally, the title
under review appears in the same series. Moreover, interest in
variation is no longer restricted to dialectology, sociolinguistics,
typology and other disciplines on the functionalist side of the formal-
functional divide in contemporary linguistics; see, for example,
Barbiers et al. (2002). All contributors to this trend have in common
that they are looking for ways to overcome the traditional barriers
between the sub-disciplines and to develop a new, integrated and
panchronic approach to the study of variation in language. The editors
of the present volume explicitly place their collection of articles within
that developing framework. Most papers date back to the conference
of the Societas Linguisticae Europaea held in Leuven, Belgium in
2001. I will first give an overview of all contributions before attempting
an overall critical evaluation.

Peter Auer's paper, "Europe's sociolinguistic unity, or: A typology of
European dialect/standard constellations" (8-42), is very wide in
scope, as the title already indicates. Auer proceeds from the
assumption that there is unity in diversity where the "European
sociolinguistic repertoires" (7) are concerned. He focusses
on "endoglossic national standard varieties in Europe in the second
millenium A.D. and their relationship to the dialects in their respective
geographical area" (8) and proposes a five-step model to account for
all possible dialect-standard-relationships found in Europe, both
synchronically and diachronically. The initial stage is labelled "type
zero repertoire" and characterized by "exoglossic diglossia": the
standard is provided by a language that is not at all related to the
vernacular language(s) of the speech community, e.g. Latin in
Medieval England. The next step to "type A repertoires"
entails "medial diglossia with an endoglossic standard", a linguistic
situation where the H-variety of a language is singled out for formal
purposes and especially for writing; indeed, the medium of writing is
fundamental for the spread of the new endoglossic standard (11).
In "type B repertoires: spoken diglossia" (15), the use of the standard
language is no longer restricted to the written medium, giving rise to a
spoken standard language that may be and remain quite different
from the respective written standard (17). Type C as the next step is
labelled "diaglossia" and "characterised by intermediate variants
between standard and (base) dialect" (22) and involving dialect
levelling. This stage seems to represent the most common linguistic
profile across contemporary Europe. If dialects are lost altogether,
stage D is reached.

This brief chronological survey is not able to do full justice to Auer's
contribution; his paper offers a wealth of insights and perspectives for
any further study on variation and will hopefully be taken up as a
research program by others who are interested in the dynamics of
contact continua and standardisation processes across Europe.

Paul Heggarty, April McMahon and Robert McMahon in "From
phonetic similarity to dialect classification" (43-91) report from their
ongoing work in developing a method to quantify the concept
of 'phonetic similarity'. The authors first give a brief sketch of how their
model tackles the basic problems arising whenever one deals with the
concept of 'phonetic similarity', namely the "compatibility problem" and
the "quantification problem" (50): which entities can or should actually
be compared, and how can the degree of similarity between
phonemes, and eventually lexemes, be expressed numerically? The
quantification problem is solved by providing a method to "assess the
significance of phonetic differences, relative to each other" (51), and
the authors convincingly demonstrate how this can be achieved, given
that phonological features are both discrete and well-defined and lend
themselves readily to quantification. If the level of individual phonemes
is left, however, the compatibility problem comes up again: how can
the degree of phonetic similarity between cognates such as
Italian 'castello' and French 'chateau' be measured? Here the authors
introduce the 'node form' as the basis for comparison, that is the
common ancestor (in this case Latin 'castellum') of both lexemes.

After presenting their model, the authors embark on a very detailed
discussion of an alternative approach which they label the "feature-
based approach" (71). Any reader who does not happen to be an
expert in dialectrometry is bound to find this part of the paper slightly
repetitive, and he or she will hopefully be forgiven for failing to
appreciate the missionary zest the authors bring to their topic. The
final section on "applications and extensions" (80f.) indicates the
potential implications of the approach for the study of language
change in general.

Although it is not explicitly stated, the two preceding contributions
seem to be the keynote papers, if only due to their sheer length. All
following papers are much shorter and focus on individual case

Jose Tummers, Dirk Speelman and Dirk Geeraerts in "Inflectional
variation in Belgian and Netherlandic Dutch: A usage-based account
of the adjectival inflection" (93-110) use a corpus of written Dutch to
investigate the extent of variation concerning one morphosyntactic
parameter, namely the alternation between the declined and
undeclined form of the attributive adjective in Belgian and
Netherlandic Dutch. In order to quantify the phenomenon under
scrutiny, the authors adapt their method of creating
an "onomasiological profile" (97) in semantics and apply it to
morphosyntax: the "inflectional profile collects conceptually equal
alternatives to express an inflectional category" (98). The statistical
analysis of these inflectional profiles lends support to some interesting
observations on the relation of contemporary Belgian and
Netherlandic Dutch: while there is little difference between the two
varieties at the formal end of the stylistic continuum, Belgian Dutch
displays a higher degree of internal variability as one moves along the
cline towards the less formal end of the continuum. The lack of
variation in Netherlandic Dutch indicates a higher degree of
standardisation compared to Belgian Dutch. The authors call for
further studies, both lexical and inflectional, in order to explore further
the extent of variation in contemporary Dutch.

Reinhild Vandekerckhove's paper "Interdialectal convergence
between West-Flemish urban dialects" (111-127) illustrates
the "dynamics of the West-Flemish dialect area" (124, fn. 2). Her study
is part of her ongoing research project concerned with urban
vernaculars in West Flanders (Northern Belgium). In order to
investigate pronoun usage, she created a corpus of elicited speech
with informants from 4 different cities, available earlier dialect corpora
also allowed real-time comparison. Vandekerckhove notes a complex
pattern of "interdialectal exchanges" (123) resulting in a process of
levelling: "pronouns with a limited distribution are replaced by
pronouns with a wider distribution." (123). This finding is in line with
many other studies on urban dialects and not particularly surprising.
However, interdialectal exchange in West Flanders seems to take a
rather uncommon turn: "dialect features with a limited areal dispersion
gradually disappear, but they are replaced by other dialect features
rather than by the standard language equivalents" (123), or to put it
differently: "interdialectal influence still prevails over standard
language interference" (124), a situation that has become almost
extinct across Europe and therefore constitutes an intriguing research

The next paper by Arjan van Leuvensteijn, "Substitutions in epistolary
forms of address in the seventeenth century Dutch standard variety"
(129-142), treats pronoun usage in Dutch from an altogether different
point of view. Leuvensteijn traces changes in the forms of address as
they become apparent in letters of the seventeenth century. His
analysis of letters written by members of the Dutch upper class
reveals significant changes in forms of address: the customary second
person plural pronoun 'ghi', which indicated respect, came to be
replaced by what he calls "honourable forms of address UE" (short for
Dutch 'Uwe Edelheit', 'Your Honour') (133). This is clearly an example
of a 'change from above', where the custom of the nobility provided
the model for language use patterns in other strata of society.

Heli Tissari's paper "LOVE in words: Experience and
conceptualization in the modern English lexicon of love" (143-176)
addresses the question "what cognitive metaphors seem to produce
LOVE words" (145) and what kind of changes are apparent over time.
She draws on her own extensive work on the same word as well as on
the exhaustive treatment by Julie Coleman (1999); the present study
is a reanalysis and reassessment of Coleman's data. Tissari goes on
to discuss the conceptual subdomains of LOVE, namely the family,
friendship, sexuality, and religion, identifying the specific cognitive
metaphors which are dominant in each participant subdomain.
However, apart from the observation that "LOVE [...] comprises many
beautiful things" (170), no clear pattern or general result emerges
from this study.

The paper by Clara Molina adds a lighter touch to the present volume,
despite its rather intimidating title "On the role of semasiological
profiles in merger discontinuations" (177-193).

Molina's contribution reads like a crime novel straight out of the
business world; she places her main protagonists, words and
meanings, into the sphere of pressure groups, reorganizations,
mergers and takeovers. She traces the fate of her heroes, the native
lexemes SORROW and SORE, throughout the history of English. The
first centuries are marked by "an early process of mutual interaction"
(181), then "a newcomer from French: PAIN" (183) arrives: "the
balance of the network seemed suddenly endangered" (184), with
dramatic consequences for the story: "As a result of the GREEDY
[italicized in the original, C.L.] thrust of PAIN, the orbit of influence of
both SORE and SORROW became endangered" (189). Meanwhile,
SORE was making new friends: "in being surrounded by SORROW
[...] and PAIN [...], SORE was better off siding with notions other than
these" (188). As befits a crime novel, there is no happy ending:
eventually, SORE yields to PAIN (189), and the overall outlook is not
very promising where a sequel to the story is concerned: "The
resulting network is not one in which various overlapping terms stand
on relatively equal footing any more, but rather a much more
radicalized one in which all terms, although still exhibiting a fairly large
degree of overlap, glare in given prototypical meanings while
becoming largely dimmed and superseded in the expression of other
senses" (189f.).

Caroline Gevaert's paper, "The ANGER IS HEAT question: Detecting
cultural influence on the conceptualization of anger through diachronic
corpus analysis" (195-208), concludes the group of articles which
apply a cognitive framework. As the title suggests, the study offers
new data for the evaluation of the claim "that the ANGER IS HEAT
conceptualization is embodied" (195), i.e. grounded in human
physiology and therefore universal. Gevaert first provides a synopsis
of previous work done on the topic, the conceptual metaphor ANGER
IS HEAT and its supposedly universal status: George Lakoff's claim
(1987: 407) that the ANGER IS HEAT metaphor is pervasive not only
crosslinguistically, but also throughout the history of English, has
never been tested before. The present paper fills this gap by
analysing expressions for anger in the Toronto Corpus of Old English
and selected Middle English texts. Gevaert's insightful discussion of
the data reveals clearly that the ANGER IS HEAT metaphor is culture-
specific rather than universal: "Its presence in the history of English is
mainly due to influence of Latin and the humoral doctrine" (205f.), the
popular medieval concept of the body as comprising four different
humours. Her study aptly demonstrates the value of diachronic studies
in cognitive linguistics.

Heide Wegener in "Development and motivation of marked plural
forms in German" (209-234) deals with an addition to the class of
German plural markers, namely {-s}, and gives an account in terms of
Optimality Theory (OT) and Natural Morphology (NM).In German, {-s}
became available as a new plural marker in the seventeenth century
and now occurs with loanwords from English and Romance languages
("parks, laptops, pizzas"), neologisms with a final vowel
("Unis" 'universities'), onomatopoeia ("Uhus" eagle owls') and proper
names ("die beiden Berlins" 'the two Berlins') (cf. 217). The remainder
of the article is concerned with the status and productivity of the new
form within the German system of plural marking. It turns out that in
the recent history of German, s-plurals appear as an interim solution
for loanwords before they are fully integrated into the language,
e.g. "Pizza - Pizzas - Pizzen".

The paper by Marcin Kilarski and Grzegorz Krynicki, "Not arbitrary,
not regular: The magic of gender assignment" (234-250), is a
contribution to the topic of gender assignment in the Scandinavian
languages, more precisely a statistical analysis of gender assignment
to English loans in Danish, Swedish and Norwegian. All three
Scandinavian languages display a two-gender distinction of neuter vs.
common gender (the somewhat different system of Norwegian
Nynorsk was excluded from the study, cf. p. 246 fn. 4), and the
question is whether gender assignment in these languages is
determined by any formal or semantic characteristics of the nouns
borrowed from English. The statistical analysis of the authors' corpus --
more than 2000 loanwords in each of the three languages -- shows
that gender assignment is not entirely arbitrary, but subject to a
variety of factors. As a general trend, a "continuing expansion of
common and masculine genders" (245) can be observed.

The paper by Griet Beheydt, "Future time reference: English and
Dutch compared" (251-274), treats the semantics and pragmatics of
future tense(s). Although her main emphasis is contrastive, she also
approaches her topic from a broadly conceived crosslinguistic
perspective. Her corpus, however, appears somewhat unusual and
raises certain doubts whether her results can in any way be
generalised: the corpus consists of two English detective novels and
their Dutch translations. A similar procedure is employed in the
following paper: Katleen Van den Steen's observations on "Cleft
constructions in French and Spanish" (275-290) are also based on a
corpus of two novels and their translations. Unlike Beheydt, Van den
Steen assigns her corpus centre stage and does not address
questions of wider theoretical import; she does not, for example, make
use of Knud Lambrecht's extensive work on French clefts (e.g.
Lambrecht 1986, 1994, 2001) (Lambrecht (1994) is referred to in
footnote 3, but not included in the bibliography). The article might
have been better placed in a volume on translation studies, as the
contribution it makes to our understanding of cleft constructions
appears limited.

The two concluding articles display the typical typological approach:
How is a given meaning expressed in language(s)? Torsten
Leuschner in "How to express indifference in Germanic: Towards a
functional-typological research programme" (291-317) gives a survey
of "predicates of indifference in Germanic" (292) as a preliminary
study for further typological research. The expressions he classifies
as expressing indifference in Germanic "come in two basic structural
types: either with an element of negation or with an element denoting
identity or equality" (292), e.g. "it doesn't matter/ I don't care" or "it's all
the same" (293). Leuschner sets out the basic syntactic, semantic and
pragmatic properties of such expressions, pointing out similarities and
differences in the encoding of indifference in both languages. He also
devotes a section to the historical origin of predicates of indifference,
focussing on lexical renovation (305f.), lexicalization (306),
idiomatization (308f.) and borrowing (309f.). The study stands as a
challenge to the claim that "languages hardly manifest any systematic
typological variation in [the more] weakly grammaticalized patterns"
(Haspelmath and König 1998: 581, quoted after Leuschner 312) and
is bound to inspire further research.

Finally, Gisela Harras and Kristel Proost in "The lexicalization of
speech act evaluations in German, English and Dutch" (319-336) look
at "the way in which different types of speech act evaluations are
lexicalized by speech act verbs and speech act idioms" (320). They
develop a taxonomic framework which is able to differentiate
speakers' propositional attitudes and presuppositions as well as other
aspects of the communicative situation. They further compare speech
act verbs and related idiomatic expressions, noting the differences in
lexicalization patterns in English, Dutch and German.


As indicated in the beginning, the papers collected in this volume were
originally presented at the 2001 meeting of the Societas Linguistica
Europaea. It is only to be expected that conference papers differ
substantially in length, topic, method, style, and quality, and it is
naturally within the discretion of the editors how much unity they want
to impose on the contributions submitted to them. There are some
disquieting indicators that the editors did not approach their task with
unmitigated enthusiasm. For one thing, the proofreading is remarkably
light-handed for a book which costs 118 euros and appears in such a
prestigious series: there is irregular spacing of text lines due to the
special characters in the article on "Interdialectal convergence"
(111ff.) (a typical MS-Word formatting problem); several articles have
odd paragraphs in ragged rather than justified setting (e.g. pp. 131,
140/41, 232, 274ff.); hyphens in words appear in the middle of a
sentence on p. 291 and throughout Leuschner's article (291ff.).
Moreover, the editors' introduction does not waste more than one
page on justifying the organising principles underlying the volume,
before proceeding to a brief abstract for each paper to follow. The
difficulty of finding coherence in a rather mixed bag of topics,
approaches, and methods that typically come together as conference
proceedings is well known. A programmatic editorial introduction can
turn a collection of papers into more than the sum of its parts, witness
the already mentioned volumes by Kortmann and Rohdenburg &
Mondorf. Here, the editors have renounced the option of providing an
introduction to the volume that might have served as a programmatic
statement, thus limiting the scope of the volume as a whole. Most
papers in the volume would have deserved better than that.


Barbiers, Sjef, Leonie Cornips & S. van der Kleij (eds.) (2002),
Syntactic Microvariation. Amsterdam: Benjamins.

Coleman, Julie (1999), Love, sex, and marriage: A historical
thesaurus. Amsterdam/Atlanta: Rodopi.

Haspelmath, Martin & Ekkehard König (1998), "Concessive
conditionals in the languages of Europe". In: van der Auwera, Johan
(ed.), Adverbial constructions in the languages of Europe. Berlin and
New York: Mouton de Gruyter, 563-640.

Kortmann, Bernd (ed.) (2004), Dialectology meets Typology. Dialect
Grammar from a Cross-Linguistic Perspective. Berlin and New York:
Mouton de Gruyter.

Lakoff, George (1987), Women, Fire, and Dangerous Things.
Chicago/London: University of Chicago Press.

Lambrecht, Knud (1986), Topic, focus, and the grammar of spoken
French. PhD dissertation, University of California, Berkeley.

Lambrecht, Knud (1994), Information structure and sentence form.
Topic, Focus, and the mental representation of discourse referents.
Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Lambrecht, Knud (2001), "A framework for the analysis of cleft
constructions." Linguistics 39,3: 463-516.

Rohdenburg, Günter & Britta Mondorf, (eds.) (2003), Determinants of
Grammatical Variation in English. Berlin and New York: Mouton de


Claudia Lange is lecturer in Linguistics in the English department at
the Technische Universitaet Dresden; Germany. She wrote her PhD
thesis on reflexivity and intensification in the history of English and is
currently working on the syntax of Indian English.

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