Historical and Comparative Linguistics

Historical linguistics, also called Diachronic Linguistics, the branch of linguistics concerned with the study of phonological, grammatical, and semantic changes, the reconstruction of earlier stages of languages, and the discovery and application of the methods by which genetic relationships among languages can be demonstrated. According to dictionary. com, Historical linguistics is the branch of linguistics which deals with the history and development of languages. Also it can be defined as the branch of linguistics that focuses on the interconnection between different languages in the word and, or their historical development.Historical linguistics had its roots in the etymological speculations of classical and medieval times, in the comparative study of Greek and Latin developed during the Renaissance and in the speculations of scholars as to the language from which the other languages of the world were descended.It was only in the 19th century, however, that more scientific methods of language comparison and sufficient data on the early Indo-European languages combined to establish the principles now used by historical linguists.THE HISTORY OF LANGUAGE There are over 5,000 distinct human languages in the world. One very basic question is how did they all get there? One of the greatest mysteries that has confronted ma has been that of the origin of a language, a topic on which there has been much speculation.Many of us are familiar with the stories in the genesis concerning the giving of names by a deity and the diffusion of different tongs following the destruction of the tower of Babel.At times, theorists with an inclination towards experimentation have even gone so far as to try to recreate the conditions which they consider necessary for the origin of language. Herodotus, the Greek historian, tells how the ancient Egyptian king PSametichus raised two children in complete isolation from human speech to see what language they would naturally speak, Wardhaugh, R (1972) It’s hard to imagine a cultural phenomenon that’s more important than the development of language. And yet no human attribute offers less conclusive evidence regarding its origins.The absence of such evidence certainly hasn’t discouraged speculation about the origins of language. Over the centuries, many theories have been put forward–and just about all of them have been challenged, discounted, and often ridiculed. Each theory accounts for only a small part of what we know about language. Different scholars have been speculating the origin of language by demonstrating different theories of language. The following are the theories; The Bow-Wow Theory According to this theory, language began when our ancestors started imitating the natural sounds around them.The first speech was onomatopoeic–marked by echoic words such asmoo, meow, splash, cuckoo, and bang. Weakness of the theory Relatively few words are onomatopoeic, and these words vary from one language to another. For instance, a dog’s bark is heard as au au in Brazil, ham ham in Albania, and wang, wang in China. In addition, many onomatopoeic words are of recent origin, and not all are derived from natural sounds. The Ding-Dong Theory This theory, favored by Plato and Pythagoras, maintains that speech arose in response to the essential qualities of objects in the environment.The original sounds people made were supposedly in harmony with the world around them. Weakness of the theory Apart from some rare instances of sound symbolism, there’s no persuasive evidence, in any language, of an innate connection between sound and meaning. The La-La Theory The Danish linguist Otto Jespersen suggested that language may have developed from sounds associated with love, play, and (especially) song. Weakness of the theory As David Crystal notes in How Language Works (Penguin, 2005), this theory still fails to account for “the gap between the emotional and the rational aspects of speech expression.“The Pooh-Pooh Theory This theory holds that speech began with interjections–spontaneous cries of pain (“Ouch! “), surprise (“Oh! “), and other emotions (“Yabba dabba do! “). Weakness of the theory No language contains very many interjections, and, Crystal points out, “the clicks, intakes of breath, and other noises which are used in this way bear little relationship to the vowels and consonants found in phonology. ” The Yo-He-Ho Theory According to this theory, language evolved from the grunts, groans, and snorts evoked by heavy physical labor.Weakness of the theory Though this notion may account for some of the rhythmic features of language, it doesn’t go very far in explaining where words come from. As Peter Farb says in Word Play: What Happens When People Talk (Vintage, 1993), “All these speculations have serious flaws, and none can withstand the close scrutiny of present knowledge about the structure of language and about the evolution of our species. ” But does this mean that all questions about the origin of language are unanswerable? Not necessarily.Over the past 20 years, scholars from such diverse fields as genetics, anthropology, and cognitive science have been engaged, as Kenneally says, in “a cross-discipline, multidimensional treasure hunt” to find out how language began. It is, she says, “the hardest problem in science today. ” LANGUAGE CHANGE All languages change over time and vary from place to place. They may change as a result of social or political pressures, such as invasion, colonization and immigration. New vocabulary is required for the latest inventions, such as transport, domestic appliances and industrial equipment or for sporting, entertainment and leisure pursuits.But a language can also change by less obvious means. Every successive generation makes its own small contribution to language change and when sufficient time has elapsed, the impact of these changes become more obvious. Languages that don’t change over time are considered dead languages. The fact that English changes so much show that it is alive as well. Because English has changed over time, speakers of 1500AD would not have understood on English speaker from 500AD or the modern day English, spoken today. The first written English dates back to 450AD.Overtime it has evolved from the use of Old English to Middle English, early modern English to present day Modern English. These changes are direct reflection of the era in which the English was spoken and the modern day technology available. Eg.The simple expression Dude in 1880, described a man who went slightly overboard with his fashion and today the expression has become part of the teenage vocabulary as a way to show excitement. |Changes affecting Old English | |Old English |Middle English |Modern English |Word | |[ba? t] |[b?? :t] |[bowt] |Boat | |[a:? ] |[??: ? ] |[ow? ] |Oath | |[sta:n] |[st?? :n] |[stown] |Stone | Cf; O’Gradly & Archibald (2000)The Indo-European languages The language family to which English belongs is sometimes known as the Indo-European group, a description which indicates the geographical spread of the languages in this family over a long historical period. One convenient way to represent the long-term change as new languages arise out of prototype or “parent” languages is to use a diagram like a family tree or genealogy. This kind of diagram is helpful so long as you are aware of its limitations.For example, it might lead you to suppose that new languages appear in a definite way, to which we can assign a date (as with the birth of a child). But this is never the case (except with invented languages, like Klingon). Language change does not occur at the same rate in all places. Thus the language of the 14th century author of Pearl and Gawain and the Green Knight has many features we find in Old English, while Chaucer, writing at more or less the same time, uses a variety (or varieties) of written English which are far closer to the forms we use today.This may be associated with a north-south divide, though we know too little to assert this with any great confidence. CAUSES OF LANGUAGE CHANGE The inevitability of language change is guaranteed by the way in which language is passed on from one generation to the next.So during the use of the language between individuals is when language can undergo changes because, everyone has his or her own way of using a language. According to O’Grady, W. & Archibald, (2000) the following are causes of language change. 1). Language contact Language contact refers to the situation where speakers frequently interact with the speaker of another language or dialect.Borrowing of words and constructions from foreign languages affected English language. Among the effects that borrowing can have on the sound system are the introduction of new phonemes or allophones and changes in their distribution. For example, some English speakers pronounce the name of the classical composer Bach with the final velar fricative [x] found in the German pronunciation. If there is a significant number of borrowings from the early Middle English period, the London dialect had [f] but not [v] in word-initial position.The [v] was later introduced as a result of contact with other English dialects. This contact was a factor in the development of a contrast between [f] and [v] word-initially, as found in modern English pairs such as file and vile. 2). Articulatory Simplification As might be expected, the most changes have a physiological basis. Since such sound changes typically result in articulatory simplification, they have traditionally been related to the idea ease of articulation. articulatory simplification involves, deletion of a consonant in a complex cluster, or in some dialects the insertion of a vowel to break up a complex cluster.Refer to the following examples; Physiological basis = “ease” of pronunciation Consonant deletion: clothes klo??? z > klo? z fifth fif? s > fifs 3). Spelling Pronunciation Not all changes in pronunciation have physiological motivation. A minor, nevertheless important source of change in English and other language is spelling pronunciation.Since the written form of a word ca differ significantly from the way it is pronounced, a new pronunciation can arise that seems to reflect more closely the spelling of the word, the case is demonstrated as follows; – often > ?ft? n > ? fn > ? ft? n Although this word was pronounced with a [t] in earlier English, the voiceless stop was subsequently lost resulting in the pronunciation [? fan], however, since the letter t was retained in the spelling, [t] has been reintroduced into many speakers’ pronunciation of this word.4). Analogy and Reanalysis Analogy: reflects preference of speakers of regular over irregular patterns, extension/generalization of a regularity.