The handbook of historical linguistics pdf

This article includes a list of references, but its sources remain unclear because it has insufficient inline the handbook of historical linguistics pdf. Please help to improve this article by introducing more precise citations. Historical linguistics, also called diachronic linguistics, is the scientific study of language change over time. Modern historical linguistics dates from the late 18th century.


It grew out of the earlier discipline of philology, the study of ancient texts and documents dating back to antiquity. At first, historical linguistics served as the cornerstone of comparative linguistics primarily as a tool for linguistic reconstruction. Scholars were concerned chiefly with establishing language families and reconstructing prehistoric proto-languages, using the comparative method and internal reconstruction.

Uralic languages, another European language family for which less early written material exists. Since then, there has been significant comparative linguistic work expanding outside of European languages as well, such as on the Austronesian languages and various families of Native American languages, among many others. Comparative linguistics is now, however, only a part of a more broadly conceived discipline of historical linguistics. For the Indo-European languages, comparative study is now a highly specialized field.

Most research is being carried out on the subsequent development of these languages, in particular, the development of the modern standard varieties. Some scholars have undertaken studies attempting to establish super-families, linking, for example, Indo-European, Uralic, and other families into Nostratic. These attempts have not been accepted widely.

The information necessary to establish relatedness becomes less available as the time depth is increased. The time-depth of linguistic methods is limited due to chance word resemblances and variations between language groups, but a limit of around 10,000 years is often assumed.

Initially, all modern linguistics was historical in orientation. Even the study of modern dialects involved looking at their origins. Ferdinand de Saussure’s distinction between synchronic and diachronic linguistics is fundamental to the present day organization of the discipline.

Primacy is accorded to synchronic linguistics, and diachronic linguistics is defined as the study of successive synchronic stages. Saussure’s clear demarcation, however, has had both defenders and critics.