All our past tenses

Historical Linguistics
November 26, 2004

Lyle Campbell is professor of linguistics at the University of Canterbury in New Zealand and an acknowledged authority on American Indian languages, with publications on Finno-Ugrian languages and general linguistics as well. Two of his 15 books have won the Linguistic Society of America’s bi-annual award for the best book in linguistics.

This edition of his textbook expands the 1998 edition. There have been other good introductions to historical linguistics - by Raimo Anttila (1972, second edition 1989) and by Hans Henrich Hock (1986, second edition with Brian D. Joseph 1996), for example. But, as Campbell points out in the preface, his book differs in that it “does not just talk about the topics, but shows how to apply the procedures, how to think about the issues and, in general, how to do what historical linguists do. To this end, this text contains abundant examples and exercises.”

Thanks to this practical approach, Campbell’s book has a clear edge as the most useful practical introduction to the subject for beginners - and for more advanced students and specialists - who can work on it even on their own if they cannot attend a course. Its bibliography curiously omits one notable predecessor, Ronald W. Langacker’s Fundamentals of Linguistic Analysis (1972), but some of Langacker’s numerous exercises are rather difficult, and there is not as much spoon-feeding as in Campbell’s book.

Among the topics neglected in older textbooks that receive appropriate attention in Campbell’s introduction are areal linguistics and its implications; critical evaluation of proposals of distant genetic relationship; linguistic prehistory (including vocabular recovery of the protolanguage and search for its homeland); and the role of philology in its various aspects.
On the whole, the book appears to be remarkably reliable, especially in view of the wide range of languages covered.

Asko Parpola is professor of Indology, University of Helsinki, Finland.

Historical Linguistics: An Introduction. Second edition

Author - Lyle Campbell
Publisher - Edinburgh University Press
Pages - 448
Price - £50.00 and £17.99
ISBN - 0 7486 1904 6 and1905 4

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