Historical Sociolinguistics and Sociohistorical Linguistics

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Review of:

Lyle Campbell and Mauricio J. Mixco.  2007.  A Glossary of Historical Linguistics.  Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press.  237 pp.  Hb 978 0 7486 2378 5 / Pb 978 0 7486 2379 2

Received, October 2007, published December 2007 (HSL/SHL 7)

This glossary by Campbell and Mixco is part of a well-known series of “glossaries” on major subfields of linguistics by the same press, including, to date, the following topics: sociolinguistics, language and mind, morphology, applied linguistics, English grammar, corpus linguistics, semantics and pragmatics, phonology, and cognitive linguistics. Campbell and Mixco have advanced the series by providing a highly accessible and rewardingly concise resource for beginning and advanced students of historical linguistics, a subfield of linguistics that continues to advance, and in the process, to undergo ever more subspecialization, which in turns promotes the construction of ever more terminologically-loaded frameworks. Glossaries and dictionaries, together with handbooks and textbooks, provide a major gateway for newcomers to any scholarly field, as well as a persisting line of support for more advanced students. The glossary by Campbell and Mixco is no exception.

The glossary contains a very brief Contents section, an almost equally brief Note to the Reader section, followed by the glossary section itself, titled “A Glossary of Historical Linguistics”, spanning 226 pages, and finally, a Bibliography, spanning ten pages. The Note to the Reader only explains the use of italics for emphasis, not to point to key words that would make up separate entries in the glossary itself. It quickly becomes apparent that the glossary uses boldface letters to point to key words with separate entries. Definitions for entries range in length from a sentence or two (“Iroquoian”, “splitter”), to multi-paragraph treatments spanning in a few cases two pages or more (“punctuated equilibrium model”).  Entries range from linguistic change processes (cf. “analogical leveling”, “inkhorn term”, “interference”, “primary split”), to sociolinguistic phenomena (“language contact”, “language death”, “language maintenance”, “language shift”), linguistic theories, methods, and assumptions (“comparative method”, “polygenesis”, “uniformitarianism”), subfields of linguistic research (“socio-historical linguistics”), linguistic areas (“Amazonian linguistic area”, “Mesoamerican linguistic area”), language families (“Indo-European”, “Mayan”), language subfamilies (“Anatolian”), and macro-families (“Macro-Gê”, “Macro-Penutian”, “Nostratic”) - whether accepted (“Algonquian”, “Dravidian”, “Tupian”, “Uralic”), proposed and controversial (“Amerind hypothesis”, “Penutian”) or abandoned or rejected (“Indo-Pacific”, “Ural-Altaic”, “Xinca-Lenca”). There are, apparently, no separate entries for important scholars in the field, although such scholars are usually mentioned in entries related to their proposed concepts or achieved breakthroughs (e.g. mention of Saussure under “laryngeal theory”). In some cases, alternative terms for the same phenomenon or concept exist, and Campbell and Mixco attempt to reconcile their senses (cf. “submerged feature” and “shared aberrancy”). Also, tendencies for lexical preferences and semantic changes in the terminology of the field are often noted, as illustrated with the following entry for “stock” (2007: 192-3):

stock   Sometimes, particularly in older writing, used as equivalent to family
tree, a translation equivalent of German Stammbaum.  More frequently, ‘stock’ is used in the sense of a genetic unit (clade, descent group) with great time depth or of one larger than a typical language family, for example a language family that includes several other (sub)families as its daughters; however, ‘stock’ frequently implies not just large-scale family groupings but also proposed distant linguistic relationships that are not (yet) demonstrated, that is, hypotheses of remotely related languages in larger-scale proposed families. Johanna Nichols (1992) uses the term to mean ‘a maximal reconstructable clade [genetic unit], e.g. the oldest families displaying regular sound correspondences and amenable to Neogrammarian comparative method… The oldest known stocks are about 6000 years old: e.g. Indo-European, Uralic, Austronesian’ (Nichols 1997: 362-3).  See also macro-family.

Campbell and Mixco conclude with a ten-page bibliography, printed in smaller font size than the glossary section itself, and covering a significant range of scholars and topics within historical linguistics. To the extent that was allowed by time constraints, the present author searched for discrepancies between citations in the glossary section and the references in the bibliography, but found none.

Previously, only the Dictionary of Historical and Comparative Linguistics by Ronald L. Trask (2000), also published by Edinburgh University Press, had provided students of this subfield with a comparable resource. The works by Campbell and Mixco, and Trask, however, appear to be designed for different audiences, and for different purposes.  From the point of view of a teacher, Campbell and Mixco constitute a resource that beginner (undergraduate) students will be more likely to take advantage of, and which more advanced (graduate) students will retain for its great utility farther along in their careers as linguistic majors, as graduate students, and eventually, as linguistics professors teaching the subject matter to beginners. The work by Trask is more geared for graduate courses, courses where a greater variety of topics can be covered, and where students are better prepared to tackle current debates and controversies. Another difference is the breadth of coverage: Campbell and Mixco limit themselves to historical linguistics with little venturing into the realm of sociolinguistics or variationist linguistics, whereas Trask covers a significant amount of relevant sociolinguistic concepts. Given that Trudgill (2003) had previously published A Glossary of Sociolinguistics with Edinburgh University Press, it seems likely that Campbell and Mixco thought it best not to produce a work with significant overlap with another work in the same series. The fact is, in any case, that the field of language variation and change, which can be logically described as the intersection between sociolinguistics and historical linguistics, has proliferated to such an extent that perhaps a future glossary in the series should be devoted to it. Consequently, there is no fault to be found, necessarily, with Campbell and Mixco’s lack of inclusion of a greater number of entries related to these fields, although more attention to recent models for the spread of linguistic traits, such as the hierarchical and contra-hierarchical models, would supplement the entries on the family tree and wave models in the glossary in future editions of the glossary.

This work is highly recommended for beginner and advanced students of historical linguistics, as well as for seasoned professionals who would not mind having a new resource to the subject matter, whether for use in teaching or to search for alternative ways to define or explain concepts and terms. This glossary is more accessible and concise than the only other similar resource in English - Trask’s (2000) more comprehensive and advanced dictionary - although the two are better thought of as having different audiences and objectives in mind. The entries exhibit a significant topical range, and their definitions deal with precisely the issues that dictionaries should treat - both the sense of terms as well as the variety of usages of, and alternative expressions to such terms.

David Mora-Marin, University of North Carolina (contact the reviewer).


Trask, Ronald L. 2000. Dictionary of Historical and Comparative Linguistics. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press.

Trudgill, Peter. 2003. A Glossary of Sociolinguistics. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press.