Terttu Nevalainen and Helena
Raumolin-Brunberg. 2003. Historical Sociolinguistics: Language
Change in Tudor and Stuart England. London: Longman. Pb. 266pp.
ISBN 0 582 319943.
(Published 2003. HSL/SHL
1. General and
This is the book in which historical
sociolinguistics has come of age. It is full of top-quality information,
representing the fruits of many years of study of variation and change
in the English language. While the primary data come from the (Helsinki)
Corpus of Early English Correspondence (CEEC), the writers'
investigations of specific variables are never separated from
linguistic, historical, sociological and methodological issues, so that
data and theory support and illuminate each other. The book is
impressively complete in its coverage of (especially) the theoretical
and methodological concerns of the subject. The main topics investigated
belong to the study of variation and change in language at any period
and for any language. Indeed, those studying variation and change in any
field of human behaviour could benefit from this study.
2. The Coming of Age
Using electronic corpora in
historical linguistics brought with it the possibility of numerically
verifiable studies of past states of the language and, as corpora grew
and funds and texts became available for larger-scale projects (of which
the Helsinki Corpus covers the broadest time period, see Kytö
and Rissanen 1996:11), comparisons of linguistic forms between texts,
genres, writers and times became increasingly popular research projects.
A constant stream of papers dealing with such issues, mostly presenting
case studies, found its way into the literature, each study reporting
new insights into the language of the past. Some of these have been
published together or with other, non-historical corpus-based papers in
books such as Aijmer and Altenberg, (1991), Hickey et al. (1997), and
Ljung (1997), but it is often hard, especially for students outside
departments with a strong interest in historical linguistics, to find or
even to learn of the existence of all studies relevant to projects in
historical sociolinguistics. Even if the authors do track down all the
papers that have been written about their topic, they will find that
the abundance of diachronic studies dealing with individual linguistic
changes over time, it is not easy to find publications that concentrate
on the temporal aspects of change, such as timing, rate of change and
Raumolin-Brunberg 2003:57), and other, broader issues of this nature.
There has been no single
variation studies in historical linguistics for them to start with, no
central text providing a framework for the many research papers
belonging to this area of interest. I think this book is the
that was needed; it certainly provides a framework and reference point
for future study. Its contribution to original research is immense,
presenting new empirical findings while extending and deepening on-going
theoretical discussions; at the same time, a great deal of the data that
is found in the book can be used in future research.The time-lines of
fourteen changes traced in Chapter 4, for instance, could be used - with
care - as a diagnostic test of the forwardness or conservativeness of
any given writer of personal correspondence from the same period. In
addition, although the book is not intended as a bibliographical
resource, it can be used as one, referring as it does to nearly all
published related studies as well as putting together the most important
of the various arguments and conclusions of socio- and historical
3. Structure and Contents
(a) Of the book
Aiming to use studies of fourteen language
changes from the Early Modern period1
to test “the
issues and modern sociolinguistic generalizations”
(Nevalainen and Raumolin-Brunberg 2003:10), the work is structured
according to the underlying theoretical questions rather than according
to the individual studies. Between the first three introductory chapters
and the conclusion, the book presents chapters on
Patterning of Sociolinguistic Variation”.
There is a useful and somewhat reassuring Appendix I on
to Count Occurrences”,
in which it is shown that, although variable percentages (i.e.
Woods et al. 1986:9) are considered more revealing, "phenomena frequency”
Woods et al. 1986:9) will often pattern in the same way.This is
reassuring, because it is not always possible to have a countable
universe of competing forms, and at other times the forms under
investigation are so rare or (as Nevalainen and Raumolin-Brunberg note
on page 214) so dominated by a single informant's usage that relative
frequencies don't mean anything at all. Appendix II provides detailed
numerical information related to the studies reported in Chapter 4, and
Appendix III gives a list of the letter collections used in the CEEC.
The references are (thank God, the authors and the publishers!) listed
all together before the index, rather than at the end of each chapter.
The index is split into an Author Index and a Subject Index, with the
unfortunate result that some information is lost (where are Marx and
Weber? Where are the Celys, Henry Machyn, Thomas More and the other
(b) Of the chapters
The first three chapters take us from the
general (but very precisely discussed) questions
are the objects of study to be dealt with in this book?”
in Historical Sociolinguistics”)
does Historical Sociolinguistics fit as a discipline?”
paradigms and Language Change”)
to details of the data upon which Nevalainen and Raumolin-Brunberg base
their findings (“Primary
Data: Background and Informants”).
As elsewhere, we find that the writers present a great deal of
information in a condensed form through immediately identifying the main
points of an argument or piece of research and citing the relevant
publications for readers who are not familiar with the rest of the work.
This is not only space saving, but very necessary when so many main
points and different works are involved. Another method of presenting
information in a condensed but clear way is tabulation, which is used
throughout the book for linguistic analysis but here in the opening
chapters is also found as a way of presenting historical and
methodological issues (for example Table 2.1,
paradigms in sociolinguistics”,
which presents the objects, modes of research, fieldwork and descriptive
and explanatory aims of each paradigm in parallel columns; Nevalainen
and Raumolin-Brunberg 2003:18). Within the 52 pages of these first
chapters each point leads to the next very rapidly, so a great deal of
ground is covered.
Chapters 4 to 9 follow the same structure,
in which a relatively brief (but intensely informative) introduction to
the theoretical and methodological issues under investigation is
presented, followed by the analyses of data and finally a conclusion.
The first of these chapters, on real time in historical studies,
presents all of the variables studied in the book. Not all of the
subsequent chapters include all fourteen of them, because not every one
of the sets of data is suitable to every one of the topics of
investigation, often for reasons of
(Nevalainen and Raumolin-Brunberg 2003:85), or just of insufficient
data. Thus the next chapter, investigating apparent time, includes
analyses of only some variables and for only some of the time span of
the corpus, because for other variables and periods there are not enough
informants whose date of birth is known. Chapter 6,
is able to
show results for each of the fourteen variables. Having persuasively
shown how very important gender is in language change, it is unfortunate
that the investigation of social stratification in the next chapter has
to exclude all female informants because of the social imbalance between
male and female writers in the CEEC, where
female informants belong to the upper ranks, while men represent a
broader social spectrum”
(Nevalainen and Raumolin-Brunberg 2003:137). Only six of the variables
are presented here, and it is not entirely clear why the other eight
have been excluded. A comment on page 138 concerning previously
published results may indirectly explain the decision to include only
six studies, although the results of those earlier studies are not
presented at all in this chapter; there is, in addition, a curious
(perhaps spurious?) correlation between the missing eight studies and
the variables which are still not entirely invariable in present day
English usage, listed on page 205. Chapter 8 investigates regional
variation in all of the variables, and Chapter 9 investigates
multivariate analysis of five of them only, with no reason given for the
The conclusion is an example of what a
conclusion should be. Having already presented very impressive results
and conclusions at the end of each content chapter, the book's last
chapter takes these new insights even further, so that there is a strong
sense of discovery and illumination at the end of the book. Fascinating
and important discoveries have been presented in each chapter, such as
the links between the type of change and the gender of change leaders
(Nevalainen and Raumolin-Brunberg 2003:131), and the sensitive relations
pertaining between adoption of a form by the Court and its acceptance as
a part of “the
(Nevalainen and Raumolin-Brunberg 2003:169). The conclusion continues
the multivariate mind-set introduced in Chapter 9, where the relative
importance and interactions of extra-linguistic variables like social
stratum, region, and gender are investigated by putting together the
empirical findings of the book and taking our understanding of these
issues even further. At the same time and in this way it presents a
response to some criticisms of the discipline, especially the
ever-present ghost of Labov's
comment (quoted on page
26 and repeated elsewhere), and more recent statements by Milroy (2002)
and Trudgill and Watts (2002) concerning the
bias of historical studies towards forms that became enshrined in the
4. Repeated material
This book takes up and
further investigates many issues that the CEEC team have
previously discussed. There is an especially close affinity between this
publication and Nevalainen and Raumolin-Brunberg (1996), which should be
mentioned. To start with similarities, the introductory chapters and
parts of the introductory sections within later chapters of the 2003
book are very obviously updated and expanded versions of the first three
chapters of its forerunner. Similar to the new work, in its second part,
the 1996 book presents studies based on the CEEC in terms of
theoretical issues rather than as descriptive studies of variables. The
chapter headings of this part of the earlier book clearly indicate the
close relations between the two books: “Social
time”, and “Regional
variation in standardization ...”.
Within the first three of these central chapters, the writers use some
of the same variables that are found in the later work (YE/YOU, BE/ARE
and THE WHICH/WHICH in “social
stratification”, these same three
variables plus third person -S/-TH in “gender
difference”, YE/YOU, THE WHICH/WHICH,
Relative WHO, third person -S/-TH in “Apparent
time”), but the variables are not
analysed in the same way in the two books.
As for differences, the 1996 work presents
a series of individual studies as separate chapters by different
writers, and has no concluding chapter, so the various findings remain
attached to their particular topic foci and further, potentially
synthesizing, theoretical speculations remain largely unexplored. This
represents the main difference in character between the two books,
because the sense of integration of a generation's worth of research
that pervades the more recent work is not there in 1996, or at least not
to anything like the same extent. In addition, the 2003 book uses a
larger, later version of the CEEC which necessarily affects the
frequencies of the variables reported. In terms of contents, although
there is a great deal of overlapping, especially in the introductory
discussions, we may note the increase in the number of studies upon
which their conclusions are based and the greater number of quantitative
analyses found in 2003 than in the earlier work. In general, the
analytic approaches to the data reported are quite different, with the
earlier book placing far more emphasis on individual informants than is
the case in the book under review. For the 2003 book, as the authors
state, they “concentrate
on macro-level social factors, in order to be able to add to the
(Nevalainen and Raumolin-Brunberg 2003:11). Finally, 1996 contains
chapters by Heikkonen, Palander-Collin and Nurmi, which are not found in
the new book, although their findings are included in its discussions.
The new book also includes discussion of issues raised in a number of
secondary sources that have been published since 1996.
6. General conclusion
One of the many delights in
sociohistorical linguistics is the sheer number of important but
unanswered questions waiting to be researched. Those of us lucky enough
to work in this area need never wonder what to do next, or how to find a
subject for a dissertation student. A lecture on the subject can only
too easily turn into a list of yet-to-be studied topics. This book
manages to maintain the sense of excitement that a relatively new
subject can instill alongside an almost encyclopedic coverage of issues.
The questioning of assumptions found in
every chapter is extremely valuable, and brings with it that sense of
relief that comes when the light of reason is turned towards things too
long unexamined. Among the assumptions gently but thoroughly probed here
are those of the existence of
(Nevalainen and Raumolin-Brunberg 2003:50, n.2), of the S-curve of
language change through time (Nevalainen and Raumolin-Brunberg
2003:53-54, 79), and of the reliability of apparent time (Nevalainen and
Raumolin-Brunberg 2003:99). In addition we find examinations of
fundamental models, such as models of social structure (Nevalainen and
Raumolin-Brunberg 2003:32-38), and of the discrete existence of dialects
notion that dialects are distinct entities rather than simply shorthand
for bundles of linguistic features”,
Nevalainen and Raumolin-Brunberg 2003:160) and discussions of hypotheses
such as those concerning the rates and mechanisms of language change
(Nevalainen and Raumolin-Brunberg 2003:56-57). The thoroughness of the
examination that historical sociolinguistics is put through in this book
is impressive, and the results are exciting and convincing. And all the
while the summaries of previous scholarship and attention to
methodological detail are so good that the book can be used as a
handbook for researchers.
Margaret J.-M. Sönmez,
Middle East Technical
Postscript: Typographical errors
For the sake of future reprintings and
editions of the book the publishers should note a typographical error on
the last line of page 23 (“compsrison”),
and another error on page 27 where the word
should, I think, read “overestimate”.
involved are: YE/YOU, MY & THY/MINE & THINE, ITS, ONE as a prop word,
Object of Gerund, Noun Subject of Gerund, 3rd person -S/-TH,
Affirmative Periphrastic DO, Negative Periphrastic DO, Multiple
Negation, Inversion after adverbs and negators, WHICH/THE WHICH,
Prepositional Phrase vs. Relative Adverb, Indefinite pronouns with
singular human reference.
Aijmer, Karin and Bengt Altenberg (eds).
1991. English Corpus Linguistics. Studies in Honour of Jan Svartik.London:
Corpus of Early
Hickey, Raymond, Merja Kyto, Ian
Lancashire and Matti Rissanen. (eds.). 1997. Tracing the trail
of time.Proceedings from the Second Diachronic Corpora Workshop.
Merja and Matti Rissanen.
analysis and diachronic corpora”.
In: Hickey et al. (eds.), 9-22.
Ljung, Magnus (ed). 1997.
Corpus-based Studies in English. Papers from the seventeenth
International Conference on English Language Research on Computerized
Corpora (ICAME 17). Amsterdam: Rodopi.
Milroy, James. 2002.
“The legitimate language: giving a
history to English”.
In: Watts and
Trudgill (eds.), 7-25.
Nevalainen, Terttu and Helena
Raumolin-Brunberg (eds). 1996. Sociolinguistics and Language
History.Studies based on the Corpus of Early English Correspondence.
Trudgill, Peter and
Richard Watts. 2002. “Introduction.
In the year 2525”.
In: Watts and Trudgill (eds.), 1-3.
Watts, Richard and Peter
Trudgill (eds.). 2002. Alternative Histories of English. London:
Anthony, Paul Fletcher and Arthur Hughes. 1986. Statistics in
Language Studies.Cambridge: Cambridge