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The date of the arrival of Indo-European languages in Europe has not been established with any degree of certainty, and different scholars vary by some thousands of years in their estimates. According to Baldi and Page (2006), 4500 BC seems to be the earliest limit for the Indo-Europeanisation of Europe espoused by any historical linguist; and many other writers suppose that Indo-European-speaking migrants can first be associated with the archaeological Corded Ware culture which is not attested before around 3000 BC – and then only as far west as southern Poland (Mallory 1989). Baldi and Page (2006: 2194) further state that the ‘traditional view of the settlement of the Celts places them in the British Isles no earlier than about 2000 BC’.
One of the fundamental bases of modern historical linguistics is the uniformitarian principle. This principle states that knowledge of processes that operated in the past can be inferred byobserving ongoing processes in the present. The notion of uniformitarianism can be credited to British scientists, beginning with the work of the Scottish geologist James Hutton, who lived from 1726 to 1797. This was extended in the thinking of another Scot, John Playfair (b. 1748). And it became widely known as a result of the work of yet another Scot, Charles Lyell, in his 1830 work, Principles of geology.
As is well-known, the Austronesian language family includes more than 1,200 members (Pawley & Ross 1993: 429); it is found over a bigger area of the globe than any other family, stretching from Madagascar, in the western Indian Ocean, to Easter Island, in the eastern Pacific; and it covers 70 degrees of latitude, from Hawai’i in the north to New Zealand in the south.
Nettle (1999: 138) has written that ‘no relationships of grammatical typology to structure or social organisation have been convincingly demonstrated’, but that ‘it seems quite plausible that some such relationship could exist’, although ‘the question has received little rigorous scholarly attention’. It is precisely this question which sociolinguistic typology is intended to devote scholarly attention to. The term sociolinguistic typology, as noted in the Prologue and in Chapter 1, refers to research which attempts to apply sociolinguistic data and insights to the study of the typology of the world’s languages.
During the period of colonial expansion from the fifteenth century onwards, a number of Western European languages were transplanted to other continents. This produced new varieties of these languages which were different from those of the metropolitan homeland. Well-known examples include the English of the USA, the French of Canada, the Portuguese of Brazil and the Spanish of Argentina.
As we noted in Chapter 2, the very earliest known form of Proto-Indo-European had only two grammatical genders: Fortson (2010: 114) tells us that ‘the oldest preserved branch of Indo-European, Anatolian, had only a two-way distinction between animate or common gender and inanimate or neuter’. According to Ringe (2006: 24), however, all the extant modern Indo-European varieties descend from the non-Anatolian branch of Proto-Indo-European, which he calls North Indo-European, which represents a more complex and innovative stage of Proto-Indo-European in which, at some point after 4200 bc, ‘a three-way contrast in grammatical gender between masculine, feminine, and neuter’ (Fortson 2010: 114) had developed. It is widely agreed that the innovation which gave rise to the new tripartite system was precisely the development of the new feminine gender.
Adger and Smith (2005: 155) write that ‘one of the most common features of vernacular dialects [of English] world wide’ is the occurrence of plural was as in we was, you was, they was. This, occurring as it does alongside singular was as in I was, she was, obviously represents a regularisation in comparison with Standard English. Indeed, there is a widespread perception in the international English-linguistics community in general that this phenomenon is so widespread as to be the norm in varieties of English other than Standard English, to the extent that it may be a ‘vernacular universal’ (Chambers 2001; Walker 2007; Filppula, Klemola & Paulasto 2008) or a ‘vernacular primitive’ (Chambers 1995: 242). As Tagliamonte (2008) states, ‘according to Chambers’ theory of “vernacular roots,” certain variables appear to be primitives of vernacular dialects in the sense that they recur ubiquitously all over the world’.
We do not know for certain how old human language, as we understand it, is. Lieberman (2008: 359) argues for a date in the Upper Paleolithic around 50,000 bc as the ‘start-point for fully human linguistic capacity’ [my italics]. Dixon (1997: 2) mentions 100,000 years as a possibility for the age of human language. Evans (2010:14) suggests that language dates back to ‘long before’ 150,000 years ago. Foley (1997: 73) says that ‘language, as we know it, was born about 200,000 years ago’. And Dediu and Levinson (2013) argue, on the basis of their supposition that Neanderthals and Denisovans also had language (a possibility specifically excluded by Lieberman, and others), that it might even be 500,000 years. Whatever the answer may be, however, we are at least justified in describing human language as having been with us for ‘a very long time indeed’.
There are many factors which have contributed to the linguistic character of modern English, but one of them is undoubtedly contact. In this chapter, I will be concerned to approach the notion of language contact, and its role in the history of English, from what I hope will be a nuanced, sociolinguistic-typological perspective. By this I mean that sociolinguistics shows us that, as we have seen in earlier chapters, language contactis not a unitary phenomenon, as it sometimes seems from the literature: the linguistic consequences of language contact can vary enormously depending on the particular sociolinguistic conditions in which it takes place (Trudgill, 2011).
Were Stone-Age languages really more complex than their modern counterparts? Was Basque actually once spoken over all of Western Europe? Were Welsh-speaking slaves truly responsible for the loss of English morphology? This latest collection of Peter Trudgill's most seminal articles explores these questions and more. Focused around the theme of sociolinguistics and language change across deep historical millennia (the Palaeolithic era to the Early Middle Ages), the essays explore topics in historical linguistics, dialectology, sociolinguistics, language change, linguistic typology, geolinguistics, and language contact phenomena. Each paper is fully updated for this volume, and includes linking commentaries and summaries, for easy cross-reference. This collection will be indispensable to academic specialists and graduate students with an interest in the sociolinguistic aspects of historical linguistics.
I sometimes think that Professor Maria Sifianou’s eminence in the field of linguistic politeness studies – and her total pre-eminence in the field of Greek linguistic politeness research – remain something of a surprise to her. If so, then I would like the readers of this fine volume, published in her honour, to know that this is most definitely not my fault.
Work in sociolinguistic typology and creole studies has established the theory that intensive language contact involving second language acquisition by adults tends to lead to grammatical simplification. This theory is built on many anecdotal case studies, including developments in the history of Continental North Germanic associated with contact with Middle Low German. In this paper, we assess the theory by examining two changes in the history of Norwegian: the loss of coda /Cr/ clusters and the loss of prepositional genitives. If the theory is correct, these changes should have been innovated in centers of contact with Middle Low German. We find that both changes in fact spread into southeastern Norwegian from Swedish. Since contact with Low German also took place in Sweden and Denmark, this is consistent with the theory. It opens questions for future research about the role of dialect contact in simplificatory change in North Germanic.