History of Historical Linguistics

Topics: Historical linguistics, Language family, Linguistics Pages: 2 (392 words) Published: April 19, 2009
History of historical linguistics

Modern historical linguistics dates from the late 18th century and grew out of the earlier discipline of philology, the study of ancient texts and documents, which goes back to antiquity. At first historical linguistics was comparative linguistics and mainly concerned with establishing language families and the reconstruction of prehistoric proto-languages, using the comparative method and internal reconstruction. The focus was on the well-known Indo-European languages, many of which had long written histories. But since then, significant comparative linguistic work has been done on the Uralic languages, 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 and most research is being carried out on the subsequent development of these languages, particularly 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 because the information necessary to establish relatedness becomes less available as the time depth is increased. The time-depth of linguistic methods is limited because of chance word resemblances and varies between language groups, but a limit of around 10,000 years is often assumed. The dating of the various proto-languages is also difficult. Several methods are available for this but only approximate results can be obtained.

The biological origin of language is in principle a concern of historical linguistics, but most linguists regard it as too remote to be reliably established by standard techniques of historical linguistics such as the comparative method. Less standard...
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