410 Pages 32 B/W Illustrations
    by Routledge

    410 Pages 32 B/W Illustrations
    by Routledge

    Trask’s Historical Linguistics provides an accessible introduction to historical linguistics – the study of language change over time. This engaging book is illustrated with language examples from all six continents, and covers the fundamental concepts of language change, methods for historical linguistics, linguistic reconstruction, sociolinguistic aspects of language change, language contact, the birth and death of languages, language and prehistory, and the issue of very remote relations.

    The fourth edition of this renowned textbook is fully revised and updated and covers the most recent developments in historical linguistics, including:

    • A thorough reworking of sections on morphological and syntactic change, incorporating progress in areas such as grammaticalization and the discussion of the Indo-European ‘homeland’
    • Discussion and analysis of ‘folk’ historical linguistics and its connection with some of the more eccentric views of professional linguists
    • An expanded discussion of language contact, historical sociolinguistics, and language planning, including a discussion of contemporary competing views on the genesis and nature of creoles, and their importance in our understanding of radical linguistic change
    • Updated support material including suggestions for essay questions and a larger number of supporting examples of the phenomena described in the book

    Trask’s Historical Linguistics is essential reading for advanced undergraduate and postgraduate students of historical linguistics as well as any student looking for a grounded introduction to the English language.

    List of illustrations

    To the reader

    To the teacher



    1. The fact of language change

    1.1 Irregardless

    1.2 English then and now

    1.3 Attitudes to language change

    1.4 The inevitability of change

    Case-study: kind regards

    Further reading


    2. Lexical and semantic change

    2.1 Borrowing

    2.2 Phonological treatment of loans

    2.3 Morphological treatment of loans

    2.4 Formation of new words

    2.5 Change in word-meaning

    Case study: nice

    Further reading


    3. Phonological change 1: Change in pronunciation

    3.1 The phonetic basis of phonological change

    3.2 Assimilation and dissimilation

    3.3 Lenition and fortition

    3.4 Addition and removal of phonetic features

    3.5 Vowels and syllable structure

    3.6 Whole-segment processes

    3.7 The regularity issue: a first look

    Case study: Germanic */xw/ in the present-day dialects

    3.8 Summary

    Further reading


    4. Phonological change II: Change in phonological systems

    4.1 Conditioning and rephonologization

    4.2 Phonological space

    4.3 Chain shifts

    Case study: large scale change in the Germanic consonant system - Grimm’s Law and Verner’s Law

    4.4 Summary

    Further reading


    5. Morphological change

    5.1 Reanalysis

    5.2 Analogy and levelling

    5.3 Universal principles of analogy

    5.4 Morphologization

    5.5 Morphologization of phonological rules

    5.6 Change in morphological type

    Case study: The evolution of the definite article from the demonstrative paradigm in English

    Further reading


    6. Syntactic change

    6.1 Reanalysis of surface structure

    6.2 Shift of markedness

    6.3 Grammaticalization

    6.4 Typological harmony

    6.5 Syntactic change as restructuring of grammars

    Case study: the rise of ergativity

    Further reading


    7. Relatedness between languages

    7.1 The origin of dialects

    7.2 Dialect geography

    7.4 Tree model and wave model

    7.5 The language families of the world

    Case study: A Martian’s view on the Germanic language family

    Further reading


    8. The comparative method

    8.1 Systematic correspondences

    8.2 Comparative reconstruction

    8.3 Pitfalls and limitations

    8.4 The Neogrammarian Hypothesis

    8.5 Semantic reconstruction

    8.6 The use of typology and universals

    8.7 Reconstructing grammar

    8.8 The reality of proto-languages

    Case study: A reconstruction too far?

    Further reading


    9. Internal Reconstruction

    9.1 A first look at the internal method

    9.2 Alternations and internal reconstruction

    9.3 Internal reconstruction of grammar and lexicon

    Case study: The laryngeal theory of PIE

    Further reading


    10. The origin and propagation of change

    10.1 The Saussurean paradox

    10.2 Variation and social stratification

    10.3 Variation as the vehicle of change

    10.4 Lexical diffusion

    10.5 Near-mergers

    Case study: historical sociolinguistics

    Further reading


    11. Social and historical pressures upon language

    11.1 Linguistic contact

    11.2 Linguistic areas

    11.3 Language birth: pidgins and creoles

    11.4 Language planning

    11.5 Language death

    Case study: the genesis and development of American and New Zealand English

    Further reading


    12. Language and pre-history

    12.1 Introduction

    12.2 Linguistic palaeontology

    12.3 Links with archaeology

    12.4 Statistical methods

    Case study: Greenberg’s mass comparison

    Further reading


    Appendix: The Swadesh 200-word list




    Robert McColl Millar is Professor of Linguistics and Scottish Language at the University of Aberdeen, Scotland. He has published widely on, amongst other things, linguistic contact and rapid language change, the sociology of language, and dialectology. His most recent publications include Contact: The Interaction of Closely Related Linguistic Varieties and the History of English (2016) and A Sociolinguistic History of Scotland (2020). He has recently completed A History of the Scots Language, which will be published in 2023.

    R L Trask was Professor of Linguistics at the University of Sussex, UK, and a leading authority on Basque language and historical linguistics. His book The History of Basque (1997) is an essential reference on diachronic Basque linguistics, and probably the best-known introduction to Basque linguistics. He also wrote about the problem of the origin of language and, amongst his other publications, the very successful foundational text, Language: The Basics (1995).

    Since its first publication in 1996, Trask’s Historical Linguistics has been the resource for teaching historical linguistics. It’s great to have a new edition, carefully updated and revised by language change expert McColl Millar, so that future generations can also work with this gem of a textbook!

    Professor Alexander Bergs, Osnabrück University, Germany

    Trask's Historical Linguistics is that rare thing: a wide-ranging textbook for both undergraduates and postgraduates that is not only as an authoritative introduction to the topic but also offers new insights into major research problems. Robert McColl Millar's latest revision is a tour-de-force of clear, up-to-date and indeed inspirational exposition. It can be heartily recommended.

    Jeremy J. Smith, University of Glasgow, Scotland