Trask's Historical Linguistics  book cover
4th Edition

Trask's Historical Linguistics

  • Available for pre-order on April 19, 2023. Item will ship after May 10, 2023
ISBN 9780367645571
May 10, 2023 Forthcoming by Routledge
448 Pages 32 B/W Illustrations

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Book Description

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.

This 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 grammaticalisation and the discussion of the ‘homeland’ of Indo-European

• 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, so important to our understanding of radical linguistic change

• An updated companion website 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.

Table of Contents

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 and kindly

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

3.9 Summary

Further reading

J. C. Wells (1982) is a comprehensive survey of the various accents of English, including


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’

4.6 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 eye 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

11.6 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



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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