Historical Linguistics

Instructor: Rennie Gonsalves Tel.: 718-951-5928; renisong@brooklyn.cuny.edu
Class Meets: TBA
Office Hours: 12:30-1:30 on Tuesdays & 9:00-10:00 on Thursdays, (and by appointment) in 1420 Ingersoll





General Description of the Course:

Description: This class will be an introduction to historical linguistics, with an emphasis on describing and illustrating the different kinds of changes that occur in languages over time. We will begin with a hypothetical story about how a language of a tribe of people on an island might change as a result of migration of parts of the tribe to different geographical regions of the island. We will use this story to illustrate how the genetic relationships between languages might come about, how a bunch of daughter languages at a particular point in time might have developed out of a single mother language from a much earlier point in time. We will illustrate these concepts with references to a few language familiesóthe Romance Languages, the Indo-European Languages, and the Austronesian languages. Much of the linguistic evidence used throughout the semester will come from these language families, with a special emphasis on the Austronesian languages, a group of languages that has been the center of much recent attention in the field of historical linguistics. After a brief preparatory look at the structure of language--the sound system or phonological component, the word-building or morphological component, the grammatical or syntactic component, and the meaning or semantic componentówe will begin the central portion of our study with a look at types of sound change. We will learn about some simple formal devices used to describe sound changes and then go on to study and practice methods used to reconstruct the sound systems of earlier stages of a language. Here our study of the comparative method and the method of internal reconstruction will make up a central part of what we will do in this class, but we will also spend considerable amounts of time on other areas of historical linguistics, including the use of computational and statistical methods; and morphological, syntactic, lexical and semantic change in languages. Our text for this course, An Introduction to Historical Linguistics, by Terry Crowley and Claire Bowern, includes exercises at the end of each chapter, and we will spend much of our class time working on and reviewing these exercises. Homework will include reading the chapters and doing the exercises. In class we will go over the central concepts of each chapter, and then devote most of the class to going over the exercises in small groups and also as a whole class. There will be five short quizzes (about 20 minutes). Your grade for this class will be based on your attendance and participation, the quizzes, a midterm, and a final.

Required Texts: Crowley, Terry, and Claire Bowern, An Introduction to Historical Linguistics; Fourth Edition, Oxford University Press, 2010 (available at the Brooklyn College Bookstore).


Students must attend regularly, arrive on time and must be prepared to participate, having done the assigned work. Participation will count for 20% of the overall grade for the course..



There will be an open-book midterm.

There will be an open-book final.

There will be weekly homework assignments.

There will be five short quizzes.