Linguistics 110
Introduction to Language Change
Spring, 2005


This course covers the principles of language change and the methods of historical linguistics on an elementary level. The systematic regularity of change, the reasons for that regularity, and the exploitation of regularity in linguistic re-construction are especially emphasized. Examples are drawn from a wide variety of languages, both familiar and unfamiliar. Since there are no prerequisites, the course includes mini-introductions to articulatory phonetics, basic phonology (especially the principle of contrast), and basic morphology (especially inflection), all of which must be understood in order to understand the ways in which they change.


Tuesdays and Thursdays 15:00-16:30
Mcneil Building 286-7


Instructor Bill Poser
TA Aaron Dinkin

Final Exam (Spring 2005)

Midterm Exam (Spring 2005)

Midterm Exam (last year's)


Final Exam (last year's)


Reading for the course consists of a textbook, available at the bookstore, and a course pack that will be available the morning of January 20th at the Campus Copy on Walnut Street between 39th and 40th.

The textbook is:

Campbell, Lyle (2004)
Historical Linguistics: An Introduction. Cambridge: MIT Press. 2nd edition. ISBN 0-262-53267-0

Here is a table of contents of the course pack:

Language Change: Some Basics [notes]1
Some basic lexical items in mediaeval languages spoken in Britain [data]7
Parallel paradigm "good, better, best" in some mediaeval languages of Western Europe [data]8
Irregular comparison in some mediaeval Germanic languages [data]8
The conventional division of the history of English into periods [notes]9
How "mixed" is English, really? [paper] 10
The consonants of English [chapter] 19
The vowels of English [chapter] 27
Phonetic chart of English consonants [chart]34
Phonetic of English vocalics [chart]35
Consonant symbols [chart]37
Vowel symbols [chart]39
The International Phonetic Alphabet [chart]40
Phonemicizing Data: A Demonstration Using Mari [problem]41
Phonemic Analysis [chapter] 43
Short Phonemicization problems [problems]51
Phonemicization problem: Zoque54
Phonemicization problem: Nahuatl55
Phonemicization problem: Hidatsa57
Phonetic Change: Exercise 1 58
Phonetic Change: Exercise 2 59
Phonetic Change: Exercise 3 61
Phonemic Change Exercise 1: Italian and Sardinian 63
Phonemic Change Exercise 2: Gothic65
Extended Exercise in Sound Change67
A Demonstration of the Comparative Method [notes]69
Comparative Reconstruction Problem 1: Proto-Polynesian75
Comparative Reconstruction Problem 2:79
Comparative Reconstruction Problem 3:82
Comparative Reconstruction Problem 4: Proto-Tocharian85
The Social Motivation of a Sound Change [paper]88
A Classification of the World's Major Languages [notes]107

People sometimes request additional reading. Here are some recommendations. Hock (1988) is a more advanced book, intended for graduate courses, emphasizing the formal aspect of language change. Thomason (2001) is a general introduction to language contact. For basic linguistic background, Sapir (1921) is a classic that is still arguably the best short introduction to linguistics.

Verner (1875) is the classic paper on the exceptionlessness of sound change. Hübschmann (1875) corrected the misclassification of Armenian as an Iranian language by identifying three sets of sound correspondances, two of which reflected loans from Iranian.

Hock, Hans Heinrich (1988)
Principles of Historical Linguistics. New York: Mouton de Gruyter.

Hübschmann, Heinrich (1875)
On the Position of Armenian in the Sphere of the Indo-European Languages. English translation of "Über die Stellung des Armenischen im Kreise der indogermanischen Sprachen," Zeitschrift für vergleichende Sprachforschung auf dem Gebiete der Indogermanischen Sprachen 23.1.5-49.

Sapir, Edward (1921)
Language: An Introduction to the Study of Speech. New York: Harcourt, Brace, Jovanovich. Readable online at

Thomason, Sarah G. (2001)
Language Contact: An Introduction. Washington: Georgetown University Press.

Verner, Karl (1875)
An Exception to the First Sound Shift. English translation of "Eine Ausnahme der ersten Lautverschiebung," Zeitschrift für vergleichende Sprachforschung auf dem Gebiete der Indogermanischen Sprachen 23.2.97-130



[Most of the exercises are in the course pack.]

Phonetics Resources

Fonts with Phonetic Symbols
If you use Microsoft Word, probably the easiest way to get IPA symbols is to use one of the free fonts available from the Summer Institute of Linguistics here. If you use a Unicode editor such as yudit or a Unicode-capable word-processor, you might try the Code 2000 font, available here. This font covers pretty much all of the Basic Multilingual Plane, which includes all of the IPA symbols. The numerical codes for the IPA symbols can be found here or here.

Common Deviations from the International Phonetic Alphabet

IPA Chart
A scalable copy of the 1996 version of the IPA chart.

Interactive Sagittal Section
A nice interactive demonstration of the relationship between phonetic descriptors and the position of the articulators.

IPA Symbols With Audio
A tutorial on the International Phonetic Alphabet with lots of nice illustrations in which clicking on a symbol plays an example.

Examples from Vowels and Consonants
Audio files containing the examples from Peter Ladefoged's book Vowels and Consonants.

Examples from A Course in Phonetics
Audio files containing the examples from Peter Ladefoged's book A Course in Phonetics.

Other Resources

The Ethnologue
The best comprehensive source of basic information about languages, such as where they are spoken, by how many people, and what other languages they are related to. There are indices by language name, language family, and country.
Carrier Dialect Features
The Carrier dialect features discussed in class can be found at the web site of the Yinka Dene Language Institute.


Midterm exam40%
Final exam40%

Last modified: 2005/03/07.

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