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  • The development of Old English: A linguistic history of English, vol. 2 by Don Ringe and Ann Taylor
  • Bettelou Los
The development of Old English: A linguistic history of English, vol. 2. By Don Ringe and Ann Taylor. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2014. Pp. ix, 614. ISBN 9780199207848. $135 (Hb).

This is the second volume of Don Ringe’s series A linguistic history of English. Both authors are responsible for the introduction; Ringe is the author of Chs. 2–7, and Ann Taylor is the author of Ch. 8 on syntax. As the authors remark in their introduction, piecing together the prehistory of Old English is a very different task compared to the work that was done for the first volume (From Proto-Indo-European to Proto-Germanic): we are getting closer to the present time and there is a wealth of surviving texts available, not just of Old English but also of its Germanic siblings; the availability of more factual information is also reflected in the availability of more scholarship.

After a short introduction setting out the aims and coverage of the volume, the second chapter, ‘The development and diversification of Northwest Germanic’, tries to determine which developments are narrowly datable to Proto-Northwest Germanic, the ancestor of North and West Germanic, and arrives at this list: (i) Proto-Germanic (PGmc) *ē changed to *ā, a change that persists in many of the daughter languages to this day, though not in English (cf. Dutch/Present-day English (PDE) cognate pairs like slapen/sleep, wapen/weapon, maan/moon); (ii) word-final *-ō became *-ū; (iii) word-final long high vowels were shortened in unstressed syllables, which accounted for the shortening of both *-ū and *ī; (iv) unstressed *-am- changed to *-um-. Change (ii) has to be ordered chronologically before change (iii) in this scenario, as it fed that change. The identification of a sequence of changes, a relative chronology, validates Northwest Germanic (NWGmc) as a clade (16). The morphological changes in NWGmc are primarily characterized by [End Page 741] inflectional losses and remodeling of strong adjectival endings and second-person plural pronouns. The chapter ends with other early changes that are widely shared in NWGmc but belong to the period of diversification, and are hence the result of contact rather than inheritance; one of these is *u to *o, where the conditioning environment differs for each dialect (27ff.). The morphological changes of this period are, again, mostly losses and paradigm leveling. Innovations are the spread of -um to and within strong adjective inflection, and the class II strong verbs that have *ū in the root syllable (rather than *eu); Old High German (OHG) did not take part in these innovations, which could mean that Proto-West Germanic (PWGmc) was already dialectally diverse at a very early date (40).

Ch. 3, ‘The development and diversification of West Germanic’, discusses the innovations that are shared by the West Germanic languages. The sound changes are primarily losses of various kinds in unstressed or lesser-stressed syllables at the ends of words, like the loss of word-final *-z after all unstressed vowels, followed by loss of word-final *-a and its nasalized counterpart *-ą (the arguments for and against this particular ordering of the changes are given on p. 46); the loss of word-final short high vowels; bimoric long ō-vowels in word-final position or before word-final *r becoming *ā and trimoric long ō-vowels becoming *ō; shortening of vowels before word-final *r in unstressed syllables; and also gemination. The major morphological innovations are various remodelings of verb inflections, including the participles of the preterite present verbs, originally weak. Some of them survived as adjectives, like Old English (OE) ġewiss ‘certain’ (77), but remodeled as strong (OE ġewiten ‘known’). The third-person pronouns were largely replaced by forms based on *hi-/*he- ‘this’ (80). The nominative masculine *siz (OE ) and fem. *si(j)u replaced inherited *sa and *, respectively (81).

Ch. 4, ‘A grammatical sketch of Proto-West Germanic’, presents the paradigms that result from the developments discussed in Ch. 3. Sound changes famously mess up paradigms, but it is less well known that paradigms in turn affect phonology: the grammatical reanalysis that...


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