- 101 problems and solutions in historical linguistics: A workbook by Robert Blust
Blust's Workbook in historical linguistics is a set of problems for different areas of language change. The Workbook is organized around the topics of identifying relatedness, sound change, reconstruction, and morphological change. The problems are based on a combination of Austronesian languages and made-up languages and illustrate a variety of points in each case. Problems within each section are graded into "beginner," "intermediate," and "difficult." The book also has a summary of common sound changes and defines key terms. Problem sets are given with solutions, and the data on which the problem sets are based are fully referenced. We used the book in conjunction with another historical linguistics textbook (Crowley and Bowern 2010) with an introductory historical linguistics class in the fall of 2018 at Yale University. This review is based on our experience using the book in the class, as well as our general comments. Overall, the sheer number of problems will be extremely useful for varying the problem sets assigned from year to year in a historical linguistics class without undue repetition. The Workbook is a welcome addition to the teaching materials for traditional historical linguistics, and it is a helpful supplement and reference work.
We begin by briefly describing the historical linguistics class, so our comments can be better contextualized. This is a class that has no prerequisites. It is one of the paths into our linguistics major and is usually taught in the fall semester. As such, it typically includes a substantial portion of students for whom this is not only their first linguistics class but also their first college class. It is designated as a "writing-intensive" class, which means that students explicitly learn about the writing conventions appropriate to their field and receive regular feedback on their writing (and get an opportunity to put that feedback into practice). It is also the prerequisite for Yale's more advanced historical linguistics class (which is also a graduate requirement) and fulfills one of the requirements for the major. This means that the student body comes to this class with varied experience. For some, it is one of the first classes they take on arriving on campus. We also have students about to graduate, as well as the occasional graduate student. We meet for two lectures per week, with an additional "section" (tutorials).
The curriculum for the class is a combination of "traditional" topics in historical linguistics—sound change, reconstruction, subgrouping, semantic [End Page 426] change, topics related to language variation (dialectology and sociolinguistics), and topics related to using language to find out about the past. The first half of the class is spent on sound change, reconstruction, and using the results of reconstructions to study prehistory, while the rest of the semester is concerned with topics related to the social side of language variation and change: language endangerment, pidgins, creoles and mixed languages, and social aspects of language use such as the role of the Internet in language change and policing vocal fry. There was thus an overlap in content with the Workbook for the first section of the class but not the second.
Blust's Workbook was a useful addition to the class in several ways. First, it was a good source of problem sets for section; we also adapted some of the problems for assignments and the final examination. Some of the introductory problems contain no IPA (or minimal IPA), for example, making them ideal for students who are still grappling with the idea that sounds and letters are not the same thing. We were able to introduce IPA to the class but have them work through problems that did not require them to have memorized all the symbols. For section meetings, having the solutions available was helpful. We did not feel that having the solutions available to students was an issue for using these...