LING 052 — Spring 2019
Historical and Comparative Linguistics

Professor:Jonathan North Washington
Office:Pearson 105
Office phone:x6134
Office hours:T&W 13:15-14:45
Lecture Time:M 1:15-4:00pm
Classroom:Beardsley 318
Course website:
Course moodle site: S19 - LING052.01


The central goal of this course is for students to gain an understanding of the main concepts in the field of Historical and Comparative Linguistics and the skills needed to solve the types of problems encountered in this field. Here's the official course description:

This course is an introduction to the study of linguistic change. Various models of language change are explored to seek to understand how and why languages change. This will be done by drawing from a wide range of languages to explore changes at all levels of the grammar (phonology, morphology, syntax, semantics, etc.) and the various factors that can contribute to linguistic change. We will learn how it is possible to reconstruct linguistic systems that we have no direct record of, and will consider what it means for languages to diverge and converge. Major themes of the course will be the comparative method and the relationship between socio-linguistics and historical linguistics. The topics of language shift, language endangerment and death, language birth, and language planning will also be addressed, and assigned work and projects will develop the skills to conduct historical linguistics research through exploitation of electronic and library resources.

Required Materials

The following textbook is required, and is available from the bookstore.

Classroom discussion will often deal with content from the book, so please bring the book to class every day.

Also, you'll need to be able to access Moodle ( This is where you'll take reading quizzes, submit assignments, and view your grades for the course, so make sure you can access it as soon as possible. If you have any trouble with it, let me know as soon as possible.

The course website (listed above, and linked to from the Moodle course) contains a constantly updated schedule for the semester. While each week's reading quizzes on Moodle will list the required readings for that week, other information might be found only on the course website (such as resources discussed in class, the course structure and our progress in it, the presentation schedule, etc.). It's recommended to check the website at least a couple times per a week. I will make announcements about any major changes.

Office Hours

I hold regular office hours (listed above), and can be available at other times by appointment—just send me an e-mail letting me know when you might prefer to meet.

If you are having any trouble with class, such as with understanding a concept or completing an assignment, please don't hesitate to ask me for help. I'm here to help you learn, so I encourage you to take advantage of my availability.


Classroom etiquette

Show up on time and silence cell phones. You may eat and drink as long as it doesn't disturb other students and the lecturer. If you need to step out of the class for any reason (bathroom, emergency phone call, etc.), please do so with minimum disruption (i.e., don't ask for permission).

If you use a computer, tablet, or other electronic device for taking notes (etc.), please use it only for relevant classroom activities. In other words, please refrain from any sort of non-class-related activities, including messaging (e-mail, social media, etc.), homework for other courses, or even planning for next week's presentation. Even the best multitaskers are still not participating fully when they're engaging in unrelated endeavours. If it's too difficult to avoid the temptation of these other distractions, you may try strategies like turning off the device's wifi, or simply taking notes on paper.

Note on pronouns: if you'd like to be referred to by a pronoun that you think I might not guess correctly or if you notice me referring to you by some other pronoun than what you'd prefer, please let me know so that I can get it right.

Class material

All material covered during course-related activities—including assigned readings, quizzes, homework, and even your classmates' presentations—should be assumed to be required course content, and may be included in exams. It is each student's responsibility to attend all classes to learn the material covered. If you must miss a class, it is courteous to notify your professor ahead of time if at all possible, but it will be your responsibility to learn about missed material from classmates. It is not my responsibility to make up for your absence or re-teach the material. (That said, let me know if you're having trouble making something up.) With so few class meetings, missing one day can be a very big deal—so I really recommend trying not to miss class.

The assigned readings are to be read in advance of the class dates they're assigned for, and the online quizzes will test your understanding of the content. The readings complement in-class activities and provide the necessary background; however, you should not assume that they will be fully summarized or reviewed in class. Students should be prepared to evaluate, integrate, or respond to the readings in class discussions.

Turning in assignments on time

Reading quizzes are to be completed online every week by the beginning of class on Monday, and Moodle will enforce this by deactivating the quiz then. If for some reason you won't be able to take an assigned quiz, please let me know ahead of time so an alternative can be arranged; however, because you will usually have nearly a week to complete these quizzes and may do so at your convenience, you will have to have a pretty good excuse to be granted an alternative to a quiz.

Homework assignments are to be completed online every week by the end of the day on Thursday (midnight), and Moodle will enforce this by deactivating submissions then. If you anticipate a problem getting the homework in on time, please let me know ahead of time so that an alternative can be arranged; however, because you will usually have over three days to complete these assignments and may do so at your convenience, you will have to have a pretty good excuse to be granted an alternative to an assignment. If you are having a problem submitting the assignment online (such as ensuring that the symbols are displaying correctly), feel free to upload the assignment in PDF format instead (the deadline remains the same), or hand it to me typed by 5pm on Thursday (and let me know by email that you are planning on doing so).

Any excuse for missing any course-related activities will need to be handled by your class dean. Please see the Medical Excuse Policy (, and remember to contact your class dean as soon as you can so that they can work with you.

Academic Integrity

You are always expected to do your own work on assignments. On the other hand, for completing homework assignments, you are allowed to collaborate with other students and use the internet as a resource (as long as you avoid resources that present answers or solutions outright). You may also consult other sources when preparing presentations. However, please cite any sources you use or other students you worked with on both homeworks and presentations. In the end, you must always do your own work—this means that you must state things in your own words and show that you understand any ideas that you got from another source.

Using words or ideas from another source without attribution constitutes plagiarism, and misrepresenting another student's work as your own (or allowing another student to misrepresent your work as their own) is cheating. Please see the student handbook for the College's policies on academic misconduct ( Suspected cases of academic misconduct will be pursued to the full extent of College policy, including referral to the College Judicial Committee.

So please just be honest. And if you have any questions about what's considered acceptable, ask me first.


Most of your assignments will be graded with a fine-grained measure of completion and correctness based on normal letters grades and grade points (A = 4.0, B = 3.0, C = 2.0, D = 1.0, and F = 0.0), with the standard modifiers + (one-third of a grade point higher) and - (one-third of a grade point lower). In addition, intermediate grades using parentheses or a slash may be used, giving the following correspondence between letter grade and grade points:


Course Grade Components

The grade in this course is broken down into the following components. Each component is expounded upon following the table.
Homeworks (about 12):36%
Reading quizzes (about 12):24%
Exams (2):20%
Presentations (2):10%

Homeworks (36%)

There will be approximately 12 homeworks assigned (i.e., one almost every week). These assignments will appear on Moodle every week by the end of the class on Monday, and must be completed by midnight on Thursday. They will be related to the content of the class on the Monday that they appear and the reading completed before that class. If problems are encountered submitting the assignment online (such as ensuring that the symbols are being displayed correctly), it may be uploaded to Moodle in PDF format or delivered typed to my office by 5pm on Thursday.

You may collaborate on the problem solving portions of homeworks, but you must write up your own responses, unique from other students'. I suggest you only take notes when working with friends and then write up your responses alone, in your own words. Work identical to another student's, even partially, will be investigated for plagiarism.

No make-up or extra credit assignments will be given, and if you miss class, it is still your responsibility to make sure you understand the requirements of the assignment. Please talk with the instructor if you think you will miss a class.

Reading quizzes (24%)

One reading quiz will be assigned approximately each week. Each of these quizzes will cover material from the assigned reading. They are meant to test your understanding of the reading and provide you with materials from which to study. The quizzes will be accessible on Moodle and are to be completed outside of class by the beginning of class each Monday; they will be deactivated automatically as class starts. You can take each quiz as many times as you want, and your highest score will be recorded; however, you will not be shown which answers you got wrong. There will be no make-ups for quizzes without a valid excuse (see late assignment policy above).

Exams (20%)

There will be two exams: a mid-term exam involving the material covered up to that point in the course, and a cumulative final exam covering topics starting from the first day of class. The midterm exam will be a take-home exam, which will take the place of a homework assignment. The exams will be like homeworks in style and content, but you may not work with your classmates on them. No early or make-up exams will be given except in extreme circumstances. The time of the final exam will be posted later in the semester.

Presentations (10%)

Each student will give two presentations over the course of the semester. The first will be on a scholarly article, and the other will be on a language family—both chosen by the student.

I'll provide a list of available articles and dates that each should be presented on, and students will indicate their preference for which articles they would like to present. Articles will be assigned to students based on this. You may not get your first choice, but I'll try to make sure everyone gets an article they're happy with. However, since the point is to expand your horizons, it can be a good thing to read on a topic you have a little bit less interest in or context for. Links to articles can be found on the course website, and most of them will be in Moodle too. Only the student assigned each article is required to read it (though everyone else is encouraged to at least have a look!).

Article presentations should walk the class through the main ideas of the article, present an assessment of these ideas, and provide a point of departure for discussion of the ideas (e.g., in the form of discussion questions). Each presenter should consider the presentation to be providing background for a discussion that they will lead, and hence should be prepared to answer questions about the article, as their classmates will [mostly] not have read it. The formal part of the presentation is expected to last about 20 minutes (±5 minutes), and discussion may continue for any amount of time, depending on constraints of the day. Presenters should make use of slides and/or handouts, and should connect the content of the article to the course as a whole and the current topic. Presentations will be graded for completeness (covering all the main ideas), clarity, time, and response (thoughtfulness about the article's content, leading discussion on its ideas).

Presenters are encouraged to schedule a meeting with me and/or a Speaking Associate ( to discuss the article and their upcoming presentation during the week preceding their presentation. A presentation will be "demoed" by the professor early in the semester and the grading of the presentations will be discussed then too.

The language family presentation will be in place of a final exam during our final exam period. Students will choose different language families, which will be used as a platform to incorporate issues touched on throughout the semester. These presentations will be done in small groups. More specific guidance on these presentations will be provided later in the semester.

Participation (10%)

I do not grade on attendance, but you will be graded on participation, and this requires attendance. Beyond simply showing up and participating, you're encouraged to contribute to discussions by asking questions, answering questions, making relevant comments, etc. You will not be ridiculed for asking even simple questions—I want to make sure everyone grasps the concepts, and many are not as straightforward as they may first seem. Also, please bring your textbook to class, even though we won't always use it. You are encouraged to engage in relevant discussion via the General Discussion forum on Moodle as well.


If you believe you need accommodations for a disability or a chronic medical condition, please contact Student Disability Services (Parrish 113W, 123W) via e-mail at to arrange an appointment to discuss your needs. As appropriate, the office will issue students with documented disabilities or medical conditions a formal Accommodations Letter. Since accommodations require early planning and are not retroactive, please contact Student Disability Services as soon as possible. For details about the accommodations process, visit the Student Disability Services website at You are also welcome to contact me privately to discuss your academic needs. However, all disability-related accommodations must be arranged, in advance, through Student Disability Services.

Schedule (subject to adjustment)

(by Monday)
(by Thursday)
1 23 Jan

Introductions, syllabus

What/why is Historical Linguistics

Intro to history of English

2 28 Jan

Intro to Historical Ling (ctd)

Typology of language change

Trask Ch. 1


D'Arcy et al. (2013) - Asymmetrical trajectories: The past and present of -body/-one

Hickey (2012) - Early English and the Celtic Hypothesis

3 4 Feb

Lexical and semantic change

Trask Ch. 2


Zenner et al. (2014) - Core vocabulary, borrowability and entrenchment

Wales (2004) - Second Person Pronouns in Contemporary English: The End of a Story or Just the Beginning?

Thomas Grano (2006) - “Me and her” meets “he and I”: Case, person, and linear ordering in English coordinated pronouns OR Van Engen (2007) - Coordinated Pronoun Variation in American English

4 11 Feb

Sound change

Trask Ch. 3


Michaud, Jacques, & Rankin (2012) - Historical transfer of nasality between consonantal onset and vowel: From C to V or from V to C?

5 18 Feb

Sound system change

Trask Ch. 4


Haspelmath (2006) - Against markedness

Matisoff (2006) - Genetic versus Contact Relationship: Prosodic Diffusibility in South-East Asian Languages

6 25 Feb

Morphological and Syntactic change

Trask Chs. 5 & 6


DeLancey (2001) - The mirative and evidentiality

Cutler, Hawkins, & Gilligan (1985) - The suffixing preference: a processing explanation

Vennemann (2002) - On the Rise of ‘Celtic’ Syntax in Middle English

7 4 Mar

Relatedness between languages

Trask Ch. 7


Matras (2005) - The classification of Romani dialects - A geographical-historic perspective

Wichmann et al. (2010) - Homelands of the world's language families: A quantitative approach

Georg et al. (1998) - Telling General Linguists about Altaic AND Beckwith (2007) - The Altaic Convergence Theory

11 Mar

Spring break!


8 18 Mar

The comparative method

Trask Ch. 8


9 25 Mar

Internal reconstruction

Trask Ch. 9


10 1 Apr

The origin and propagation of change

Trask Ch. 10


Nagy (2011) - Lexical change and language contact: Faetar in Italy and Canada

11 8 Apr

Language contact and linguistic areas

Trask Ch. 11.1-11.2


Thomason & Kaufman (1989) - Contact-Induced Language Change: An Analytic Framework

Masica (2001) - The Definition and Significance of Linguistic Areas: Methods, Pitfalls, and Possibilities (with Special Reference to the Validity of South Asia as a Linguistic Area)

Haspelmath (2001) - The European linguistic area: Standard Average European

Friedman (2006) - The Balkans as a Linguistic Area

Matras & Sakel (2007) - Investigating the mechanisms of pattern replication in language convergence

12 15 Apr

Language birth, death, planning

Trask Ch. 11.3-11.5


McWhorter (2006) - Creole Transplantation: A source of solutions to resistant anomalies

Burling (2009) - The Lingua Franca Cycle: Implications for Language Shift, Language Change, and Language Classification

13 22 Apr

Language and prehistory

Trask Ch. 12


Garrett (2006) - Convergence in the Formation of Indo-European Subgroups: Phylogeny and Chronology

Ringe (2009) - The Linguistic Diversity of Aboriginal Europe

Stemberger (1979) - Reconstructing the Proto-Indo-Europeans

Starostin (2012) - Dene-Yeniseian: a critical assessment (and Vajda’s reply)

14 29 Apr

Historical linguistics in the lab


Sneller & Roberts (2018) - Why some behaviors spread while others don’t: A laboratory simulation of dialect contact


Language family presentations

final exam