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A Linguistic History of English: From Proto-Indo-European to Proto-Germanic: v. 1 Paperback – 6 Nov 2008


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This is a highly welcome and useful book for scholars and advanced students of comparative Indo-European and Germanic linguistics and the history of English... I await with anticipation the second volume... (David Stifter, Linguistlist)

About the Author

Don Ringe is Kahn Endowed Term Professor in Linguistics at the University of Pennsylvania and the author of numerous publications on comparative Indo-European linguistics, historical linguistics, and computational cladistics, including On the Chronology of Sound Changes in Tocharian.

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Amazon.com: 4 reviews
9 of 9 people found the following review helpful
A great book for advanced readers 8 Dec. 2010
By Benjamin P. Wing - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
This is a wonderful book for those readers who are heavily interested in historical linguistics and the origins of Proto-Germanic. It is probably not going to useful for your average dilettante, however. Ringe essentially assumes familiarity with Gothic, Old English, Greek, Latin, and Indo-European studies in general. For the right reader, however, it is a true gem. It's well written and does an exceptionally good job in presenting modern views both on Proto-Indo-European in general and on the origins of Proto-Germanic. I'm heavily familiar with both subjects and I still found this book incredibly eye-opening. One of the best features is the complete conjugation tables of PIE nouns and verbs and especially the enormous numbers of examples, illustrated with cognates from across the PIE spectrum (forms in Hittite, Avestan and Tocharian are especially welcome as these are generally under-represented elsewhere; the Hittite and Tocharian forms in particular go a long way in reducing the skepticism that I naturally had for some of the newer theories that he presents).

My biggest complaint is the lack of a concept index. This can make it very tricky to find particular topics, esp. since Ringe presents the same material three times over in three different chapters -- from the PIE standpoint, from the diachronic PIE->PGerm standpoint, and from the synchronic PGerm standpoint. The individual chapters could also stand some better organization. For example, in discussing Proto-Germanic verb classes, Ringe presents the various classes in the order from easiest-to-understand to hardest. Although this is convenient, it makes it unnecessarily hard to locate. Similarly, the same subject may be broached in more than part of a chapter (e.g. once in the vowel section, once in the consonant section, and once in the morphology section). The cross-references are well-done, so if you find some part of the discussion in one place you can often find the other places, but the lack of an index can still entail a lot of unnecessary hunting around.
9 of 9 people found the following review helpful
Superb treatment of the latest in IE/Proto-Germanic historical linguistics 29 Jan. 2011
By Piet van der Boom - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
I bought this book some time ago, and have read and re-read it multiple times. It's not for the faint of heart (i.e., those who aren't fairly well versed in Indo-European historical linguistics). But for those who do have a decent understanding of the basics, and especially for any budding Germanic historical linguists, this book is a superb treatment of the subject matter (and a must-read for the latter). It presents some of the latest research (sometimes controversial) in the field in a methodical manner. Ringe's command of the subject matter, his thorough research, and his unique background make this book one of the best I've read in the field. I highly recommend it for upper-class college and graduate students studying IE historical linguistics, and as an excellent resource for professors. For those seeking a more basic treatment of the subject matter, there are numerous books that are more apropos that deal with the history of English (this is definitely not a beginner's text). But for those with more advanced knowledge of IE historical linguistics, I can't recommend this book more highly. I for one look forward to Volume II with bated breath.
8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
Lucid and welcome PIE to PG text 1 May 2011
By DE - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback
Ringe, professor of linguistics at U Penn., has achieved in the 300 pages of main text a welcome, lucid and compact examination (considering the complexities of the subject) of the development of Proto-Germanic (PG) from Proto-Indo-European (PIE). The first volume in the projected Linguistic History of English, Ringe's work launches the series quite effectively. Significantly influenced by the work of the late Warren Cowgill of Yale, Ringe offers a synthesis of contemporary understandings and well-supported reconstructions, notably in the areas of PIE and PG accent, nominal inflection and ablaut, verbal aspect, and details of some 40 phonological changes underlying these (particularly the eventual elimination of laryngeals) in the emergence of PG. More precisely, Ringe distinguishes between PIE proper, which includes Anatolian, principally represented by Hittite, and (North) Indo-European, which includes the outlier Tocharian. The general linguistics audience is well served by this book in seeking to identify the consensus views on PIE and PG. Where Ringe suggests any steps away from the mainstream, he explains his thinking with carefully reasoned and well-supported speculation; for me these instances constitute some of the most intriguing parts of his book. While acknowledging the lack of a current etymological dictionary of PIE, Ringe supplies a base PIE vocabulary of several hundred items with which to illustrate this diachronic study. Roughly the first quarter of the book treats PIE, leaving the remaining three-quarters to address PG specifically. In his introduction Ringe notes he presupposes a fair amount of prior linguistic knowledge "in order to keep the work within reasonable bounds": a basic grounding in modern linguistics, a general knowledge of phonology, morphology and traditional historical linguistics, and some familiarity with at least one older PIE language. He also notes that due to space constraints he does not "cite full evidence for the standard reconstructions offered here," directing interested readers to other texts which can supply ample documentation. Not surprisingly, a respect for established phonological law underpins his text and its examples: "since investigation of historically documented languages shows that sound change is overwhelmingly regular in statistical terms, it is a serious breach of the uniformitarian principle not to assume the same for prehistory." In sum, a balanced, needed and useful book.
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
In spite of being in a series on the history of English, this is a major contribution to Indo-European linguistics 10 Feb. 2014
By Christopher Culver - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback
When Oxford University Press launched their multi-volume "A Linguistic History of English" back in 2006, they started from the very beginning. This first volume, written by Don Ringe, is titled FROM PROTO-INDO-EUROPEAN TO PROTO-GERMANIC, and covers over its four hundred pages two reconstructable ancestors of English. While the series as a whole may interest a different crowd or crowds, this first volume is a major event for Indo-Europeanists. Ringe presents a complete view of Proto-Indo-European according to the current consensus of scholars, surpassing the other, more dated handbooks on the market.

Ringe has been greatly inspired by the work of the late Warren Cowgill, and in many respects his view of Proto-Indo-European is like that of Sihler in his New Comparative Grammar. Ringe believes Anatolian split off early, and the other early IE families are descended from a "North IE" branch, which he focuses on in this work. This allows him to present the verb system as it is easily reconstructible from the bulk of the early IE languages without having to complicate the issue with the very different Anatolian verb. The entire first half of the book is dedicated to a contemporary reconstruction of Proto-Indo-European. All the recently discovered etymologies are here, such as the verb "to listen" being a compound "(s)he is sharp-eared".

In the second half, Ringe exhaustively describes how PIE changed over time into Proto-Germanic, describing the major sound laws and seismic shifts in the verbal system. The new inflectional classes that arose are given in detail. Finally, Ringe takes a synchronic look at Proto-Germanic, comparing its phonological inventory to that of other languages, and conjecturing what allophones each phoneme may have had. I do wish there were more on the Proto-Germanic lexicon than the page and a half here, and this is my only real complaint about the book.

Ringe has maintained correspondence with today's other eminent Indo-Europeanists, and his book includes a number of ideas which, though hitherto unavailable in print, have been floating around in e-mails for some time. Also, though Ringe generally sticks to the consensus view in his reconstructions, he occasionally expresses his own opinions on matters, and these are often thought-provoking. For example, for the ancestor of English "bear (animal)", Ringe would posit PIE *gwer "wild animal" (cf. Gr. ther, Latin ferus) instead of the usual conjecture that it is from a tabooistic circumlocution meaning "the brown one".

If you are new to comparative Indo-European linguistics, this work will probably be hard going. I'd recommend Lehmann's Theoretical Bases for a friendly introduction. And those looking for a history of English that includes Proto-Indo-European, but not to the level of detail that Ringe gives, try Roger Lass' concise OLD ENGLISH: A Historical Linguistic Companion. Nonetheless, if you have experience in the field of IE linguistics and like to keep up with the most recent developments, Ringe's book is something you must seek out.
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