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Historical linguistics is the study of language change. It has five main concerns:
- to study changes in particular languages
- to discover the pre-history of languages, and group them into language families (comparative linguistics)
- to develop theories about how and why language changes
- to describe the history of speech communities
- to study the history of words, etymology.
History and development
At first, historical linguistics was comparative linguistics. The focus was on the well-known Indo-European languages, many of which had long written histories. Scholars also studied the Uralic languages, another language family for which less early written material exists.
Comparative linguistics is now part of a discipline of historical linguistics. For Indo-European languages, comparative study is now a well-developed field. Most research is being carried out on their later development, such as the development of the modern standard varieties.
Some scholars have done studies attempting to establish super-families. They have, for example, linked Indo-European, Uralic, and other families into Nostratic. Such attempts have not been accepted widely. The information needed to establish relatedness becomes thinner the farther back. The time depth of linguistic methods is limited because of chance word resemblances and variations between language groups. Scholars can trace language changes back to around 10,000 years. The dating of the various proto-languages is also difficult; several methods are available for dating, but only approximate results are possible.
- Bynon, Theodora 1977. Historical linguistics. Cambridge University Press. ISBN 0-521-29188-7
- Janda. Richard D. and Joseph, Brian D. (eds) 2004. The handbook of historical linguistics. Blackwell. ISBN 1-4051-2747-3
- Trask R L. 2001. (ed) Dictionary of historical and comparative linguistics. Fitzroy Dearborn. ISBN 1-57958-218-4