Campus News

Linguistics faculty, alumni contribute to multi-volume handbook

Until the study of Indo-European linguistics and the study of non-Indo-European language families were established in the 19th century, ancient grammarians of Athens and Rome believed all human languages were related, if not likely a leftover by-product of the Tower of Babel.

More than 40 percent of the human population (3.2 billion) speaks an Indo-European language as a first language, by far the highest of any language family.

A new multi-volume book is widely considered the most comprehensive coverage of the field of Indo-European linguistics in a century. The Handbook of Comparative and Historical Indo-European Linguistics is a collaborative, three-volume work of 120 scholars from 22 countries. Edited by University of Georgia professor Jared Klein, the book combines the exhaustive coverage of an encyclopedia with the in-depth treatment of individual monographic studies focusing on the entire Indo-European family and treating each major branch and most minor languages.

Published between October 2017 and June 2018, the work consists of three volumes totaling 2,410 pages and has a heavy UGA imprint: Klein is the lead editor, and former UGA linguistics Ph.D. Mark Wenthe is the editorial assistant.

In addition to a chapter by Klein, the book contains two chapters written by Keith Langston, professor and head of the linguistics department, and single chapters by UGA alumni Martin Macak, Caley Smith, Andrew Byrd and Tony Yates.

Following sections on general methodology of historical and comparative linguistics and specifically Indo-European linguistics, the fruits of this methodology in an array of other language families or super-phyla (Semitic, Uralic, Caucasian, African, Austronesian, Australian), and the history of Indo-European studies, the book then takes up one by one the 12 subgroups of Indo-European (Indic, Iranian, Greek, Italic, Germanic, Celtic, Slavic, etc.) with chapters on the documentation, sound systems, grammatical systems, vocabulary, syntax, dialectology and evolution to the modern day (for those groups that have survived). Italic is the language family of modern Romance languages; English arose from the Germanic subgroup.

Those sections are followed by sketches of nine additional language groups that are too poorly documented to allow full-scale treatment. The book then works backward to reconstruct larger entities (super subgroups) like Indo-Iranian and Balto-Slavic, linguistic communities that don’t quite achieve the status of subgroup (e.g. Italic and Celtic), and, ultimately, Proto-Indo-European itself. The final chapter looks beyond Proto-Indo-European to consider its more remote linguistic relationships.

“The editorial enterprise took me five years to the day to complete (June 30, 2012-June 29, 2017) and would have taken considerably longer without the massive input of time and effort on the part of our own Mark Wenthe,” Klein said.

Wenthe, currently a linguistics instructor at UGA, said the precision and accuracy required for such an extensive project tests the limits of linguistics expertise and that editing skills sometimes include detective work.

“It is a challenge to know the correct form for every Indo-European language and sometimes a little luck is necessary to find minor errors that may have been mistakenly confirmed by others for decades,” Wenthe said.

Brian Joseph, Distinguished University Professor of Linguistics at Ohio State University, worked with Klein and Wenthe on the project.

“Together, we have done our best, and we are proud of the result,” said Wenthe.