On Reconstructing the Middle Ground

Margaret E. Winters

Abstract


In the introductory lecture in some beginning courses in historical linguistics, the instructor may discuss the ways in which one can explain points of resemblance between languages. These points of resemblance arise for one or more of the following reasons: coincidence, contact, shared inheritance from a single older form, or some aspect of the universal nature of language. Once coincidence is dismissed, for obvious reasons, the other three factors are defined briefly and the rest of the semester is spent talking, principally, about two of them: contact and shared inheritance.
Language universals, nevertheless, also playa significant role as well in our understanding of language evolution, although they are usually viewed primarily through the perspective of typological statements rather than via the universals themselves. The goal of the present paper is to explore this diachronic relationship between typology and universals
through some rather familiar data drawn from the history of the Romance languages. Each of the cases to be studied additionally involves a reconstruction, undertaken not with the usual goal of discovering a prelanguage or a protolanguage, but in order to define intermediate stages, whose nature must be hypothesized in situations where both endpoints are more or less well established.

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