This book puts forward a different approach to language change, the punctuated equilibrium model. This is based on the premise that during most of the 100,000 or more years that humans have had language, states of equilibrium have existed during which linguistic features diffused across the languages in a given area so that they gradually converged on a common prototype. From time to time, the state of equilibrium would be punctuated, with expansion and split of peoples and of languages, most recently, as a result of European colonisation and the globalisation of communication which are likely to result in the extinction, within the next hundred years, of 90% of the languages currently spoken. Professor Dixon suggests that every linguist should assume a responsibility for documenting some of these languages before they disappear.
• Contributes to the 'language evolution' debate, with an alternative model for long-term language change, the punctuated equilibrium model • Challenges speculation concerning the reconstruction of the 'proto-languages' of humankind • Points to the limited usefulness of the 'family tree' model and 'comparative method' of reconstruction in historical linguistics
Acknowledgements; 1. Introduction; 2. Preliminaries; 3. Linguistic Areas and Diffusion; 4. The Family Tree Model; 5. Modes of change; 6. The Punctuated Equilibrium Model; 7. More on proto-languages; 8. Recent history; 9. Today's priorities; 10. Summary and prospects; Appendix - where the comparative method discovery procedure fails; References; Index.
'I recommend this publication be read by all linguists no matter what their field of interests or specialization are. D's style is witty and to the point, but more relevantly, his previous achievements qualify him to serve as the ideal spokesman on these most significant and sensitive issues, as linguistics enters the new millennium.' Alan S. Kaye, California State University, Fullerton
'It is a work which anyone interested in the prehistory of languages will wish to read. I predict that it will have a significant and healthy influence upon the development of research in this area and in historical linguistics as a whole.' Cambridge Archaeological Journal
'Certainly the most refreshing and stimulating work in the field of historical linguistics I have had the pleasure of reading.' Colin Renfrew, Cambridge Archaeology
'Ground-breaking work in the true sense of the term.' Robert Orr, Diachronica