Keynote speech

Speaker: Prof. Hans Henrich Hock

Title: South Asia and Historical Linguistics

November 10, 2016, 9.30 am

About the Speaker: Prof. Hans Henrich Hock is Professor Emeritus of Linguistics and Sanskrit at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. Hock holds a Ph.D. in linguistics from Yale University. His research interests include general historical and comparative linguistics, as well as the linguistics of Sanskrit. He currently teaches general historical linguistics, Indo-European linguistics, Sanskrit, diachronic sociolinguistics, pidgins and creoles, and the history of linguistics. He has served on the Undergraduate Program Committee of the Department of Linguistics since 1993.

Abstract of the talk: With members of at least five language families, South Asia offers tremendous opportunities for historical linguistic work. In this presentation I outline three areas that younger linguists might find interesting to investigate. I begin with issues in early Indo-Aryan and Dravidian linguistics, focusing on recent work which suggests that the structure of prehistoric Dravidian was significantly different from what is commonly assumed, raising important questions regarding the prevailing theory of prehistoric Dravidian influence on Sanskrit. While this kind of research offers interesting opportunities, it requires acquiring thorough familiarity with Sanskrit and early Dravidian. An area that is more easily accessible is comparative Dravidian reconstruction: Burrow and Emeneau’s Dravidian Etymological Dictionary (DED) provides an excellent data collection but no reconstructions, and Krishnamurti’s Dravidian Languages only gives a small number of reconstructions. Applying reconstruction methodology to the rich data base of DED can make important contributions without requiring the same kind of detailed language knowledge as other work on early Dravidian.

Next, I focus on quotative marking as a paradigm example of the difficulties besetting work on the development of Modern Indo-Aryan. Again, this area offers excellent research opportunities, but requires acquiring familiarity with Apabhraṁśa and early Modern Indo-Aryan varieties. Work that is more easily accomplished would focus on the linguistic history of individual languages, from their earliest stages (such as Old Marathi) to the modern period and, in so doing, expand our understanding of the historical development of Modern Indo-Aryan.

I conclude by outlining two areas which are most easily accessible to aspiring young linguists and which can also make important contributions. One is work on recent or current language contact and its results. I will draw on the relation between English and South Asian languages as illustration of how contact research, properly conducted, can lead to a deeper and richer understanding of the nature of contact-induced change. A second area is work based on comparing the rich data in Grierson’s Linguistic Survey of India with contemporary spoken usage. The two language stages are separated by four or five generations, sufficient time for major linguistic changes to show up. Grierson’s Survey has the added advantage that it makes it possible to work on language families which lack the rich attestation of Indo-Aryan and Dravidian. Moreover, pursuing this line of research can serve as springboard for further historical work, drawing on 19th-century and modern language descriptions, that is bound to enrich our understanding of South Asia and Historical Linguistics.