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Language and History, Linguistics and Historiography

Interdisciplinary Approaches

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Nils Langer, Steffan Davies and Wim Vandenbussche

What are the points of contact between the study of language and the study of history? What are the possibilities for collaboration between linguists and historians, and what prevents it? This volume, the proceedings of an international conference held at the University of Bristol in April 2009, presents twenty-two articles by linguists and historians, exploring the relationship between the fields theoretically, conceptually and in practice. Contributions focus on a variety of European and American languages, in historical periods from the Middle Ages to the present day. Key themes at the intersection of these two disciplines are the standardization and classification of languages, the social and demographic history of medieval and early modern Europe, the study of language and history ‘from below’, and the function of language in modern politics. The value of interdisciplinary collaboration is demonstrated in a wide-ranging set of case studies, on topics including language contact in Northern and Central Europe, the relationship between peninsular and transatlantic Spanish, and new approaches to the recent histories of Nicaragua, Luxembourg and Bulgaria. The volume seeks out the interdependencies between the two fields and asks why exchanges between linguists and historians remain the exception rather than the rule.

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1 Language and History, Linguistics and Historiography: Theoretical Outlook and Methodological Practices 1

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Part 1 Language and History, Linguistics and Historiography: Theoretical Outlook and Methodological Practices Steffan Davies, Nils Langer and Wim Vandenbussche Language and History, Linguistics and Historiography: Interdisciplinary Problems and Opportunities For the past few years, the notion of interdisciplinarity has been a buzz- word to be found in any programmatic research outline or grant proposal, understood to be a vital break away from scholarly isolation and too narrow a focus on one’s own methodology and research questions. This pertains to the humanities just as much as to the natural sciences, and it is hardly a new idea. The historian Marc Bloch stated in the 1940s that ‘it is indis- pensable that the historian possess at least a smattering of all the principal techniques of his trade’ (Bloch 1992: 57). More specifically with regard to the disciplines of linguistics and History, Bloch exclaims: ‘What an absurd illogicality that men who half the time can have access to their subject only through words, are permitted, among other deficiencies, to be ignorant of the fundamental attainments of linguistics’ (ibid.).1 Yet in practice, exchange between the two fields has often remained a desideratum rather than actual achievement. The fragmentation of traditional philology into a broad subset of highly specialized branches of linguistics from the 1960s (computational linguistics, feminist linguistics, language acquisition stud- ies, etc.), all of which tended to focus on present-day language use only, meant that the study of language structure and texts in their historical context lost the prominence it had...

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