Skip to Content

College of Arts & Sciences
Linguistics Program

Historical Linguistics

Historical linguistics is the study of the way language changes over time, and involves examining the development of individual languages and the comparison or related languages.  The discipline partakes of a dualism which is basic in linguistics in that on the one hand its material consists of particular listable phenomena and events, and on the other hand we are able to generalize from these data about how people talk.  For instance, if a structural unit of language has changed in its nature or distribution in linguistic history, that unit has thus been shown to exist, as effectively as if that unit were observed to change in the course of language acquisition or in a language disorder. Because language change thus provides one sort of laboratory for the study of basic linguistic phenomena, historical linguistics at the present time is an area of lively theoretical discussion as well as of concrete scholarly investigations.

Subdisciplines of historical linguistics include historical phonology, morphology, syntax, semantics, and sociolinguistics.  Program faculty have expertise in these general areas as well as in comparative Celtic, Germanic, Romance, Slavic, and Indo-European linguistics.  Trained historical linguists find employment in departments of Linguistics, English, foreign languages, and Anthropology. 

Faculty having Historical Linguistics as an area of interest:


Amanda Dalola

Assistant Professor (Languages, Literatures, and Cultures; French)
Ph.D., UT Austin, 2014

Phonetics, Sociophonetics, Sociolinguistics, Theoretical Phonology, Lab Phonology, Historical Romance, Historical Linguistics, Applied Linguistics, Scandinavian Languages

Dorothy Disterheft

Associate Professor (English)
Ph.D., University of California-Los Angeles, 1977

Theory of language change; Historical syntax; Historical phonology; Indo-European linguistics, culture, religion, and prehistory; Old and Middle Irish syntax; Contemporary English grammar

Kurt Goblirsch

Professor (Languages, Literatures, and Cultures; German)
Ph.D.,University of Minnesota, 1990

Comparative Germanic linguistics (German, English, Scandinavian, Dutch, Frisian), historical linguistics, language typology, dialectology, phonology, morphology, etymology 

D. Eric Holt

Associate Professor (Languages, Literatures, and Cultures; Spanish)
Ph.D., Georgetown University, 1997

Phonology, Historical linguistics, dialectology.

Scott Gwara

(Consulting Faculty)

Professor (English)
Ph.D., University of Toronto, 1993  

Bilingualism in pre-conquest England, Old English and Anglo-Latin philology.

Graduate Courses in Historical Linguistics:

LING 533 - Introduction to the Germanic Languages
Credits: 3
Introduction to historical Germanic linguistics including a survey of the Old Germanic languages (Old English, Old Frisian, Old Saxon, Old High German, Old Norse, Gothic); comparative phonology, morphology, and syntax, typology of modern Germanic languages and dialects; and common Germanic in its Indo-European context.

Cross-listed Course: GERM 517

LING 730 - Historical Linguistics
Credits: 3
Innovation in phonology, morphology, syntax, and semantics; evidence from texts, social and regional dialects; emphasis on theories of language change.

Prerequisites LING 600 and 610

LING 731 - History of English Language
Credits: 3 
The historical background of Modern English with attention to the major linguistic and cultural developments which distinguish English from other related languages. No prior knowledge of Old English or Middle English is required.

Equivalent Course ENGL 781

LING 732 - History of the French Language
Credits: 3 
Development of the French language from its origins to 1600.

Equivalent Course FREN 715

LING 733 - History of the German Language
Credits: 3 
Relationship of German to the other Germanic languages. Phonological and morphological development of German. Attention also to syntax, vocabulary, and dialects.

Equivalent Course GERM 705

LING 734 - History of the Spanish Language
Credits: 3 
Development of the language from its origins to the present day.

Equivalent Course SPAN 715

LING 739 - The Evolution of Linguistic Theory, Practice, and Methods
Credits: 3 
Introduces basic resources of discipline and focuses on the development of linguistics in terms of dominant issues and analytical methodology with emphasis on paradigm shifts.

Prerequisites LING 600, 610, 620

LING 830 - Seminar in Historical Linguistics
Credits: 3 
Special topics in historical and comparative linguistics, such as historical phonology or syntax, Indo-European linguistics, and comparative Germanic or Romance linguistics.

Prerequisites consent of instructor