American Indian Languages: The Historical Linguistics of Native America (Oxford Studies in Anthropological Linguistics) Review
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Any book such as this will seem dry to those looking for interesting facts about American Indian languages. It is a reference book, aimed primarily at scholars and at students and others who want to look up what is known about the genetic affiliation of particular languages. Contrary to another reviewer's comments, one should not expected it to be full of data. A review of the details of the evidence with the scope of this book would require thousands of pages. Those looking for a survey of the languages themselves are more likely to be satisfied with Marianne Mithun's Languages of Native North America, or, if they are more interested in social and cultural aspects of languages, with Shirley Silver and Wick Miller's book American Indian Languages: Cultural and Social Contexts.
The book devotes considerable attention to the work of Joseph Greenberg because Greenberg's book Language in the Americas has received a great deal of attention from non-linguists, many of whom do not understand that Greenberg's methodology is a throwback to pre-scientific historical linguistics. It happens that at present the popular, uninformed view is one that lumps together languages without justification, so any critique appears to be negative.
In sum, this book is not only the most authoritative reference on the classification of the languages of the Americas, but it contains useful discussions of how such classifications are created and evaluated and evaluations of proposed relationships that will be useful both to those who need to decide what to believe and to students and others choosing research projects.American Indian Languages: The Historical Linguistics of Native America (Oxford Studies in Anthropological Linguistics) OverviewNative American languages are spoken from Siberia to Greenland, and from the Arctic to Tierra del Fuego; they include the southernmost language of the world (Yaghan) and some of the northernmost (Eskimoan). Campbell's project is to take stock of what is currently known about the history of Native American languages and in the process examine the state of American Indian historical linguistics, and the success and failure of its various methodologies. There is remarkably little consensus in the field, largely due to the 1987 publication of Language in the Americas by Joseph Greenberg. He claimed to trace a historical relation between all American Indian languages of North and South America, implying that most of the Western Hemisphere was settled by a single wave of immigration from Asia. This has caused intense controversy and Campbell, as a leading scholar in the field, intends this volume to be, in part, a response to Greenberg. Finally, Campbell demonstrates that the historical study of Native American languages has always relied on up-to-date methodology and theoretical assumptions and did not, as is often believed, lag behind the European historical linguistic tradition.
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