I'm pretty interested in historical linguistics, but unfortunately, my school rarely offers the historical linguistics class. What are some go-to resources on historical linguistics, be it books, websites, documentaries, etc? More specifically, I'm looking for historical linguistics in practice; I want to answer the question "how is it done?"

1 Answer 1


A good textbook that covers all the basics is your best choice to get started. There are numerous good textbooks for historical linguistics, but you'd best start with an introductory text (other books are more technical in nature and could be a next step). Here are two introductory texts that I've seen recommended many times (I've read Campbell's):

  • Campbell, Lyle. Historical Linguistics: An Introduction (2nd ed)

    • Covers all the basics (kinds of linguistic change: sound change, borrowing, analogical change; the comparative method, internal reconstruction, and more)
    • Very readable and well organized
    • Examples from many language families
    • Has exercises, which is a great way to test your understanding (but it doesn't have answer keys)
    • The book does require some knowledge of linguistics (terminology, some IPA symbols), but if you start here and read up on everything you don't know you should be fine
    • Table of contents, preview via Amazon
  • Trask, R.L. Historical Linguistics

    • Another classic introductory text to historical linguistics
    • I haven't read this one, but it covers basically the same ground and is intended for a similar audience.
    • Table of contents, preview via Amazon

Beyond a general introduction there are so many different areas of research that the specifics of 'how it's done' depend. You should find some journal articles that you think are interesting to see what people are working on. Some journals jou can check (hopefully your library has full access to these, but you can always browse the contents):

P.S. If you like documentaries, this is a nice one which provides a brief overview and discusses a controversial topic, that of long-range historical reconstruction: BBC Horizon's Before Babel: In Search of the First Language.

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    Campbell 2013 is the most recent, third edition mitpress.mit.edu/books/historical-linguistics-0 Same with Trask, routledge.com/products/9780415706582 (the third edition by Robert McColl Millar)
    – Alex B.
    Aug 28, 2015 at 19:46
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    My first course in historical linguistics was taught by Calvert Watkins, who used the texts Historical Linguistics: An Introduction by Lehmann and Introduction a l'etude comparative des langues indo-europeennes by Meillet.
    – Greg Lee
    Aug 28, 2015 at 20:07
  • @GregLee Lucky you, you had Calvert Watkins himself teach you historical linguistics!
    – Alex B.
    Aug 29, 2015 at 16:59

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