Wow, two straight pieces this morning on NPR about historical linguistics.
The first is an interview with lexicographer Sol Steinmetz about his new book, Semantic Antics. (Many will know him from his Yiddish and English: A century of Yiddish in America.) It sounds and looks like a set of striking word histories (the specialization of girl to female children was one example discussed), and it might be a fun read for non-linguist language fans.
I don't want to get into any serious theoretical discussions, but note that understanding changes in meaning has posed a stout challenge. General work in 'grammaticalization' as well as more focused efforts like Eve Sweetser's From etymology to pragmatics represent one approach, while Benjamin Fortson’s chapter in the Handbook of Historical Linguistics, called ‘An approach to semantic change’, will feel more comfortable to many historical linguists.
The second story (I don't see a link yet at npr.org) started with talking about the last speaker of Mutsun, a southern California language of the Costanoan family, with a little about the famous linguist and ethnographer J.P. Harrington (see this website for good background on him). But then the piece turns out to be about an opera about the last speaker.
Illustration from here. (I didn't know there was an International Association of Young Linguists.)