Lexical Phonology and the History of English

Lexical Phonology and the History of English

Lexical Phonology and the History of English

Lexical Phonology and the History of English

Synopsis

This book analyzes some differences among English, Scottish and American accents of English, and shows how they developed and why they have their current form. Although the revised version of lexical phonology presented here is intended to describe present-day patterns, it can also show how historical sound changes gave rise to these patterns.

Excerpt

Any linguist asked to provide candidate items for inclusion in a list of the slipperiest and most variably definable twentieth-century linguistic terms, would probably be able to supply several without much prompting. Often the lists would overlap (simplicity and naturalness would be reasonable prospects), but we would each have our own idiosyncratic selection. My own nominees are internal and external evidence.

In twentieth-century linguistics, types of data and of argument have moved around from one of these categories to the other relatively freely: but we can identify a general tendency for more and more types of evidence to be labelled external, a label to be translated 'subordinate to internal evidence' or, in many cases, 'safe to ignore'. Thus, Labov (1978) quotes Kurylowicz as arguing that historical linguistics should concern itself only with the linguistic system before and after a change, paying no attention to such peripheral concerns as dialect geography, phonetics, sociolinguistics, and psycholinguistics. Furthermore, in much Standard Generative Phonology, historical evidence finds itself externalised (along with 'performance factors' such as speech errors and dialect variation), making distribution and alternation, frequently determined by introspection, the sole constituents of internal evidence, and thus virtually the sole object of enquiry. In sum, 'If we study the various restrictions imposed on linguistics since Saussure, we see more and more data being excluded in a passionate concern for what linguistics is not' (Labov 1978: 275–6).

Labov accepts that 'recent linguistics has been dominated by the drive for an autonomous discipline based on purely internal argument', but does not consider this a particularly fruitful development, arguing that 'the most notorious mysteries of linguistic change remain untouched by such abstract operations and become even more obscure' (1978: 277). He consequently pleads for a rapprochement of synchronic and diachronic . . .

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