Regularity in Semantic Change

Regularity in Semantic Change

Regularity in Semantic Change

Regularity in Semantic Change

Synopsis

This new and important study of semantic change examines the various ways in which new meanings arise through language use, especially the ways in which speakers and writers experiment with uses of words and constructions. Drawing on extensive research from over a thousand years of English and Japanese textual history, Traugott and Dasher show that most changes in meaning originate in and are motivated by the associative flow of speech and conceptual metonymy.

Excerpt

The focus of this work is recent developments in cross-linguistic research on historical semantics and pragmatics, with special reference to the histories of English and Japanese. The framework can be characterized as “integrative functionalist” (Croft 1995) in that we consider linguistic phenomena to be systematic and partly arbitrary, but so closely tied to cognitive and social factors as not to be self-contained; they are therefore in part nonarbitrary. One of the linguist's tasks is to determine what is arbitrary, what is not, and how to account for the differences.

We see semantic change (change in code) as arising out of the pragmatic uses to which speakers or writers and addressees or readers put language, and most especially out of the preferred strategies that speakers/writers use in communicating with addressees. The changes discussed in this book are tendencies that are remarkably widely attested, but that can be violated under particular, often social, circumstances ranging from shifts in ideological values to the development of various technologies. “Regularity” is to be understood as typical change, or frequent replication across time and across languages, not as analogous to the Neogrammarian idea of unexceptionless change in phonology.

Richard Dasher takes prime responsibility for the Japanese data, Elizabeth Traugott for the remainder, but both have discussed all the material presented here in countless meetings over nearly fifteen years. The ideas presented here have been explored in several venues. It would be impossible to thank and acknowledge the contribution of all those who have helped make this a better book than it would have been otherwise, but Joan Bybee, Maria Cuenca, Bernd Heine, Paul Kiparsky, Roger Lass, Nina Lin, Alain Peyraube, Eve Sweetser, Chaofen Sun, Shiao-Wei Tham, and Yo Matsumoto deserve special mention, and especially Brady Clark, Andrew Garrett, and Nigel Vincent who gave extensive advice on pre-final drafts. Elizabeth Traugott owes a particular debt to her coauthors on various other occasions: Paul Hopper, Ekkehard K¨onig, Rachel Nordlinger, Whitney Tabor, and above all to Scott Schwenter without whose inspiration, intellectual . . .

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