Language Change: Progress or Decay?

Language Change: Progress or Decay?

Language Change: Progress or Decay?

Language Change: Progress or Decay?

Synopsis

This book gives a lucid and up-to-date overview of language change, discussing where our evidence about language change comes from, how and why changes happen, and how languages begin and end. It considers both changes that occurred long ago, and those currently in progress. This substantially revised third edition includes two new chapters on change of meaning and grammaticalization. New sections have been added to other chapters, as well as over 150 new references. The work remains nontechnical in style and accessible to the reader with no previous knowledge of linguistics.

Excerpt

Language change is a topic which, perhaps more than most others, spreads itself over a wide range of areas. For this reason, the literature often seems disjointed and contradictory, since many scholars, like Jane Austen, prefer to polish their own square inch of ivory, rather than tackle the whole vast subject. This book is an attempt to pull the various strands together into a coherent whole, and to provide an overview of the phenomenon of human language change. It discusses where our evidence comes from, how changes happen, why they happen, and how and why whole languages begin and end. It does this within the framework of one central question. Is language change a symptom of either progress or decay?

The study of language change–often labelled 'historical linguistics' –has altered its character considerably in recent years. Traditionally, scholars concerned themselves with reconstructing the earliest possible stages of languages, and with describing sound changes as they unrolled through the ages. In this, they paid relatively little attention to changes currently taking place, to syntactic change, to meaning change, to pidgins and creoles, to dying languages, or to the sociolinguistic and psycholinguistic factors which underlie many alterations. In the second half of the twentieth century, these neglected topics rose one by one to the forefront of attention. This book is an attempt to draw together the old and the new into an integrated whole. In short, it tries to combine old-style historical linguistics with more recent approaches, so as to give an overview of the field as it stands at the moment.

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