Motives for Language Change

Motives for Language Change

Motives for Language Change

Motives for Language Change

Synopsis

This specially commissioned volume considers the processes involved in language change and the issues of how they can be modelled and studied. The way languages change offers an insight into the nature of language itself, its internal organisation, and how it is acquired and used. Accordingly, the phenomenon of language change has been approached from a variety of perspectives by linguists of many different orientations. This book, originally published in 2003, brings together an international team of leading figures from different areas of linguistics to re-examine some of the central issues in this field and also to discuss new proposals. The volume is arranged into sections, including grammaticalisation, the typological perspective, the social context of language change and contact-based explanations. It seeks to cover the subject as a whole, bearing in mind its relevance for the general analysis of language, and will appeal to a broad international readership.

Excerpt

A cursory glance at recently published books on linguistics shows that the theme of language change is as much an object of interest among linguists as it has ever been. In the history of the discipline the main concern has been with language reconstruction, in the classical Neogrammarian sense, and this achieved its clearest theoretical statement in Herman Paul (1975 [1880]). The nineteenth-century concern with the gradual and wholesale mutation of sound systems was to lead to dissatisfaction at the beginning of the twentieth century. With the establishment of the structuralist paradigm, first in Europe and then in America, the synchronic perspective dominated. The structuralist paradigm of the first half of the twentieth century was important in that it led to a shift in focus from phonology and morphology, typical of Indo-European studies, to encompass other levels of language. However, despite the theoretical reorientation introduced by Chomsky in the late 1950s, the majority of linguistic discussions were based on data from present-day languages. In the late 1960s the application of generative grammar to concerns in historical linguistics was heralded by Robert King's 1969 monograph on the subject. In the 1970s much activity arose in connection with diachronic syntax (Li 1975, 1977; Lightfoot 1979; see also Fischer, van Kemenade, Koopman and van der Wurff 2000 as well as Pintzuk, Tsoulas and Warner 2001). While disagreement was quickly evident, the main thrust of the research became immediately obvious: the concern was primarily with the principles of language change and only secondarily with language reconstruction (for a recent interpretation, see Durie and Ross 1996). This interest in the way languages change was engendered by works such as Lass 1980, On explaining language change. The title reflects the concern then and now: the illumination of the principles which determine the dynamic nature of language. This interest among scholars has continued over the past two decades.

The investigation of language change has taken place within certain theoretical frameworks. Two others should be mentioned here. The first is language typology, which with the project under Joseph Greenberg at Stanford University in the 1970s (see Greenberg 1978), experienced a great expansion of interest in the details of typology far beyond simple language classification. This interest . . .

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