Uniformitarian Principle The claim that the same mechanisms which

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					Sociohistorical and Variationist Approaches to Language Change 1. Introduction

Uniformitarian Principle: The claim that the same mechanisms which
operated to produce the large-scale changes of the past may be observed in the current changes taking place around us. (Labov 1972:161, cited in McMahon 1994:233) If we accept the above, then findings pertaining to present-day changes can be used to inform our understanding of historical changes. Notably, the study of synchronic change has clear methodological advantages over the study of diachronic change, given that our access to both speakers and texts is (typically) severely limited in the latter case. Recall from Lecture One that many linguistic changes proceed as follows: 1. 2. 3. Actuation: The rule appears in the language. Actualisation: The rule applies to more and more words in the language (lexical diffusion) or to more and more linguistic contexts. Transmission: The change spreads to more and more speakers (e.g. different social groups) and through more and more registers (e.g. stylistic levels)

Sociohistorical accounts of language change offer in-depth analysis of the transmission of change both within and across language communities. In terms of theoretical orientation, sociohistorical accounts are typically functionalist rather than formalist; that is, the focus is on the social functions of language and their role in driving language change, rather than on the formal properties of linguistic systems. One exception to the above generalization concerns variationist accounts of language change that have been offered in the generative literature and which will be discussed in Section 4, below.

Features of sociohistorical accounts of grammatical change:
Patterned variation between competing innovative and conservative forms.

Dr. D. Anderson

Michaelmas Term 2007

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Michaelmas Term 2007

In prestige-driven change, change moves from the most complex to the least complex environments. Variation encompasses (at least) stylistic level of text (i.e. text type), social position of the speaker, and grammatical environment. Change is directional when driven by prestige. Issues with sociohistorical modeling of language change: Model diffusion, not change (actuation) Only ‘surface’ variants can be modelled easily this way. Are these simply models of lexical change? Directionality is maintained by prestige alone. Focus is typically on written registers. Are these really models of how literary language changes rather than spoken language? 2. External (or exogenous) motivations for language change (Fennell 2001) Geographic - Separation; isolation. - Contact Exposure to new phenomena (e.g. technological innovations). Imperfect learning ‘Substratum’ effects Social prestige 3. 3.1 Sociohistorical accounts: Sample studies Nevalainen, T. & Raumolin-Brunberg, H. (2003)

Extensive examination of correspondence from Tudor and Stuart period of English history. External factors affecting language change during this period: • • • • Social variation Gender Geographic mobility Education

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Changes attributed to the above factors: o Modification/loss of certain titles of address (e.g. Master, Mistress, Goodman, Goodwife) Replacement of third person singular suffix -(e)th with –(e)s Determiners my and thy (originally northern forms) replace mine and thine Object pronoun you acquires a subject interpretation, while also retaining its former meaning. Relative pronoun which replaces the which Loss of do in affirmative declarative sentences ‘…he did attempt to assassinat, and offered violence to his fathers person, and did chase and pursue him…’ (Tryal of Standsfield 1688; see Nevalainen 2007) The authors also detail a number of English features adopted into Scots English, particularly after King James VI of Scotland succeeded Queen Elizabeth of England in 1603. 3.2 Romaine’s study of relative clause markers in Scots English

o o


o o

Three basic variants:

that wh-forms (who, which, whose etc.)

Old English


þæt (> þat)

Middle English þe is lost in relative function; wh-interrogative pronouns (which, who) extended to relative function. Middle Scots which, who, etc. spread from English. “The data I have presented here show that the wh-strategy entered the written language and worked its way down a stylistic continuum ranging from the most to the least complex styles.” (Romaine 1980: 234) Notably, Modern spoken Scots English (basically) uses that in all syntactic positions: the process of replacing that by which was never completed.

D. Anderson


Li7: Historical Linguistics

Michaelmas Term 2007

“My results suggest that variability which is stylistically stratified can persist over centuries without necessitating change.” (Romaine 1980: 239) 4. Variationist accounts in the generative framework.

As noted in the previous weeks’ lectures, formal (or generative) approaches to language change typically take child language acquisition as the locus of change and emphasize discontinuity in transmission of grammatical knowledge over generations. Lightfoot (1999:83) “It is languages which change gradually; grammars are a different matter.” According to this view, grammatical change is necessarily ‘abrupt’ change. Nevertheless, formalist researchers cannot simply ignore the issue of gradualism in language change, as gradual change is well attested. 4.1

One example: The rise of auxiliary do

Rise of auxiliary do in English

Upper broken line:
Negative questions

Upper solid line:
Affirmative questions

Lower broken line:
Negative declaratives

Lower solid line:
Affirmative declaratives

Percentage ofdo forms in different types of sentence, 1500-1700 (Chart adapted from Ellegård (1953) ‘The Auxiliary Do.’ University of Gothenburg; reproduced from Roberts 2007:311).
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Li7: Historical Linguistics

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Examples from Nevalainen (2006:108-9)

Negative question:
Why do ye know not my speache? (Helsinki Corpus. The New Testament, William Tyndale (transl.) 1534)

Affirmative question:
Do you bring me hither to trie mee by the Lawe…? (Helsinki Corpus. The Trial of Sir Nicholas Throckmorton, 1554)

Negative declaratives:
‘…and how your Lordship can of right denie this moch unto hym, I do not know…’ (CEEC, Thomas Wilson, 1572)

Affirmative declaratives:
‘…and I a Hearer, but no Speaker, did learne my misliking of those Matters…’ (Helsinki Corpus. The Trial of Sir Nicholas Throckmorton, 1554)

Constant Rate Effect (Kroch 1989:200)
‘…when one grammatical option replaces another with which it is in competition across a set of linguistic contexts, the rate of replacement, properly measured, is the same in all of them.’ The Constant Rate Effect predicts that the actualisation of change in different contexts will proceed at same rate (even if the actual frequencies of usage vary in each context). 4.2 The Doub9l6SIHFFVH9e6)OI;HSSV base hypothesis (Kroch 1989; Santorini 1 992,1993; Pintzuk 1999)

One example: Santorini’s study of historical changes in Yiddish
subordinate clauses Santorini proposes that syntactic change is ‘gradual’: There is a period when speakers have two grammatical settings (that is, when they are ‘bilingual in their own language’). The evidence for this claim comes from the shift in Yiddish from Inflfinal to Infl-medial underlying word order. Early Yiddish was Infl-final and moved to be Infl-medial. Many sentences were ambiguous because

D. Anderson


Li7: Historical Linguistics

Michaelmas Term 2007

they could be either Infl-final, with extraposition of elements, or Inflmedial. Data = 2200 subordinate clauses in 40 texts from early 1400s–mid 1900s. If individuals use either the Infl-final or the Infl-medial grammar, but not both at the same time, we would expect the frequency in each individual text to be either 0% or 100%, but it is not. Santorini concludes instead that “…children have the ability to abduce more than one grammatical system from the primary data in the course of acquisition’ (1992:619)

Some issues:
Gradually speakers use the Infl-medial component of their grammar more and more. But why should they? (cf. directionality) When grammars ‘compete’, why does one win? How reliable are the data? Is the text the product of a single speaker?

----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------Reading Recommendations

Milroy, James. 1992. Linguistic Variation and Change: On the Historical Sociolinguistics of English. Oxford: Blackwell. Romaine, Suzanne. 1982. Socio-Historical Linguistics: It’s Status and Methodology. Cambridge Studies in Linguistics, 34. CUP. Fennell, B. 2001. A History of English: A Sociolinguistic Approach. Blackwell. Nevalainen, T. 2006. An Introduction to Early Modern English. Edinburgh University Press. (Chapter 10, ‘Language in the community’) Nevalainen, T. and H. Raumolin-Brunberg. 2003. Historical

Sociolinguistics: Language Change in Tudor and Stuart England. Pearson
Education. Labov, W. 2001. Principles of Linguistic Change. Vol. 2: Social Factors. Blackwell.

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