Ling 580 synchronic linguistic variation and language change
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LING 580: Synchronic linguistic variation and language change. Goals: 1. Introduction, cont. Synchronic and diachronic linguistic variation What is meant by “language change?” 2. Tracing Change in Progress The use of the present to explain the past Studies in Apparent and Real time

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Ling 580 synchronic linguistic variation and language change
LING 580: Synchronic linguistic variation and language change

  • Goals:

  • 1. Introduction, cont.

    • Synchronic and diachronic linguistic variation

    • What is meant by “language change?”

  • 2. Tracing Change in Progress

    • The use of the present to explain the past

    • Studies in Apparent and Real time

  • Read for next time:

  • For next time: McMahon 2; Labov 5,6


Introductory concepts
Introductory concepts change

The use of the present to explain the past

  • Historical linguistics is interested in the facts of linguistic change…

  • …able to demonstrate where and when language changes, and how it has changed, but why a change begins (the so-called “actuation problem”) has not been successfully addressed.

  • …able to provide comparisons covering a broad span of time

  • problems in interpreting the linguistic data. We use the present to explain the past partly to help uncover the answers to such problems to linguistic inquiry as due to:

  • 1. -- Survival of documents

  • 2. -- Representation of dialects

  • 3. -- Incomplete sources

  • 4. – Disputes over matters of fact

  • 5. – Paradoxes of principle: cases in which the facts seem to fly in the face of an accepted principle.

  • e.g. Mergers cannot be reversed, but pint/point (18th c.)


Introductory concepts1
Introductory concepts change

The use of the present to explain the past

What steps have been taken to address such interpretation problems?

1. – Historical documents: reexamine the internal evidence for additional or missed insights

2. – Bring external evidence to bear from complementary disciplines.

Sociolinguistic data:

1. -- What are the structures of actual, attested languages like?

e.g., Language X is typologically odd if it contains all front vowels, or 12 nasal vowels and 3 oral ones.

2. – We would want to reconstruct former languages according to changes that are “natural” for human language.

e.g.,Changes that promote or favor unmarked rather than marked forms, rules or grammars.

3. –The most illuminating data on natural changes would be data that shows a language moving from one stage to another, so all stages are documented.


Introductory concepts2
Introductory concepts change

In sum: The use of the present to explain the past…

… relies on locating points of contact between present and past that would justify the application or relevance of new data (or methods) to historical problems.

We assume the Uniformitarian Principle:

“knowledge of processes that operated in the past can be inferred by observing ongoing processes in the present”


Facts generalizations principles
Facts, generalizations, principles change

So, what’s a “fact” then? (And what are other primitives of historical lx)

= a true synthetic predication about a particular and singular object:

e.g., “OE is associated with the 12th century”

= a generalization pertains to any predications about a plurality of objects

e.g., “No OE text predates the 8th century”

generalizations can be disproved or falsified if a single piece of counterevidence is found.

= a principle is a generalization that is unrestricted in its application in time or space. It can or has applied in the same manner in another place or another time and may be expected to apply in future.

e.g., “Back vowels (/u:/ tend to front) within their subsystem.”


Observations in real and apparent time
Observations in Real and Apparent time change

  • Having taken the Uniformitarian Principle as a basic working principle for linguistic change, the questions then become,

    • What is the present state of the language? and,

    • What was the past state of the language?

    • Was there a change between the two states? If so,

    • Is the change a matter of quality?

    • Or, is it a matter of quantity?

    • How does one trace the change?


Tracing change in progress
Tracing Change in Progress change

  • Why did Leonard Bloomfield assert that language change could never be observed?

Rate of change

Variation

Gradualness


Studies in apparent time
Studies in Apparent Time change

  • 1.) What are the relative benefits to accomplishing a real time study? The limitations? The benefits of an apparent-time study? The limitations?

Apparent Time Study:

Distribution of a linguistic variable from a synchronic window, but across age levels within that window.

-- must clarify whether age-graded or real change


Studies in apparent time1
Studies in Apparent Time change

3.) What is an “age coefficient”?

def. : Numerical indicator of the strength of the correlation between an independent variable and the dependent variable.

Difference in variable’s frequencies between ages is equivalent to a speaker’s age multiplied by some value, which produces a line that fits well the distribution associated with the variable


Studies in apparent time2
Studies in Apparent Time change

4.) What is “change from above”? “Change from below”?

These notions relate to the question “How to describe language change”?

1. Direction of change through the society: Sturtevant (1947), notion of the “reference group”

2. Ease of articulation (language-internal motivation) of the incoming form.

3. Advancement: nearly completed > mid-range > new and vigorous > incipient

4. Change from Above: change introduced by the dominant social class, with full public awareness

5. Change from Below: change that appears first in the vernacular, and represents the operation of internal, linguistic factors. Not accompanied by public awareness.


Studies in real time
Studies in Real Time change

Real-time study: longitudinal studies

2 types:

Trend: Using a random sample (with a sampling frame, enabling enumeration of the population), obtain data exactly as was done the first time.

considerations:

-- unlikely to include same people as the first study

-- can be the equivalent of doing 2 apparent time studies

examples?

Panel: Use the original sample (all the original people if possible), but apply desired methodology.

considerations:

-- expensive

-- time-consuming

-- aging issues (must be large enough to allow for inevitable losses)

examples?


Which method
Which method? change

Method must detect different patterns of change:

Apparent vs. real-time: Which allows for...

only differentiation between generations (age-grading and generational-change)?

detection of unstable behavior of individuals and allows distinction between stable and unstable communities?

only detection of conditions under which the individual either changes or stays the same?


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