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Language Change. LING 100. How does language change proceed?. We’ve seen how language families spread and interact How languages constantly change, and diverge when separated. Language Change. What actually changes? phonetics phonology morphology syntax Semantics

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Language change l.jpg

Language Change

LING 100

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How does language change proceed?

  • We’ve seen how language families spread and interact

  • How languages constantly change, and diverge when separated

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Language Change

  • What actually changes?

    • phonetics

    • phonology

    • morphology

    • syntax

    • Semantics

  • We’re talking primarily about internally motivated change in this chapter, not change as a result of language contact (borrowings, etc.)

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Samples of change…

  • P. 484

  • Check out the examples of Old English all the way up to Modern English and compare them.

  • What kinds of changes do you see?

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Sound samples…

  • Wanna know what OId English sounded like?


  • Middle English (taken from Canterbury Tales)


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Sound change (Files 12.3)

  • All languages contain variation at all times

  • Sound change is complex, and probably reflects subtle changes in the distribution of variation that accumulate over time

  • Keeping this in mind, we can still get some mileage out of simplifying the situation

    • Sound change implies an initial state of affairs

    • that is replaced by another state of affairs at some historical point (remember though: change is not abrupt)

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Sound Change

  • Sound changes as a result of some phonological process (~a rule)

    • a new rule, or the expansion of an old one

    • e.g. pin~pen - some English dialects or registers have the same vowel in both words

      • if this rule spread to all similar environments, or all mid front lax vowels became high front lax vowels, then it would count as a sound change

      • this would be an example of an unconditioned sound change - the vowel changes regardless of its phonetic environment

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Sound Change

  • An example of a conditioned sound change:

    • /s/ aspiration in Spanish - occurs at the end of a syllable, e.g. ¿cómo ehtás/ehtáh?

    • /s/ at the beginning of a word is unchanged

    • s / V_V also changes in some dialects, so the process would be different, but it’s still conditioned

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Sound Change

  • Types of conditioned and unconditioned sound changes are listed in Files pp 494-95

  • NOTE!!!

    • These are closely related to the phonological processes we looked at synchronically earlier in the course

    • It might be good to review that chapter!

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Sound Change

  • The big picture:

    • There is a close relationship between synchronic variation and diachronic sound (or other) change in language.

    • Changes originate as variation, then spread through the lexicon, affecting all instances of a sound (in a particular context, if it’s a conditioned change)

    • Once the change has spread through the whole lexicon, there’s no going back - the link to the earlier forms is broken

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Sound Change - one more note

  • Phonemic changes alter the phonemic structure of a language

    • the pin~pen one we mentioned, if it took over all of English, would collapse the mid front lax and high front lax vowels into one phoneme

  • Phonetic changes alter allophones, but not phonemes

    • Spanish /s/-aspiration (/s/ becomes /h/) would create another allophone of /s/, but it’s still the same phoneme

  • This doesn’t necessarily correlate with whether the change is conditioned or not

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Morphological Change

  • Refer to Files

    • Summary: morphological change is usually analogical, either by proportional analogy (a:b::c:X) or by paradigm leveling (where related words are changed to look more like each other

    • It also results from reinterpretation (Files calls this misanalysis) (if burglar has the suffix /er/, then there must be a verb to burgle)

    • We also add words by various processes (see p. 500/501)

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  • Exercise (13), p. 518

  • What sounds changes that occurred between Proto-Quechua and its daughter language Tena?

  • Which sounds changes are conditioned and which are unconditioned?

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Syntactic Change

  • Consider these examples:

    • “father our”… NP->N Det

    • “our father” NP-> Det N

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Syntactic Change

  • Also:

    • fæder ure (subject)

    • fæder urne (object)

  • Change in marking of grammatical function from OE to ModE.

    • OE had nominal inflection (case marking)

    • ModE based on word order

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  • (24), p. 521

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Semantic Change

  • Semantic extensions

    • OE “dog” – particular breed

    • ModE “dog” – general term

    • Metaphorical extension: broadcast - “to scatter seed over field” – “to send radio waves through space”

  • Semantic reductions

    • OE “hund”- referred to dogs in general

    • ModE “hound” – particular breed of dogs

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Semantic Change

  • Semantic elevations

    • Positive change in connotation

    • knight (OE cniht) initially meant “youth”/”military follower” and later on a romanticized warrior.

  • Semantic degradations

    • Acquisition of a pejorative meaning

    • ME “silly” – happy, innocent

    • ModE “silly” – foolish, inane

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  • Think of terms you use to talk about computers and actions related to using the PC.

    • How many of these are old words that have been put to new use?

    • How many are totally new words?

    • Why do you think this is the case?

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The Comparative Method

  • 2 crucial assumptions

    • sound-meaning correspondences are arbitrary

      • otherwise we couldn’t tell if languages were related, or if similarity was just meaning-related

    • Sound chage is regular

      • a sound either changes completely across a language

      • or it changes completely, within a given phonetic environment

      • By this assumption, we expect sister languages to have regular sound correspondences between words with the same meaning

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The Comparative Method

  • Goals:

    • to discover which languages are related

    • to discover why and how languages change

  • Protolanguages:

    • we either have a historical record

    • or we can reconstruct protoforms (e.g. proto-Indo-European *ma:te:r (mother))

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The Comparative Method

  • Procedure (Files pp 511ff)

    • compile cognate sets, eliminate borrowings

    • list sound correspondences across cognates

    • reconstruct sounds in each position

      • total correspondence

      • most natural development

      • Occam’s Razor (most frequent variant)

    • check for regularity (exceptions mean you have to revise!)

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  • A B C

    siza sesa siza

  • Sound correspondences

    s>s>s i>e>i z>s>z a>a>a

  • (p. 512) common sound changes

    • /s/ voices between vowels to [z]

      So *[s_sa] preliminary reconstruction

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  • Group up and do the reconstructions pp. 523 (36), (37), (38)