LE 84: Fundamentals of Diachronic Linguistics

Product no.: ISBN 9783862882359
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Fundamentals of Diachronic Linguistics

Göran Hammarström
Deakin University

The author advocates a basically new approach to language change.

A change begins when a speaker says something new choosing between several possibilities following nothing more complicated than the principle variatio delectat. If other speakers like the new sound or expression, it may become a language innovation. Since it is first used by a group of speakers, it has distinct sociolectal value.

In order to communicate messages the old and the new sound or expression function equally well. Traditionally linguists have generally tried to find some weak point which is the cause of the language change. They have tried to find causal explanations where there are none.

Language is a branch of human culture. Its changes can no more be explained than changes in literature, music, visual arts or the length of women’s skirts. The innovator may choose the new sound or expression because of similarity with some existing feature of the language. The author calls this assumed process a prompt, which is similar to a cause but is not one.

The notions of information value and redundancy, borrowed from information theory, can elucidate some aspects of language change.

ISBN 9783862882359. Linguistics Edition 84. 73pp. 2011.

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