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University of Toronto Scarborough
Chandan Narayan

LINA02 Jan 24, 2013 Historical Linguistics  Language is not stagnant  Prescriptive (how language should sound like, according to them) linguists are highly irritated by the fact that language changes across and within generations o The study of this change is called historical linguistics: the explanation and description of language change Language Change  English has gone through several very large linguistic changes/periods over the years o Old English (450-1100 CE) o Middle English (1100-1500 CE) o Modern English (1500-present)  Part of this change is called the Great English Shift, where vowels became lengthened Beowulf in Old English  Phonology o OE [ha:m]  MidE [hɔ:m]  ME [howm]  Morphology Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales o –an in OE sendan ‘sent’ indicates both past tense and plural subject ‘they’ in the style of each  Syntax period o Word order: verb either follows or precedes both the direct object and the subject  Lexicon o Most words have disappeared from our lexicon however some remain as remnants o OE slean ‘won’  ModE slay ‘to kill’ Systematicity of Language Change  Language change is usually regular and very systematic LINA02 Jan 24, 2013 Causes of Language Change  Most likely with transmission of language from one generation to the next  Infants/children are not born with an intact grammar of a language o They base their grammar on what they hear/what is available o They are also restricted by maturing cognitive/physical development Articulatory Simplification  Most sound changes have an articulatory basis  A common process is called ‘articulatory simplification’, which favours the ‘ease of articulation’ of sounds o [fifθs]  [fifs] ‘fidhs’ o [æθlit]  [æθəlit] Perceptual biases  Not an actual bias, but it’s just how you hear them  Some sound changes occur because the acoustics of sound overlap  That is, phones that are similar sounding are confused and the misperception is carried through to the next generation of speakers o [θ]  [f] as in‘mouth’  [mowf] in some dialects of English Spelling pronunciation  An important (though not as important as articulation or perception) source of change in English is spelling pronunciation  The written form of a word can differ from the way it is pronounced because we do not have a one-on-one correspondence between orthography and sound in English (other languages do!)  This can happen when new speakers just follow how the word is spelt, not how the rest of the population pronounces the word o ‘debt’ [dɛt]  [dɛbt], ‘often’  [ɑftən], etc.  Spelling often reflects an earlier, and fossilized pronunciation of a word  The establishment of spelling conventions are hard to break th  With the rise of dictionaries in the 17 century, we find that spelling becomes fixed, even when language users have moved beyond the fixed spelling o Using dictionaries instead of individual ideas o Trying to change spelling to more ‘modern’ adaptations have failed miserably Analogy and reanalysis LINA02 Jan 24, 2013  Reflect cognitive factors that influence sound change o Humans prefer regular, consistent patterns  Analogy: the preference for regular patters over irregular ones o This is most common in verbal paradigms o Eg. sing/sung, wring/wrung but bring/brought not brung, ring/rang not rung o This is confusing for children because they are used to the other rules so they apply it to other words o In some dialects ‘brung’ and ‘rung’ are accepted, due to the sing/sung model  Reanalysis: morphological process that attempts to attribute a compound or root + affix structure to a word that was not broken down according to those morphemes o Eg. hamburger  ham + burger. This word originates from the town of Hamburg, was not actually supposed to ham(pork) + burger. [This has given rise to things like burger, veggie burger, cheeseburger] Language Contract  Language contact gives rise to ‘borrowing’ o Eg. aboriginal words in Canadian English: Toronto, skunk, totem etc  Contact might also change elements of a language through ‘hypercorrection’ (changing some aspect of phonology so that they don’t get confused with something else) o Eg. latter/ladder  prodigy/pro[t]igy Sound change  Very large topic within historical linguistics General o
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