Jump to Content Jump to Main Navigation

Linguistics Syntactic Change
by
Acrisio Pires, David Lightfoot

Introduction

Linguistics began in the 19th century as a historical science, asking how languages came to be the way they are. Almost all of the work dealt with the changing pronunciation of words and “sound change” more broadly. Much attention was paid to explaining why sounds changed the way they did, and that involved developing ideas about directionality. Work on syntax was limited to compiling how different languages expressed clause types differently, notably Vergleichende Syntax der Indogermanischen Sprachen, by Berthold Delbrück. With the greatly increased attention to syntax in the latter half of the 20th century, approaches to syntactic change were enriched significantly. Most of the work on change, both generative and nongenerative, continued the 19th-century search for an inherent directionality to language change, now in the domain of syntax, but other approaches were developed seeking to understand new syntactic systems arising through the contingent conditions of language acquisition.

General Overviews

With the new work on syntax emerging in the mid-20th century through models of phrase structure grammars, Harris-style surface transformations, and then the abstractions of generative grammar, scientists began to consider historical change in syntactic systems. Klima 1964 was the first major work, and Closs 1965 introduced the sociological notion of a diachronic grammar of a language that generated structures and sentences from various periods of that language. The universals in Greenberg 1966 identified harmonies, whereby a language with property p might necessarily have property q or might tend with varying degrees of probability to have properties r and s. This gave rise to the typological approach, in which languages were seen as changing from one pure type to another following a universal diachronic hierarchy in developing the harmonic features of the new language type, as seen in the anthologies Li 1975 and Li 1977. Lightfoot 1979 construed grammars as psychological properties of individuals attained by children exposed to limited primary linguistic data (PLD) in the first few years of life. Under that view, new grammars emerge when people are exposed to new PLD. Early work focused on structural shifts in which various phenomena changed as a function of a single new property in the grammar attained (e.g., Roberts 1993); the singularity of the change at the abstract level was taken to explain the simultaneity at the phenomenological level. More recent work has linked changes to conditions of language acquisition (Lightfoot 1999).

Textbooks

There is only one comprehensive textbook on syntactic change, Roberts 2007, and textbooks on historical linguistics usually focus on sound and morphological change with little on change in syntax. Exceptions are McMahon 1994 and Hale 2007, which have substantial chapters on modern work in syntactic change.

Edited Collections

The major edited collections represent the fundamentally different approaches to syntactic change: the typological approach, as explored in Li 1977 (cited under General Overviews) and the generative approach, explored in the now annual meetings of the Diachronic Generative Syntax community, such as Battye and Roberts 1995; Crisma and Longobardi 2009; van Kemenade and Vincent 1997; Lightfoot 2002; and Pintzuk, et al. 2000. Steever, et al. 1976 is an early volume that emerged from the Chicago Linguistics Society, which took diachronic syntax as the theme for a parasession of its annual meeting in 1976. Eythórsson 2008 is a similarly comprehensive but recent discussion of various approaches to the study of syntactic change.

  • Battye, A., and I. Roberts, eds. 1995. Clause structure and language change. Oxford: Oxford Univ. Press.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Proceedings of the 1st Generative Diachronic Syntax Conference (DiGS) at the University of York in 1990. Focuses on questions of clause structure, which became a central theme of theoretical work in the early development of the Minimalist Program.

    Find this resource:

  • Crisma, P., and G. Longobardi, eds. 2009. Historical syntax and linguistic theory. Oxford: Oxford Univ. Press.

    DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780199560547.001.0001Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Proceedings of DiGS IX at the University of Trieste in 2006. Considers language change in the biolinguistic framework, parametric change in Minimalism, and the tension between the gradual nature of language change and the binary nature of parameters.

    Find this resource:

  • Eythórsson, T., ed. 2008. Grammatical change and linguistic theory: The Rosendal papers. Amsterdam: Benjamins.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Papers focus on the causes of syntactic change, pinpointing both extrasyntactic (exogenous) causes and—more controversially—internally driven (endogenous) causes. The volume, generally critical of grammaticalization theory, includes contributions on morphological change alone.

    Find this resource:

  • Kemenade, A. van, and N. Vincent, eds. 1997. Parameters of morphosyntactic change. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge Univ. Press.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Proceedings of DiGS III at Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam in 1994. Syntactic and morphological change in particular within the Minimalist Program, with a special interest in how grammatical phenomena such as aspect, mood, case, word order, clitics, and agreement interact over time.

    Find this resource:

  • Lightfoot, D. W., ed. 2002. Syntactic effects of morphological change. Oxford: Oxford Univ. Press.

    DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780199250691.001.0001Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Proceedings of DiGS VI at the University of Maryland in 2000. Examines how far changes in morphology cause changes in syntax from the perspective of syntactic and psycholinguistic theory, in particular given the hypothesis that grammatical change is driven by child acquisition.

    Find this resource:

  • Pintzuk, S., G. Tsoulas, and A. Warner, eds. 2000. Diachronic syntax: Models and mechanisms. Oxford: Oxford Univ. Press.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Proceedings of DiGS V at the University of York in 1998. Work in historical syntax taking into account theoretical advances in linguistic theory, language acquisition, sociolinguistics, as well as fields such as statistical techniques and evolutionary biology.

    Find this resource:

  • Steever, S. B., C. A. Walker, and S. S. Mufwene, eds. 1976. Papers from the parasession on diachronic syntax. Chicago: Chicago Linguistic Society.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Papers from a parasession of the annual meeting of the Chicago Linguistic Society covering data on morphological and syntactic change in a wide range of languages during the early stages of systematic work on syntactic change.

    Find this resource:

Reference Works

The three volumes of Delbrück 1893–1900 represent the bulk of 19th-century work on syntactic change, essentially listing the major construction types in a variety of Indo-European languages. Traditional descriptive work continued through much of the 20th century, and examples are given from work on the history of English: Jespersen 1909–1949 and Denison 1993 are comprehensive accounts of changes affecting a wide range of syntactic constructions in the history of English according to the descriptive norms of the early and late 20th century, respectively; Ellegård 1953 is a monumental study of the rise of periphrastic do; Mitchell 1985 constitutes a rich description of Old English syntax; Visser 1963–1973 offers a vast collection of examples of various constructions, including the first attested case of an innovation and the last attested case of an obsolete construction; and Wyld 1927 tries to reveal what can be deduced about colloquial speech in a range of regional dialects. A few references (Jasonoff 2004, Price 1971) are provided for other major European languages, but, of course, the list could be much longer.

English-Language Corpora

A particular type of digital resource that has revolutionized work on syntactic change is the parsed corpora that have emanated from the University of Pennsylvania. These corpora tag sentences with structural information in such a way that researchers can seek data to test analyses quickly and comprehensively. Kroch and Taylor 2000; Taylor, et al. 2003; Kroch, et al. 2004; Taylor, et al. 2006; and Kroch, et al. 2010 encompass texts from various periods of English, and more recent corpora for French, Portuguese, Hungarian, and Icelandic are facilitating interesting comparative work (see Non-English Corpora). These partially parsed corpora constitute a revolutionary and vitally important dimension of work in syntactic change.

Non-English Corpora

Different initiatives have led to the development of electronic historical corpora for a few languages other than English, including French (Modéliser le changement: Les voies du français), German (Parsed Corpus of Early High German), Icelandic (Wallenberg, et al. 2011), and Portuguese (Galves and Faria 2010).

Journals

The journal Diachronica deals with all matters of language change. Language Variation and Change deals with sociolinguistic analyses of variation that often leads to historical change. Language & History deals with matters of language change and the history of work in linguistics.

Theories and Methods

This section introduces the major theoretical ideas that have shaped research on syntactic change. Work on competing grammars has facilitated new approaches to sociolinguistic variation insofar as it prefigures historical change. Cue-based analyses of language acquisition analyses have enabled scientists to make hypotheses about what phenomena in external language trigger particular properties of internal systems. Work on grammaticalization, typological approaches, and universal grammar (UG) predicting directionality has elaborated ideas about general directions to syntactic change.

Competing Grammars

The idea that people function with more than one internal language system (I-language), coexisting or competing grammars (Kroch 1989, Kroch 1994), makes the strong prediction that variation in people’s language faculty is between two or more fixed points at the level of grammars and not random oscillation across sets of data. It also offers a new way of thinking about apparent optionality of grammatical operations: Rather than thinking of some operations as obligatory and some as optional (which raises serious learnability problems, because that distinction generally depends on access to negative data, unavailable to children), one can think of people functioning with two or more grammars, where all operations are obligatory and children do not need access to negative data to distinguish optional/obligatory operations. This idea has been productive in thinking about syntactic change, where researchers have viewed one grammar gradually spreading through a population as new lexical items spread at the expense of others. Kroch and Taylor 1997 and Pintzuk 1999 work out the competing grammars approach to specific changes in the history of English. Similarly, Kato, et al. 2009 tackles phenomena in the history of Brazilian Portuguese from the perspective of competing grammars. Yang 2002 provides a mathematicization of competing grammars.

Cue-Based Acquisition

The standard approach to language acquisition through the history of generative grammar has been to view the child as evaluating grammars against sets of sentences and selecting the grammar that generates the target set in the simplest way. That approach has many problems, as discussed in Lightfoot 1999 (cited under General Overviews) and Lightfoot 2006, and did not provide a good way of thinking about change, because the target set needed to change in order to trigger the new grammar, a vicious circularity. Cue-based acquisition, on the other hand, treats children as selecting cues provided by UG if they are expressed in the PLD (i.e., required for the analysis of some PLD). Under that view, the PLD may shift through changes in external language (E-language), triggering a new grammar (internal language, or I-language), which in turn generates new structures. The E-language/I-language distinction is crucial to this approach. Dresher 1999 shows how cue-based analyses automatically predict aspects of the sequence in which learning takes place, and Pires 2002 applies the cue-based approach to issues in the history of European and Brazilian Portuguese.

Grammaticalization

Meillet 1912 and Kuryłowicz 1965 observe that over time verbs and members of other major lexical categories may lose their lexical status and become “grammaticalized,” members of grammatical or functional categories. This represents a candidate for a general direction to change of the kind first sought by 19th-century linguists and continuing to tantalize historical linguists to the present day. A well-studied example is the history of the English Modals. There are two fundamentally different approaches to grammaticalization, one taking the phenomenon to be an explanandum, to be explained, and the other taking it as explanans, or explanatory. The former approach seeks accounts for why a particular change took place under particular circumstances, for example identifying new PLD that would trigger the new grammaticized analysis (e.g., the reanalysis of certain verbs as modal auxiliaries in Early Modern English). The latter approach, often referred to as grammaticalization theory, takes the tendency to grammaticalize as causal, explaining why the change happens and entailing that apparent changes in the reverse direction (so-called degrammaticalization) are illusory. Further developments and assessment of this approach are illustrated in Traugott and Trousdale 2010. There have been attempts to incorporate grammaticalization into generative analyses, and UG “biases” are said to entail internally driven changes, independent of prior changes to PLD (see UG Predicting Directionality). Hopper and Traugott 2003 offers the major textbook treatment of grammaticalization, and Garrett 2012, Joseph 2001, and Kiparsky 2012 consider the explanatory power of grammaticalization accounts of reanalysis, while Wu 2000 offers a rich account of grammaticalization phenomena in a non-Indo-European language.

Syntactic Reconstruction

A great deal of work on syntactic change, particularly within typological approaches, has dealt with changes from prehistorical, reconstructed systems. Several full-length studies were published in the mid-1970s regarding the reconstruction of word order in Proto-Indo-European (PIE). Lehmann 1974 argues that the PIE clause word order was subject—object—verb order; Friedrich 1975 argues for a subject—verb—object order and Miller 1975 for a verb—subject—object order. Such discrepancies raise questions about the methods followed: How can one reconstruct prior, unattested syntactic systems? The traditional methods used by historical phonologists and morphologists, the comparative method, and, somewhat more dubiously, internal reconstruction cannot apply for reasons discussed in Watkins 1976 and Lightfoot 1980 and debated between Campbell and Harris 2002 and Lightfoot 2002. Lehmann 1974 uses pure language types; Harris and Campbell 1995 uses sentence patterns; and others use statistically most common phenomena as a means to reconstruct; discussion of the validity of these methods has been sketchy at best.

Typological Approaches

Typologists characterize languages as having harmonic properties that change according to a universal hierarchy as a language changes from one pure type to another. Li 1975, Li 1977 (both cited under General Overviews), Li and Thompson 1974, Vennemann 1974, and Vennemann 1975 boosted this work in the 1970s, as work on syntactic change was beginning, and provided an impetus to other, differently conceived work. Comrie 1989, Croft 2000, and Croft 2003 provide comprehensive treatments of typological approaches.

UG Predicting Directionality

Generativist works like Biberauer and Roberts 2008, van Gelderen 2004, van Gelderen 2011, and Roberts and Roussou 2003 have engaged with typological change and grammaticalization by seeking to derive changes from biases built into UG. If UG has a bias against certain properties, this is taken to explain why those properties are lost over time. Roberts 1997 and Roberts 2010 seek to derive a wider range of historical changes (not discussed in the grammaticalization and typological literature) from properties of UG.

Individual Language Analyses

There has been such an efflorescence of work on syntactic change in many languages that any list of studies in individual languages can only scratch the surface. A list of examples is provided only to illustrate the range and is far from comprehensive.

Indo-European Languages

Fischer, et al. 2001 is just one of many interesting studies on the history of English. There is also a rich tradition of work on Scandinavian, illustrated here by Faarlund 2004 and Maling and Sigurjónsdóttir 2002, and on Romance, illustrated by Harris 1978, Pearce 1990, and Wanner 1987. Horrocks 2007 offers a comprehensive history of Greek, and Schmalstieg 1987 treats Lithuanian, a language often regarded as one of the most conservative of the Indo-European languages.

Non-Indo-European Languages

At the risk of omitting reference to work on many languages, this section provides illustrative work on non-Indo-European languages. Aldridge 2010, Peyraube 1996, and Whitman and Waltraud 2005 offer analyses of richly attested Chinese. Watanabe 2002 and Whitman 1999 treat Japanese; Harris 1985 and Harris 2002 analyze a number of Caucasian languages; and Akkadian is analyzed in Deutscher 2007.

English Modals

Lightfoot 1979 (cited under General Overviews) argues that a set of verbs in early English were reanalyzed as auxiliaries in Early Modern English, many phenomena changing simultaneously as a result of this single change in the grammars of English speakers. This has been taken to be a paradigm case of grammaticalization and of a single change in grammars explaining the simultaneity of a range of phenomena in the new grammar. Much subsequent work has refined and elaborated the analysis, which Lightfoot 2006 (cited under Cue-Based Acquisition) summarizes, arguing that there is now a rich explanation for the nature of the change and the new PLD that triggered it, a function of the radical simplification of verb morphology in Middle English. Roberts 1993 (cited under General Overviews) and Warner 1993 provide important insights on these changes.

Infinitives

Infinitives vary in their form and distribution and have undergone changes in several languages, some infinitives being inflected or more nominal in character. The variation in the form and distribution of infinitives across languages illuminates the way they might change historically from one I-language to another. Los 1999 considers infinitives in the history of English; Ledgeway 1998, Martins 2001, Pires 2006, and Sitaridou 2009 consider infinitives in the Romance languages; and Joseph 1983 and Joseph 1992 treat infinitives primarily in the Balkan languages, notably different forms of Greek. Miller 2002 deals with infinitives across a wide range of languages.

Null Subjects

The first paradigm example of parametric variation within the principles and parameters model that emerged in the late 1970s was that of null subjects (pro-drop): Languages such as Italian and Spanish allow null subjects, while English and German do not. There has been much discussion about the conditions that must hold for null subjects to exist, and those conditions have consequences for how null subjects might change over time. Examining the diachronic trajectories has been a significant way of testing synchronic analyses and the predicted correlations. Adams 1987 provides the earliest historical treatment of Romance null subjects in terms of the principles-and-parameters approach to language variation and influenced subsequent treatments of null subjects in Romance offered by Duarte 1993, Kato and Negrão 2000, and Vance 1997. Williams 2000 treats null subjects in Middle English.

Serial Verbs

Many languages show lexical verbs occurring in sequences, serially within a single clause, and changes involving serial verbs have been a focus of attention, particularly in typological and grammaticalization approaches to change. Givón 1975 treats serial verbs from a typological perspective, while Lord 1976, Lord 1993, Schachter 1974, and Steever 1988 provide earlier analyses of serial verbs that helped to shape more recent approaches to grammaticalization.

  • Givón, T. 1975. Serial verbs and syntactic change: Niger-Congo. In Word order and word order change. Edited by C. N. Li, 47–112. Austin: Univ. of Texas Press.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Argues that the development of case through serialization slows down SOV-SVO change in Niger-Congo languages.

    Find this resource:

  • Lord, C. 1976. Evidence for syntactic reanalysis: From verb to complementizer in Kwa. In Papers from the parasession on diachronic syntax. Edited by S. B. Steever, C. A. Walker, and S. S. Mufwene, 179–191 Chicago: Chicago Linguistic Society.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Argues that serial verbs were recategorized as complementizers in Kwa, hence an instance of what would be construed later as grammaticalization.

    Find this resource:

  • Lord, C. 1993. Historical change in serial verb constructions. Amsterdam: Benjamins.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Examines both historical and comparative evidence in diachronic changes in serial verb constructions, using data from languages of West Africa, Asia, and the Caribbean.

    Find this resource:

  • Schachter, P. 1974. A non-transformational account of serial verbs. Studies in African Linguistics (Suppl. 5): 253–271.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Provides a verb phrase (VP) recursion analysis of serial verbs in Akan.

    Find this resource:

  • Steever, S. 1988. The serial verb formation in the Dravidian languages. New Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Explores the linguistic structure and development of the serial verb formation as a family of constructions whose very existence has escaped the notice of earlier Dravidianists.

    Find this resource:

Verb Movement

Much work has focused on the movement of verbs to higher functional positions to yield V2 phenomena in some languages. These movement operations have been correlated with morphological properties, null subjects, and so on, and studying how they change over time has also been of considerable interest to synchronic syntacticians. The loss of verb movement in English now represents one of the best understood instances of syntactic change. Biberauer and Roberts 2010 and Rohrbacher 1994 deal with verb raising in connection with agreement and tense features. Adams 1988 considers V2 effects in Romance; van Kemenade and Westergaard 2012 and Kroch and Taylor 1997 in Middle English; Santorini 1989 in Yiddish; and Willis 1999 in Welsh. Weerman 1989 treats V2 phenomena more generally across the Germanic languages.

Word Order

The change of object—verb order to verb—object order in English, Scandinavian, and Romance languages was much studied in the 19th century, and many statistical studies were conducted. Those changes have continued to be a central focus for both typological and generative work on syntactic change. Bean 1983 and Canale 1978 provide early generative analyses of basic word order change from object—verb to verb—object in Early English. This was followed by Kroch and Taylor 2000 and Taylor and van der Wurff 2005, also dealing with verb phrase order in the history of English. Hróarsdóttir 2000 analyzes similar changes in Icelandic verb phrases. Hawkins 1983 and Hróarsdóttir 2009 offer a general treatment of word order universals and change. Kiparsky 1995 analyzes the V2 properties of Germanic in terms of their origins in properties of Proto-Indo-European.

  • Bean, M. 1983. The development of word order patterns in Old English. London: Croom Helm.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    A detailed investigation of the change of SOV to SVO across different clause types, focusing on data from the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle.

    Find this resource:

  • Canale, M. 1978. Word order change in OE: Base reanalysis in Generative Grammar. PhD diss., McGill University.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Proposes that English underwent a base reanalysis from SOV to SVO in the 13th century.

    Find this resource:

  • Hawkins, J. 1983. Word order universals. New York: Academic Press.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Argues that implicational universals can make correct predictions for the relative timing and manner of word order changes, but only on the assumption that languages in evolution obey synchronic universals. Develops the idea of cross-categorial harmony in terms of an X-bar theory of phrase structure.

    Find this resource:

  • Hróarsdóttir, Þ. 2000. Word order change in Icelandic: From OV to VO. Amsterdam: Benjamins.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Analysis of Icelandic VPs at different developmental stages.

    Find this resource:

  • Hróarsdóttir, Þ. 2009. OV languages: Expressions of cues. In Information structure and language change: New approaches to word order variation in Germanic. Edited by R. Hinterhölzl and S. Petrova, 67–90. Berlin: de Gruyter.

    DOI: 10.1515/9783110216110Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Offers a cue-based approach in a general treatment of universals and change in word order.

    Find this resource:

  • Kiparsky, P. 1995. Indo-European origins of Germanic syntax. In Clause structure and language change. Edited by A. Battye and I. Roberts, 140–167. Oxford: Oxford Univ. Press.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Proposal that in early Germanic languages specifier of CP is a focus position that can co-occur with clause-initial topics, a system that changed minimally from Indo-European.

    Find this resource:

  • Kroch, A., and A. Taylor. 2000. Verb-object order in Early Middle English. In Diachronic syntax: Models and mechanisms. Edited by S. Pintzuk, G. Tsoulas, and A. Warner, 132–163. Oxford: Oxford Univ. Press.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Evidence for continuity in INFL-medial word order between Old and Middle English, from grammatical and statistical analysis of Early Middle English.

    Find this resource:

  • Taylor, A., and W. van der Wurff, eds. 2005. Special issue on aspects of OV and VO order in the history of English. English Language and Linguistics 9.1.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Considers major issues in English historical syntax in connection with OV-VO order change, including the parameter model, EPP properties, pronouns, case marking, and prosody. Articles available online for purchase or by subscription.

    Find this resource:

Interfaces

Work on syntactic change has interconnected with work in many other domains. Interdisciplinary work has been most productive in the areas of computational linguistics, language contact and creolization, morphology, and language acquisition by young children.

Computational Linguistics

There has been much interesting work on computational models of language change, especially from the perspective of language acquisition. Briscoe 2000, Briscoe 2002, Pearl 2007, and Pearl and Weinberg 2007 offer computational models of language acquisition that can yield explanations for language change. Niyogi 2006 elaborates on an earlier work (Niyogi and Berwick 1997) to provide an impressive outline of the computations of language acquisition that can account for the development of languages over time. Longobardi and Guardiano 2009 uses a mathematical model to propose ways to compute language relatedness on the basis of similarities in parametric syntax settings.

Language Contact and Creoles

Language contact is sometimes a source of language change, and it is invoked quite differently by different researchers. Some have argued that language contact and bilingualism are the source of all syntactic change, as in Meisel 2011. Others (e.g., Nadkarni 1975) argue that well-analyzed cases of language change through contact are difficult to establish and unusual. A dramatic example of language change being influenced by contact is the emergence of creoles. A central question is whether creoles are inherently exceptional and require special mechanisms, as discussed in Bickerton 1984, or whether they arise in the same essential way as other languages despite relatively impoverished or heterogeneous PLD, as discussed in DeGraff 1999. This issue was at the heart of a vigorous debate in Language (see Bickerton 2004 and DeGraff 2004). Thomason and Kaufman 1988 surveys a broad range of changes reflecting contact between distinct languages, and McWhorter 2001 studies the mechanisms of creolization that arguably predict that creoles reflect simple systems.

Morphology

One of the great mysteries in linguistics is the relationship between syntax and morphology. Diachronic syntacticians have studied the relationship between changes in syntax and verb (inflectional) and noun (case) morphology, formulating a wide range of hypotheses and testing and refining many claims from the synchronic literature. Allen 2002, Fischer 2007, Haeberli 2002, and van Kemenade 1987 examine morphological change in the history of English and the syntactic changes that may have been associated with them. Anderson 1977, Thráinsson 2003, and Lightfoot 2002 (cited under Edited Collections) offer theories of how and why syntactic and morphological properties might be related to each other.

Language Acquisition

Generative approaches to language change have tended to look to language acquisition to understand why changes took place at particular times and under particular conditions. Listed here are some acquisition studies that have engaged with phenomena of change. Clark and Roberts 1993 construes syntactic change as following from a genetic algorithm model of language acquisition. Westergaard 2008 and Westergaard 2009 take cues as learned elements of I-languages (a different interpretation than the one discussed under Cue-Based Acquisition) and asks how they reflect robust elements of a child’s E-language. Pires and Rothman 2009 considers language acquisition in a diglossic environment; Yang 2000 also considers language acquisition in multiglossic environments, and Yang 2002 generalizes these ideas into a comprehensive account of language acquisition that can explain aspects of syntactic change.

  • Clark, R., and I. Roberts. 1993. A computational model of language learnability and language change. Linguistic Inquiry 24.2: 299–345.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Proposes genetic algorithms as a model of language acquisition and then analyzes parametric changes in the history of French. Available online by subscription.

    Find this resource:

  • Pires, A., and J. Rothman. 2009. Acquisition of Brazilian Portuguese in late childhood: Implications for syntactic theory and language change. In Minimalist inquiries into child and adult language acquisition: Case studies across Portuguese. Edited by A. Pires and J. Rothman, 129–154. Berlin: de Gruyter.

    DOI: 10.1515/9783110215359.1.129Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Provides evidence from late child language acquisition for the ongoing loss of grammatical properties from vernacular dialects of Brazilian Portuguese.

    Find this resource:

  • Westergaard, M. 2008. Acquisition and change: On the robustness of the triggering experience for word order cues. Lingua 118.12: 1841–1863.

    DOI: 10.1016/j.lingua.2008.05.003Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Focusing on present-day Norwegian dialects, this paper discusses mixed V2 both synchronically and diachronically and develops a theory of language acquisition and change based on micro-cues. Available online for purchase or by subscription.

    Find this resource:

  • Westergaard, M. 2009. Microvariation as diachrony: A view from acquisition. Journal of Comparative Germanic Linguistics 12.1: 49–79.

    DOI: 10.1007/s10828-009-9025-9Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Argues, based on spontaneous speech data from adults and children, that variation in V2 word order in wh-questions in present-day Norwegian reflects a diachronic change in progress. Available online for purchase or by subscription.

    Find this resource:

  • Yang, C. 2000. Internal and external forces in language change. Language Variation and Change 12.3: 231–250.

    DOI: 10.1017/S0954394500123014Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Explains the loss of V2 in Old French and Old English through a model that an individual’s variable linguistic behavior statistically reflects multiple idealized grammars. Available online for purchase or by subscription.

    Find this resource:

  • Yang, C. 2002. Knowledge and learning in natural language. Oxford: Oxford Univ. Press.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    A computational model for child morphosyntactic acquisition supported by aspects of evolutionary biology and evidence from language change.

    Find this resource:

LAST MODIFIED: 05/28/2013

DOI: 10.1093/OBO/9780199772810-0085

back to top

Article

Up

Down