Language Change

  • Created by: laurenm
  • Created on: 30-12-16 20:38

Language Change Theories

Jean Aitchison

There are 3 ways of viewing language change..

1. Decay - what most prescriptivists believe

2. Progress - what some descriptivists believe

3. Neither, but inevitable - most descriptivists

Language change can be both conscious and unconscious.

There are 3 aspects to language change..

  • Potential for change
  • Implementation
  • Diffusion
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Language Change Theories

Samuel Johnson - Creation of the Dictionary

  • Johnson found English copious & energetic, but perplexed.
  • Strong suggestion that the language lacks order, and only had 'general grammar' to write his dictionary with.

He wrote his dictionary through the methods of experience (which was continually increasing) and analogy (sometimes evident, sometimes obscure.)

He looked at the writings of other people and took from them what he considered 'of use'.

Potential links to Substratum Theory.

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Language Change Theories

Functional Theory - M.A.K. Halliday

  • Focussing on lexical change - changes in vocabulary.
  • Language changes according to its users, for example through new discoveries, technology, etc.

Substratum Theory

  • Changes in language come about through language contact, e.g. social networking or immigration, as opposed to trade and invasion.
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Language Change Theories

Wave Theory (Chen & Wang)

  • Explains the geographical effect of language change.

S-Curve Theory (Chen & Bailey, 1972)

  • Explains social change in a linguistic community.

Random Fluctuation Theory - Paul Postal

  • Language is unpredictable, and changes are totally random.

Random Fluctuation Theory - Charles Hockett

  • Random mistakes lead to them being accepted as changes in language.
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Language Change Key Terms

Diachronic Variation - Variation of language over time.

Synchronic Variation - Variation of language across society at a single point in time.

Semantic Change - The evolution of a word's meaning.

Low Frequency Lexis - Words not used or spelt often (often formal or archaic words)

Archaic - old, outdated, old fashioned, etc.

Overt Prestige - Explicit & open (in the context of divergence, etc.)

Covert Prestige -  Hidden or subconscious divergence.

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