Language Change Theory


Determinism and Reflectionism

Sapir Wharf theory -  summed up the concept of linguistic determinism. 

Language precides thought and controls it. Human thought is only possible through language. We can only think things that we have the language to articulate. 

Language can only influence thought but does not have control?

Other theorists suggest that language is shaped by our thought and a reflection of the way we are and think. 

This has been critisied for dismissing the value to try and shape our language for example not using racist terms - If racism is a reflection of the way that some people think, then racist words will re-emerge in newly shaped forms. 

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Lexical Gaps

- A way of seeing likely paths that language change may take in the future.

'gaps' are referred to as words that are not currently used in English, but fit the existing linguisitc patterns well

e.g the words 'pop' pip' 'pap' and 'pup' are all used in English, however 'pep' is not even though it makes sense as a phonological structure. 

Alternative morphological forms for existing words can be generated by filling these gaps. 

It also works in a way that you can convert an existing word, known as 'verbing' e.g 'to text' or 'to click ' 

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Random Fluctuation

- Charles Hockett in 1958 put forward a theory that focused on significance of random error and events within the language system.

- Sees the changes that occur in language as a repsonse to the ever changing context of language use and its users.

- Creation of the word 'book' as a synonim for 'cool' in the predictive text feature on some phones. 

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Substratum Theory

- Focuses on the differnet forms of language that come into contact with English through the speakers of other languages or dialects.

- Substratum emphasises the way the way that words, meanings, strutures, written forms or sound may change language over time. 

-  An example of English usage in the USA, researched by William Labov, noticed how the jewish community who are speakers of Yiddish altered their pronounciation when they hyper-corrected their use of English. 

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Functional Theory

- Language changes according to the needs of its users. Seen by the way the English Lexicon digests words on a daily basis.

- Words become obsolete and drop out of usage. e.g Vinyl is no longer in common use due to technologhy changes. As well as 'floppy disk' and 'cassette'

- Large numbers of words come into the English Language to fill the needs of its users. e.g Mp3, USB, Flash drive. 

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Wave and S-Curve

Chen 1968 and 1972, put forward the idea that change would be taken up by users at a certain rate. At first the effects would be minimal - only a few words would be effected phonologically. The change would then accerlorate. 

- The pace of change would then slow as the vocabularly unaffected would be converted to change over time.

Other Linguists developed the concept of the way in which change is adopted by its users and the impact of geographical distance.

- Language change would move accross a particular region and the further away from that place the lesser the effects. Meaning the further away the less impact. 

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