Language Acquisition and Change

Language Acquisition and Change: A Morphosyntactic Perspective

Jürgen M. Meisel
Martin Elsig
Esther Rinke
Copyright Date: 2013
Pages: 208
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  • Book Info
    Language Acquisition and Change
    Book Description:

    Under which circumstances does grammatical change come about? Is the child the principle agent of change as suggested by historical linguistics? This book discusses diachronic change of languages in terms of restructuring of speakers’ internal grammatical knowledge. Efforts to construct a theory of diachronic change consistent with findings from psycholinguistics are scarce. Here, these questions are therefore addressed against the background of insights from research on monolingual and bilingual acquisition. Given that children are remarkably successful in reconstructing the grammars of their ambient languages, commonly held views need to be reconsidered according to which language change is primarily triggered by structural ambiguity in the input and in settings of language contact. In an innovative take on this matter, the authors argue that morphosyntactic change in core areas of grammar, especially where parameters of Universal Grammar are concerned, typically happens in settings involving second language acquisition. The children acting as agents of restructuring are either L2 learners themselves or are continuously exposed to the speech of L2 speakers of their target languages. Based on a variety of case studies, this discussion sheds new light on phenomena of change which have occupied historical linguists since the 19th century and will be welcomed by advanced undergraduate and graduate students as well as researchers in the fields of historical linguistics and language acquisition.

    eISBN: 978-0-7486-7799-3
    Subjects: Linguistics

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-viii)
  3. Preface
    (pp. ix-x)
    Jürgen M. Meisel, Martin Elsig and Esther Rinke
  4. Abbreviations
    (pp. xi-xiv)
  5. CHAPTER 1 Variation and change in languages
    (pp. 1-19)

    Variation should be considered as a constitutive property of language use. One finds considerable variability in the use of particular constructions within languages, and individual speakers, too, make variable use of the options offered in a language. This observation applies to grammatical aspects of a person’s linguistic knowledge as well as to grammar-external ones, although the variation space of the former is arguably more limited than that of the latter. The nature and the extent of linguistic variation are an issue of crucial importance for studies striving for insights into how grammars change over time: in linguistic ontogenesis, in first...

  6. CHAPTER 2 Language change across the lifespan
    (pp. 20-51)

    In this chapter, our focus of interest will be on syntactic variation and change both within the speech community and within the individual speaker. We will mainly be concerned with the question whether certain patterns of variability target the grammatical knowledge of the speakers or whether they are rather a reflex of how this knowledge is put into use. The former would be the case when UG-constrained parametric differences are at stake which, in addition to language-universal principles, constitute the speakers’ core grammar (cf. Chomsky 1981: 7). Such cases of parametric variation can be observed not only when comparing varieties...

  7. CHAPTER 3 The child as the locus and agent of grammatical change
    (pp. 52-72)

    The variability of language use, across and within individuals, suggests that we may be witnessing ongoing processes of language change, including changes in the domain of morphosyntax. If, however, we distinguish carefully – as we should do – between, on the one hand, possible change at the level of I-grammar, affecting the internal grammatical knowledge of native speakers of a particular language, and, on the other, change at the level of how this knowledge is put into use in communicative interaction, the question arises as to whether the observed variability indeed reflects change involving restructuring of grammatical knowledge. The discussion in the...

  8. CHAPTER 4 Structural ambiguity as a possible trigger of syntactic change
    (pp. 73-95)

    If we relate syntactic change to child language acquisition, we need to identify possible factors that trigger a reanalysis of the input. In generative theories, ambiguity has been argued to be such a triggering factor, and it has been attributed a central role as a possible cause of diachronic change. In this chapter, we will discuss some of these proposals and their application to a specific case of syntactic change, namely the loss of verb-second placement in Old French. We will show that the assumption that structural ambiguity is the principal cause of word order change in the history of...

  9. CHAPTER 5 Language contact as a possible trigger of change
    (pp. 96-136)

    The discussion in the previous chapter has cast doubt on the plausibility of a scenario according to which structural ambiguity, in the sense of P-ambiguity, can be held responsible for grammatical restructuring in the process of L1 acquisition. In this chapter, we will examine whether language contact is a more likely candidate to induce grammatical change. Our focus is, again, on phenomena related to morphosyntax.

    The chapter is introduced by Section 5.1, where we will discuss general assumptions concerning contact-induced diachronic change, focusing on the concepts ofstructural borrowing, convergenceandshift-induced interference.Whereas many scholars assume a rather sceptical...

  10. CHAPTER 6 Acquisition in multilingual settings: Implications for explanations of change
    (pp. 137-165)

    The preliminary conclusion which we can draw from the discussion in the preceding chapters, having scrutinized various attempts at explaining the relationship between language development and diachronic change in the domain of morphosyntax, confirms that language acquisition must be attributed a crucial role in explanations of grammatical change. Yet transmission failure across generations in L1 development turned out to be an unlikely cause for grammatical reanalysis when it comes to accounting for changes of core properties of grammars. Neither variable input frequencies nor apparently conflicting evidence resulting from structural ambiguity, encountered in the data to which the language-learning child is...

  11. CHAPTER 7 Towards an explanatory theory of grammatical change
    (pp. 166-183)

    Throughout this book, we have focused on processes and mechanisms of diachronic change affecting core properties of grammars, i.e. linguistic domains referring, for example, to parameterized principles of UG. We were mainly concerned with the questions of which language-external and -internal factors induce speakers to reorganize their grammatical knowledge and who the innovators are in such instances of parametric change. We paid particular attention to the relation between language acquisition and diachronic change and scrutinized different acquisition scenarios with respect to their explanatory power for diachronic change.

    As a first take on the matter, it turned out to be of...

  12. 8. References
    (pp. 184-199)
  13. Index
    (pp. 200-202)