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Höskuldur Thráinsson

Monday 15 October at 2pm, Höskuldur Thráinsson will give a colloquium in the UCSD Linguistics Department, in AP&M 4301.

How Do Languages Change?

University of Iceland
Consider the following quote (from Kroch 2001, emphasis added):
Language change is by definition a failure in the transmission across time of linguistic features. Such failures, in principle, could occur within groups of adult native speakers of language, who for some reason substitute one feature for another in their usage, as happens when new words are coined and substituted for old ones; but in the case of syntactic and other grammatical features, such innovation by monolingual adults is largely unattested. Instead, failures of transmission seem to occur in the course of language acquisition; that is, they are failures of learning.
While many generative linguists presumably agree with Kroch’s position (e.g. Hale 2007), sociolinguists often talk about linguistic change in real time, meaning that speakers may change their language during their lifetime. This talk reports on an ongoing research project where speakers of Icelandic have been interviewed/tested two or three times over a period of time (some of them were first interviewed over 65 years ago) in order to determine how and to what extent they may have changed selected features of their language, both phonological and syntactic.The preliminary results suggest that “linguistic change in real time” exists but that certain linguistic features may be more susceptible to change in real time than others. The interesting question is then why that is and what it tells us about the nature of language.
Hale, Mark. 2007. Historical Linguistics: Theory and Method. Blackwell, Oxford.
Kroch, Anthony. 2001. Syntactic Change. In Mark Baltin and Chris Collins (eds.): Handbook of Contemporary Syntactic Theory, pp. 699–730  Blackwell, Oxford.