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Motivation in recent and ongoing language change: it’s not all in the system

Buerki, Andreas 2014. Motivation in recent and ongoing language change: it’s not all in the system. Presented at: 5th UK Cognitive Linguistics Conference, Lancaster University, UK, 29 July 2014.

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Abstract

Establishing motivations for instances of linguistic change is a delicate and complex matter and one on which it is particularly difficult to reach firm conclusions. While on the one hand there has therefore been considerable scepticism toward to possibility of convincingly accounting for motivation in language change (e.g. Lass 1980, Crowley 1992:202, Jones and Singh 2005:4), many treatments of historical linguistics have, on the other hand, made fairly sweeping statements regarding significant drivers of linguistics change. These have often been seen as mainly language-internal (or internal to complex systems more generally, e.g. Keller 1994), with a recognition of certain other factors as contributing or main motivators in limited domains. The present paper sought to make a modest contribution toward a re-assessment both of the possibility of establishing motivations for instances of linguistic change as well as general statements on the relative importance of different types of motivation, such as internal vs. external factors. To this end, motivations were investigated for a random sample of 150 instances of significant change in formulaic sequences (i.e. predominantly substantive constructions) in a corpus of 20 million words of written German across the 20th century. In establishing motivations, a functional conceptualisation of motivation was adopted (i.e. motivation understood as the need to which the observed linguistic change was the response) and applied. Results suggest that external motivators such as socio-cultural change as well as cognitive factors not of specifically linguistic nature play a more significant role in language change than has generally been recognised. Results further suggest that while establishing motivation to a sufficiently inter-subjective standard remains challenging, there are many cases where clear, satisfying and comprehensive accounts of motivation are possible and better quality data may well make further improvement possible. References: Crowley, T. (1992). An Introduction to Historical Linguistics. Oxford: Oxford University Press. Jones, M. C., & Singh, I. (2005). Exploring Language Change. London: Routledge. Keller, R. (1994). On Language Change: the invisible hand in language. London: Routledge. Lass, R. (1980). On Explaining Language Change. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Item Type: Conference or Workshop Item (Paper)
Date Type: Completion
Status: Unpublished
Schools: English, Communication and Philosophy
Subjects: P Language and Literature > P Philology. Linguistics
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Last Modified: 04 Jun 2017 08:26
URI: http://orca.cf.ac.uk/id/eprint/77953

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