Navigation Links
How language change sneaks in
Date:9/3/2012

(Washington, DC) Languages are continually changing, not just words but also grammar. A recent study examines how such changes happen and what the changes can tell us about how speakers' grammars work. The study, "The course of actualization", to be published in the September 2012 issue of the scholarly journal Language, is authored by Hendrik De Smet of the University of Leuven /Research Foundation Flanders. A preprint version is available online at: http://lsadc.org/info/documents/2012/press-releases/de-smet.pdf

Historical linguists, who document and study language change, have long noticed that language changes have a sneaky quality, starting small and unobtrusive and then gradually conquering more ground, a process termed 'actualization'. De Smet's study investigates how actualization proceeds by tracking and comparing different language changes, using large collections of digitized historical texts. This way, it is shown that any actualization process consists of a series of smaller changes with each new change building on and following from the previous ones, each time making only a minimal adjustment. A crucial role in this is played by similarity.

Consider the development of so-called downtoners grammatical elements that minimize the force of the word they accompany. Nineteenth-century English saw the emergence of a new downtoner, all but, meaning 'almost'. All but started out being used only with adjectives, as in her escape was all but miraculous. But later it also began to turn up with verbs, as in until his clothes all but dropped from him. In grammatical terms, that is a fairly big leap, but when looked at closely the leap is found to go in smaller steps. Before all but spread to verbs, it appeared with past participles, which very much resemble both adjectives and verbs, as in her breath was all but gone. So, changes can sneak into a language and spread from context to context by exploiting the similarities between contexts.

The role of similarity in language change makes a number of predictions. For one thing, actualization processes will differ from item to item because in each case there will be different similarities to exploit. English is currently seeing some nouns developing into adjectives, such as fun or key. This again goes by small adjustments, but along different pathways. For fun, speakers started from expressions like that was really fun, which they would adjust to that was very fun, and from there they would go on to a very fun time and by now some have even gone on to expressions like the funnest time ever. For key, change started from expressions like a key player, which could be adjusted to an absolutely key player, and from there to a player who is absolutely key. When the changes are over, the eventual outcome will be the same fun and key will have all the characteristics of any other English adjective but the way that is coming about is different.

Another prediction is that actualization processes will differ from language to language, because grammatical contexts that are similar in one language may not be in another. Comparing the development of another English downtoner, far from (as in far from perfect), to its Dutch equivalent, verre van, it is found that, even though they started out quite similar, the two downtoners went on to develop differently due to differences in the overall structure of English and Dutch. Importantly, this is one way in which even small changes may reinforce and gradually increase existing differences between languages.

Finally, this research can say something about how language works in general. Similarity is so important to how changes unfold precisely because it is important to how speakers subconsciously use language all the time. Presumably, whenever a speaker thinks up a new sentence and decides it is acceptable, they do so by evaluating its resemblance to previous sentences. In this respect, actualization processes are giving us a unique window on how similarity works in organizing and reorganizing speakers' internal grammars, showing just how sensitive speakers are to all sorts of similarities. Strikingly, then, the same similarity judgments that speakers make to form acceptable and intelligible sentences allow their grammars to gradually change over time.


'/>"/>
Contact: Alyson Reed
areed@lsadc.org
202-835-1714
Linguistic Society of America
Source:Eurekalert

Related medicine news :

1. Clemson professor awarded nearly $600,000 4-year grant to study language of plants
2. Continuing Education Provider HomeCEUConnection.com Announces New Speech-Language Pathology Live Webinar
3. Study examines use of a natural language processing tool for electronic health records in assessing colonoscopy quality
4. Body Language of Triumph Will Be on Display at Olympics
5. Two Languages Better Than One for Kids Brains: Study
6. Teen Drinking May Boost Odds of Precancerous Breast Changes
7. Climate Change Could Be Tough on Seniors Health: Study
8. Changes in gene expression may help explain high blood pressure in pregnancy
9. Brain Changes May Hamper Decision-Making in Old Age
10. Specific protein triggers changes in neurons in brain reward center linked to cocaine addiction
11. Molecular probes identify changes in fibronectin that may lead to disease
Post Your Comments:
*Name:
*Comment:
*Email:
(Date:4/29/2016)... Waltham, MA (PRWEB) , ... April 29, 2016 ... ... 1st, the Two Ten Footwear Foundation, the national charitable foundation serving the footwear ... activities. With 8,000 volunteers representing more than 130 companies across 23 states during ...
(Date:4/29/2016)... ... April 29, 2016 , ... ... Awakening , announces the addition Onnit brand Alpha BRAIN and New Mood Daily-Stress ... Onnit brain and mood optimization products to the store is just one more ...
(Date:4/29/2016)... Atlanta, Georgia (PRWEB) , ... April 29, 2016 , ... ... 60 rural hospitals across the Southeast, celebrated the signature of Gov. Nathan Deal on ... by Rep. Geoff Duncan (R - Cumming), offers a 70% tax credit to individuals ...
(Date:4/29/2016)... CA (PRWEB) , ... April 29, 2016 , ... ... advocating optimistic healthcare awareness and author of best seller "LOVE, MEDICINE and MIRACLES") ... Radio Monday, May 2, 2016 and podcasted thereafter . Dr. Bernie Siegel, ...
(Date:4/29/2016)... ... April 29, 2016 , ... Conditions were ideal for Global Lyme Alliance’s (GLA) ... with sunny skies, a light breeze and temperatures in the 60s. Over 400 runners, ... Run and Walk and 1-mile walk were held to increase awareness about Lyme ...
Breaking Medicine News(10 mins):
(Date:4/28/2016)... JACKSONVILLE, Florida , April 28, 2016 ... in the development of innovative peptide and gene-based immunotherapeutics and ... announced it will be presenting at the 3rd Annual ... - 5 th , 2016 at Caesars Palace in Las ... at 8.00 am on Wednesday, May 4 th by ...
(Date:4/27/2016)... 27, 2016  Hologic, Inc. (Nasdaq: ... for the fiscal second quarter ended March 26, ... $0.24 increased 41.2%, and non-GAAP diluted EPS of ... 5.8% on a reported basis, and 6.3% on ... posted another good quarter, highlighted by 14.6% growth ...
(Date:4/27/2016)... 27 Avril 2016   ... de +5% sur le trimestre, soutenu par une ... Croissance de +16% des ventes aux ... Mauna Kea Technologies (Euronext : MKEA, FR0010609263 ; OTCQX : MKEAY), ... annonce aujourd,hui son chiffre d,affaires pour le premier ...
Breaking Medicine Technology: