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:3/30/2017)... ... March 30, 2017 , ... The ... offerings of corporate finance programs to address the increasingly complex educational needs of ... increase their knowledge of sophisticated corporate finance and will increase their ability to ...
(Date:3/30/2017)... ... ... An inventor and manicurist from Greet, S.C., wants to offer people a new way to ... clean and healthy feet, so I know the importance of proper foot care," he said. ... the FOOT-TRAN SYSTEM." , The FOOT-TRAN SYSTEM enables a user to clean and exfoliate the ...
(Date:3/30/2017)... ... March 30, 2017 , ... AudioEducator, a leader in ... Hospital Readmissions Through Discharge Planning ” with noted expert Sue Dill Calloway, RN, ... discusses strategies to prevent readmissions in light of the most recent programs at ...
(Date:3/29/2017)... ... March 29, 2017 , ... During the last week of March, Chad ... to eligible individuals in the local community. , Colon cancer is the second ... detect colon cancer while it is small, confined and easier to treat. If you ...
(Date:3/29/2017)... ... March 29, 2017 , ... In the United States alone, up ... year develop other types of metastatic brain tumors(3). Though most meningiomas are benign, metastatic ... focus on finding more effective treatment options, the San Diego Gamma Knife Center ...
Breaking Medicine News(10 mins):
(Date:3/29/2017)... Research and Markets has announced the addition ... their offering. ... The global lifestyle drugs market to grow at a CAGR of ... Lifestyle Drugs Market 2017-2021, has been prepared based on an in-depth ... market landscape and its growth prospects over the coming years. The ...
(Date:3/29/2017)... Calif. , March 29, 2017 Varian Medical ... will report results for the second quarter of fiscal year ... 26, 2017.  The news release will be followed by a ... The news release and a link to the conference call ... www.varian.com/investor .  To access the teleconference call and replay: ...
(Date:3/29/2017)... Calif. , March 29, 2017  Designers of ... significantly reduce solution size by 50% and extend battery ... ) power management integrated circuit (PMIC) from Maxim Integrated ... PMIC supports a low input voltage of just 0.7V ... Air and Silver Oxide, as well as the more ...
Breaking Medicine Technology: