LINGUIST List 13.2151

Thu Aug 22 2002

Qs: Open Source Programs, Syntax Stability

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  1. Doug Whalen, Query: Open-source Language Teaching Code
  2. Frederick Newmeyer, Stability of syntax over time

Message 1: Query: Open-source Language Teaching Code

Date: Wed, 21 Aug 2002 09:49:10 -0400
From: Doug Whalen <>
Subject: Query: Open-source Language Teaching Code

Does anyone know of any open-source programs for teaching a language?
Ideally, this would be something modularized so that new languages
could be introduced into the system.

Thanks, Doug Whalen DhW (
Doug Whalen (
Haskins Laboratories
270 Crown St.
New Haven, CT 06511
203-865-6163, ext. 234
FAX: 203-865-8963
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Message 2: Stability of syntax over time

Date: Wed, 21 Aug 2002 18:15:14 -0700 (PDT)
From: Frederick Newmeyer <>
Subject: Stability of syntax over time

I am very curious to know if any work has been done estimating how
stable syntactic systems tend to be over time. That is, on how
different the syntax of a language is likely to be from generation to
generation in the absence of a significant amount of language contact.

I am aware of the difficulties inherent in probing this question. For
example, what does one compare? Percentage of shared constructions?
Parameter settings? Constraint orderings? Likewise, it is often not easy
to separate syntactic change from morphological and lexical change.

My impression, based on the few European languages whose history I am
familiar with, is that syntax changes pretty slowly. For example, I
suspect that we (native Modern English speakers) could manage to converse
pretty well with a speaker of Elizabethan English (400+ years ago) and the
difficulties would be mostly lexical and (often very low level)
phonological. English phonology changed massively between Middle and Early
Modern English, but what about syntax? There were changes, but not nearly
so profound, I think.

Of course we have no concrete records, by definition, of the syntactic
histories of unwritten (or recently written) languages. But offhand I have
no reason to think that syntactic change is necessarily speedier in such

Anyway, if anybody has thoughts on this question, I would be very pleased
to hear them.

Fritz Newmeyer
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