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LINGUIST List 21.3880

Sun Oct 03 2010

Calls: Historical Linguistics/Japan

Editor for this issue: Elyssa Winzeler <elyssalinguistlist.org>

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        1.    David Willis, Drift and Long-Term Morphosyntactic Change

Message 1: Drift and Long-Term Morphosyntactic Change
Date: 01-Oct-2010
From: David Willis <dwew2cam.ac.uk>
Subject: Drift and Long-Term Morphosyntactic Change
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Full Title: Drift and Long-Term Morphosyntactic Change

Date: 25-Jul-2011 - 30-Jul-2011
Location: Osaka, Japan
Contact Person: David Willis
Meeting Email: dwew2cam.ac.uk

Linguistic Field(s): Historical Linguistics

Call Deadline: 12-Oct-2010

Meeting Description:

Frequently a language undergoes a set of changes that seem to be related to one
another. Sometimes, these changes may occur together quickly, perhaps even in
the space of one generation. Sometimes, however, changes that seem to be linked
may span long periods of time, hundreds, sometimes even thousands, of years. The
question arises as to how these changes maintain their momentum and direction.
Put simply, how do today's speakers act as though they 'know' that their
language has been moving in a particular direction, say, for the last five
hundred years and that they should continue to move the language a little way in
the same direction?

The phenomenon was identified as 'drift' as long ago as 1921 by Edward Sapir,
who famously noted that 'language moves down time in a current of its own
making. It has drift.' (Sapir 1949 [1921]: 150). Sapir himself attributed drift
to psychological causes, which one might consider to be rooted either in
performance or in language acquisition, namely 'the unconscious selection on the
part of its speakers of those individual variations that are cumulative in some
special direction' (Sapir 1949 [1921]: 155). As cases in point, he cited, from
the history of English:

(i) the tendency to level the formal distinction between subject and object
(loss of case inflections)
(ii) the tendency towards fixed (SVO) word order
(iii) the drift towards the invariant word forms (analytism)

Since then the concept of 'drift' has been used loosely to refer to any
apparently directed change, as in the drift from synthetic towards analytic
syntax observed repeatedly in many Indo-European languages, and thus often
amounts to a description of a phenomenon in search of an explanation. The notion
of drift is paradoxical since it seems to fly in the face of elementary facts:
native speakers have no inbuilt knowledge of the history of their language, and
so cannot possibly know how to change their language in the direction
'determined' by history.

Call For Papers

Preliminary expressions of interest are invited for the following proposed
workshop for the 20th International Conference on Historical Linguistics (Osaka,
2011). Please contact David Willis (dwew2cam.ac.uk) (Cambridge), ideally with a
preliminary title, by 12 October 2010.

While the term 'drift' has come to be regarded with some suspicion as implying
some kind of mysterious force guiding language - indeed McMahon refers to it as
'the rather mystical concept of drift' (McMahon 1994: 138) - the phenomenon
nevertheless remains and demands explanation. It may be more neutrally
identified as 'long-term change' and 'long-term development', avoiding the
geological metaphor of plate tectonics. Explanations for drift have a long
history in typological approaches to language change, where the notion that
there are regular pathways down which change is channelled goes back at least to
the Schleicher's morphological cycle (isolating > agglutinating > synthetic).
More recently, typological work has focused on limiting the possible pathways
between typologically consistent language states (Hawkins 1979, 1990, Lehmann
1973, Vennemann 1974). There has been a resurgence of interest also among
formally oriented linguists, with the idea of 'cascading parametric change',
embedded within a theory of markedness (Biberauer & Roberts 2008, Roberts 2007).
According to this approach, one syntactic change (a change in a parameter
setting) may skew the primary linguistic data for language acquisition, making a
subsequent change more likely. Other factors that have been suggested as causes
of long-term change include markedness, economy and the need to reestablish a
synchronically motivated stable system. Both of these last ideas brings us back
to Andersen's earlier structuralist approach to drift, according to which
long-term change is real and motivated by 'the drive toward internal conformity
between the type of the language and its system, and between the system and the
norms', as witnessed in his analysis of long-term development of the Polish past
tenses. The pace and structure of long-term developments are influenced by
complex hierarchies of markedness, according to which the propensity of a given
feature to conform to the broader linguistic system correlates with abstract
notions of markedness (Andersen 1990).

This workshop aims to enhance our understanding of the processes that may lead
to long-term, apparently directional, changes and sequences of changes and to
enhance our understanding of the internal make-up of these changes. In
particular, we seek to explore the following questions:

(a) Is drift different from other processes of language change, such as analogy,
grammaticalisation and/or parametric change? If yes, how?
(b) Is drift the system's reaction towards asymmetry? If yes, what is the
evidence for that?
(c) Can there be short-term drift? Or drift should be viewed as the opposite
process from 'catastrophic' (i.e., parametric) change?
(d) Is the notion of drift only compatible with a deterministic approach to
language change?
(e) Is drift unidirectional?
(f) How can drift be rendered compatible with random variability? Can random
chance cause a drift?

Papers are invited which address these questions, either the reality of such
developments or possible explanations for them, in any language or language
family, from any of a number of possible perspectives, whether typological,
structuralist or formal. Papers that compare or reconcile different approaches
are particularly welcome.

Andersen, Henning. 1990. The structure of drift. In Henning Andersen &
Konrad Koerner (eds.), Historical linguistics 1987: Papers from the 8th
International Conference on Historical Linguistics (8. ICHL): (Lille, 31 August
- 4 September 1987), 1-20. Amsterdam: Benjamins.

Biberauer, Theresa & Ian Roberts. 2008. Cascading parameter change:
Internally-driven change in Middle and Early Modern English. In Thórhallur
Eythórsson (ed.), Grammatical change and linguistic theory: The Rosendal papers,
79-113. Amsterdam: John Benjamins.

Hawkins, John A. 1979. Implicational universals as predictors of word order
change. Language 55, 618-48.

Hawkins, John A. 1990. A parsing theory of word order universals. Linguistic
Inquiry 21, 223-61.

Lehmann, Winfred P. 1973. A structural principle of language and its
implications. Language 49, 47-66.

McMahon, April. 1994. Understanding language change. Cambridge: Cambridge
University Press.

Roberts, Ian. 2007. Diachronic syntax. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Sapir, Edward. 1949 [1921]. Language: An introduction to the study of speech.
London: Harvest.

Vennemann, Theo. 1974. Topics, subjects, and word order: From SXV to SVX via
TVX. In John M. Anderson & Charles Jones (eds.), Historical linguistics:
Proceedings of the First International Conference on Historical Linguistics,
Edinburgh, 2nd-7th Sept. 1973, 339-76. Amsterdam: North Holland.
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