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  • Print publication year: 2013
  • Online publication date: August 2013

5 - Choice and change


They say that time changes things, but you actually have to change them yourself.

Andy Warhol

Certaynly it is harde to playse every man, by cause of dyversité and change of language.

William Caxton (1422–91), Prologue to Eneydos

‘To travel through Time!’ exclaimed the Very Young Man. … ‘One might get one’s Greek from the very lips of Homer and Plato,’ the Very Young Man thought.

H. G. Wells, The Time Machine

Outline of the chapter

In this chapter language change through time is introduced as a major dimension of linguistic variation. First, it lays the theoretical and methodological foundations of studying language change from a sociolinguistic point of view, discussing the question of what the transmission of a language from one generation to the next and the incremental change it undergoes in the process imply for our notion of what a language is. Age-grading, the fact that coexisting speakers of different generations use language differently, is explained, and the construct of ‘apparent time’ is introduced as a technique of investigating language change while compensating for the paucity of recorded speech data from former times. To illustrate phonological adjustments in the course of dialect levelling, standardization and other alterations, surveys of several speech communities are adduced, and the influence on language change of gender and age is examined. The chapter concludes with a brief discussion of demographic change, a so far largely unexplored factor of language change that is of potential interest for future research.

Further reading
Bailey, Guy. 2002. Real and apparent time. In Chambers, J. K., Trudgill, Peter and Schilling-Estes, Natalie (eds.), The Handbook of Language Variation and Change. Oxford: Blackwell, 312–32.
Gregory, Gerry. 2011. Teaching and learning about language Change (Part one). Changing English: Studies in Culture & Education 18(1): 3–15.
Inoue, Fumio. 1997. S-shaped curves of language standardization. Issues and Methods in Dialectology 8: 79–93.
Labov, William. 1994. Principles of Linguistic Change, vol. I: Internal Factors. Oxford: Blackwell, chapters 3, 4.
Thibault, Pierette. 2004. Cross-sectional and longitudinal studies in sociolinguistics. In Ammon, Ulrich, Dittmar, Norbert and Mattheier, Klaus (eds.), Sociolinguistics, Soziolinguistik: An International Handbook of the Science of Language and Society, 2nd edn. Berlin and New York: Walter de Gruyter.