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8 - Language change and universals

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  08 January 2010

Joan Bybee
Affiliation:
Professor of Linguistics, University of New Mexico
Ricardo Mairal
Affiliation:
Universidad National de Educación a Distancia, Madrid
Juana Gil
Affiliation:
Universidad National de Educación a Distancia, Madrid
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Summary

Introduction

As traditionally understood, universals of language are cross-linguistic generalizations concerning synchronic grammars, and their explanations usually appeal to functional principles thought of in a synchronic domain. It stands to reason, however, that any synchronic pattern must have a diachronic dimension, since that pattern had to come into being in some way. One could even argue, as I did in Bybee (1988), that we cannot be sure of the validity of a functional explanation for a synchronic universal unless we can confirm that that functional consideration was applicable in the formation of the synchronic pattern. That is, all explanations of synchronic universals must have a diachronic dimension.

In the current chapter, I outline a position on the role of diachrony in universals, whose logical consequence is that the true universals of language are not synchronic patterns at all, but the mechanisms of change that create these patterns. This position is an extension of the theory of diachronic typology formulated and practiced by Joseph H. Greenberg, to whom this chapter is dedicated.

In several papers, Greenberg proposed a method for the study of typology and universals which he called dynamic comparison or diachronic typology. In this method, typological patterns are shown to emerge from common diachronic changes that arise in related and unrelated languages. It has become clear subsequently that what Greenberg elaborated in the many domains of language that he studied was not a comparative methodology so much as a theory of language that has great potential for explanation.

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Linguistic Universals , pp. 179 - 194
Publisher: Cambridge University Press
Print publication year: 2006

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  • Language change and universals
    • By Joan Bybee, Professor of Linguistics, University of New Mexico
  • Edited by Ricardo Mairal, Universidad National de Educación a Distancia, Madrid, Juana Gil, Universidad National de Educación a Distancia, Madrid
  • Book: Linguistic Universals
  • Online publication: 08 January 2010
  • Chapter DOI: https://doi.org/10.1017/CBO9780511618215.009
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  • Language change and universals
    • By Joan Bybee, Professor of Linguistics, University of New Mexico
  • Edited by Ricardo Mairal, Universidad National de Educación a Distancia, Madrid, Juana Gil, Universidad National de Educación a Distancia, Madrid
  • Book: Linguistic Universals
  • Online publication: 08 January 2010
  • Chapter DOI: https://doi.org/10.1017/CBO9780511618215.009
Available formats
×

Save book to Google Drive

To save content items to your account, please confirm that you agree to abide by our usage policies. If this is the first time you use this feature, you will be asked to authorise Cambridge Core to connect with your account. Find out more about saving content to Google Drive.

  • Language change and universals
    • By Joan Bybee, Professor of Linguistics, University of New Mexico
  • Edited by Ricardo Mairal, Universidad National de Educación a Distancia, Madrid, Juana Gil, Universidad National de Educación a Distancia, Madrid
  • Book: Linguistic Universals
  • Online publication: 08 January 2010
  • Chapter DOI: https://doi.org/10.1017/CBO9780511618215.009
Available formats
×