The course examines language change in adults, from two complementary perspectives. The sociolinguistic perspective sees language change as the result of social behaviour, the cognitive-functional perspective as the result of functional optimization of the brain and/or the speech organs. Central questions that are covered are: Are there fundamental differences between language change in adults and in children? Children are acquiring their native language. Their brains are searching for systematicity in the language they are exposed to, which they gradually find. But this systematicity may differ from present in those from whom they learn. This may lead to structural language change. But is the difference with adults really as big as often assumed? How deep does language change reach in adults? Does it only concern the superficial appearance and disappearance of new words like crowdfunding or vape? Or is more going on and does the entire mental grammar, our knowledge of all levels of our language, change?
The aim of this course is to study these questions closely, by means of their application to various levels of language change:
1. Phonological: Sociolinguistics has intensively studied individual phonological variation. An important name is Labov. Already in 1966, he revealed systematic differences in pronunciation between customers of warehouses from three different price categories. A functionial tradition which connects changing pronunciation partly to in essence lazy speech organs can be traced back at least to Martinet in the 1950s.
2. Lexical: Research on lexical change is mostly sociolinguistic in nature, with central atttention for social networks. Recently there has also been renewed attention for the cognitive dimension of lexical change. Ramscar et al. (2014) argue that, when aging people take longer to retrieve words from memory, this does not indicate cognitive decay, but results from their experience and vocabulary being a lot richer.
3. Syntactic: The study of syntactic change in individuals is only emerging. The few sociolinguistic historical studies (Like Curie 2013) do not yield a clear picture. The cognitive approach to syntactic change in adult individuals is even younger. Students of this course will be introduced in this novel approach. They will get a chance of doing hands on research on how easily adults may start using non-grammatical constructions grammatically during their lifetimes, looking at, inter alia, be going to. This construction was used for the first time as a future auxiliary in the 17th century, as in What I am going to tell you is really awesome, where motion is no longer present.