Introduction to Linguistics Chapter 7: Language Change Instructor: LIU Hongyong

Introduction to Linguistics
Chapter 7: Language Change
Instructor: LIU Hongyong
Review: Pragmatics
To fully understand the meaning of a sentence, we
must understand the context in which it is used.
Pragmatics is concerned with how people use
language within a context.
Review: Pragmatics vs. semantics
Semantics: The meanings of words and sentences are
studied independent of language use.
Pragmatics: It would be impossible to give an adequate
description of meaning if the context of language use
is left unconsidered. Therefore, context is taken into
Both semantics and pragmatics study the meaning of
a linguistic form. However, they are different. What
essentially distinguishes them is whether the context
is considered.
If it is not considered, the study is in the area of
semantics; if it is considered, the study is in the area
of pragmatics.
Review: Four maxims
The maxim of quantity
Make your contribution as informative as required. No
more and no less.
The maxim of quality
Do not say what you believe to be false and do not say
what you lack evidence for.
The maxim of relation
Be relevant
The maxim of manner
Avoid obscurity, ambiguity. Be brief and orderly.
All languages change through time, but how
they change, what drives these changes, and
what kinds of changes we can expect are not
By comparing different languages, different
dialects of the same language, or different
historical stages of a particular language, we
can discover the history of languages.
Historical linguistics is concerned with language
change. It is interested in what kinds of changes
occur (and why), and equally important, what
kinds of changes don’t occur (and why not).
Languages change in all aspects o the grammar:
the phonology, morphology, syntax, and
Sound change
Sound changes tend to be systematic; it is
possible to see a regular pattern of
pronunciation changes throughout the
history of the English language.
Example: knight [nait]
Modern English spelling contains many “silent
letters,” which are actually just remnant indicators of
earlier pronunciations. To anyone leaning English,
the presence of such letters can be quite troublesome.
(i) Word-initial velar stop consonants [k] and [g] were
lost when they occurred before the nasal [n]:
Middle English
Modern English
(ii) Initial [w] was lost when it occurred before [r]:
Middle English
Modern English
(iii) Word final [b] was lost when it occurred after [m]:
Middle English
Modern English
dumb [dAm]
Morphological and syntactic change
1. Change in “agreement” rule
2. Change in negation rule
3. Process of simplification
4. Loss of inflection
(Refer to the examples on P.96-97)
Process of simplification
In Modern English, a noun phrase such as our
father has the same form regardless of whether it is
a subject or an object, as in
Our father drinks a lot of coffee.
We love our father
Old English:
fæder ure
fæder urne
Vocabulary Change:
Addition of new words
1. Coinage
2. Clipped words
3. Blending
4. Acronyms
5. Initial letters
See P. 98-100 for examples
6. Back-formation
7. Functional shift
8. Borrowing
9. Derivation
10. Compounding
Loss of words
Reason: One of the most common causes
for the loss of lexical items is the
discontinuation of the object they name.
soap flakes, wash board, rumble seat
Changes in the meaning
1. Widening of meaning
2. Narrowing of meaning
3. Meaning shift
a. elevate
b. degrade
Some recent trends
1. Moving towards greater informality
2. The influence of American English
3. The influence of science and technology
a. space travel
b. computer and internet language
c. ecology
Causes of language change
1. The rapid development of science and technology
2. Social and political changes and political needs
3. The way children acquire the language
4. Economy of memory
5. The desire to be intelligible