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LANGUAGE HISTORY AND CHANGE

1. Studying language from a historical perspective is also known as


DIACHRONIC LINGUISTICS or DIACHRONIC STUDIES This branch
of linguistics deals with the following issues:
a) how languages change
b) what kinds of changes occur
c) why the changes occur
2. Language and change:
a) All living languages change with time
b) Linguistic change is rather slow- it is very difficult to notice any
change within one generation ( it would be very inconvenient to
relearn the native language every 20-30 years)
c) Many language changes revealed in the written records
d) The changes in language manifest themselves in phonological,
morphological, syntactic and semantic components of grammar- no
part of the grammar remains the same over the course of history
3. Cognates and their typical features:
Cognates are words in related languages that developed from the
same ancestral root; they often (but not always) have the same
meaning in different languages;
cognates give us the possibility to observe sound correspondences
and, from tchem, deduce sound changes - close similarities are
especially visible in the sets of related languages
4. What is the so-called COMPARATIVE RECONSTRUCTION?
The deducing of forms in an ancestral language of genetically related
languages by application of the so-called comparative method (i.e.
examining corresponding forms in several of its descendant
languages)
Rules in comparative reconstruction:
a) The majority principle: if in a cognate set three forms begin with the
same sound (e.g. [k]) and one form begins with a different though
related sound (e.g. []) it means that the majority have retained the
original sound and the minority has changed a little through time
b) The most natural development principle: certain types of soundchange are very common, whereas others are extremely unlikely.
5. THE ORIGINS AND DEVELOPMENT OF ENGLISH:
a) OLD ENGLISH (ca. 449-1066)
44 Saxons invade Britain
6th century: religious literature
8th century:
Beoulf
the Norman Conquest
words of Anglo-Saxon origin: mann (man), wf (woman), cild
(child), hs (house), etan (eat), drincan (drink), feohtan (fight)
Interesting issues: the letter THORN (letter in OE, similar to th
sound)
b) MIDDLE ENGLISH (ca. 1066-1500)

1387 Geoffrey Chaucers Canterbury Tales


1476
William Caxtons printing press
ca.1500 Great Vowel Shift (the beginning of this phonological
process)
Words of Middle English origin :army, court, faith, defense, tax,
prison French as the language of upper classes- lower classes still
spoke and used English

GREAT VOWEL SHIFT


c) MODERN ENGLISH (ca.1500-1700)
6. Morphological changes in English:
a) The loss of case endings: Johns hat /boys mother (the so-called
Saxon Genitive, the only visible case ending in contemporary
English).
b) Object pronouns are still retained
I/you/she/he me/you/him/her (accusative form)
CASE NAMES: nominative, genitive, dative, accusative, instrumental,
locative, vocative
7. Syntactic change in English:
a) In Old English the word order was freer becasue of existing case
endings
Contemporary English is an SVO language (SUBJECT-VERB-OBJECT)
He gave her a ring
vs
* He a ring her gave
Old English was both SVO and SOV language:
Se man one kynig sloh
The man (S) the king (O) slew (V)
Se man sloh one kynig
The man (S) slew (V) the king (O)
b) In Old English double negation was fully grammatical, in
Contemporary English it is not (unless found in some dialects of
English)
c) Comparative /superlative constructions (duble comparatives and
superlatives were fully grammatical, e.g.
glad-more gladder (instead of gladder)
Low- more lower (instead of lower)

Royal- moost royallest (instead of the royallest)


d) Negation with an auxiliary verb:
Should not (shouldt) vs not should (fully grammatical in OE)
8. Lexical change in English:
a) Borrowings and Loan Words from the Anglo-Saxon period
- Most of the auxiliary and modal verbs: shall, will, should, would,
must, can, may, etc.
- Pronouns: I, you, he, my, your, his, who, whose.
- Prepositions: in, out, on, under, etc.
- Numerals: one, two, three, four, etc.
- Conjunctions; and, but, till, as, etc.
- Parts of the body ( head, hand, arm, back, etc.)
- Members of the family and closest relatives (father, mother,
brother, son, wife)
- Natural phenomena and planets (snow, rain, wind, frost, sun, the
Moon)
- Animals (horse, cow, sheep, cat)
- Qualities and properties (old, young, cold, hot, heavy, light, white,
long, etc.)
- Common actions (do, make, go, come, see, hear, eat, etc.)
9. Semantic change in English:

10. Processes in semantic change:


a) BROADENING: the word means everything it used to mean nad more

holiday
basic meaning : holy day ( a day of religious significance)
contemporary meaning extension: any day we do not have to work
b) NARROWING: the meaning of a word changes in time to become less
encompassing
deer
basic meaning : beast/animal
contemporary meaning : a particular kind of animal

c) MEANING SHIFTS: a given lexical item undergoes a change in


meaning
Lust
basic meanin : pleasure
contemporary meaning : sexual desire (derrogative meaning)