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Historical sociolinguistics and the transmission of language change

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My paper discusses historical language change in sociolinguistic terms, but also uses historical data to give feedback on sociolinguists’ arguments concerning the mechanisms of language change. The paper addresses the potential contradiction arising from the notion that linguistic changes are socially unique (‘Principle of Contingency’), but can nevertheless be expected to progress predictably along an S-shaped curve. This basic predictability is usually presented as a consequence of the general condition for linguistic change that successive generations have to learn to speak differently from each other, a condition that Labov (2001) calls the ‘Transmission Problem’. Long-term historical changes in English provide the real-time data against which these two principles of linguistic change are examined and, to some extent, reconciled.


Labov, William (2001). Principles of Linguistic Change. Vol. 2: Social Factors. Oxford, UK & Cambridge, USA : Blackwell.

Nevalainen, Terttu & Helena Raumolin-Brunberg (2003). Historical Sociolinguistics: Language Change in Tudor and Stuart England. London: Pearson Education.

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