How does language change?

Target audience: beginners.

Phonological change

  • Mergers:
    • cot vs caught, hock vs hawk, stock vs stalk (many North American Englishes)
    • wine vs whine, whether vs weather, which vs witch (most dialects of English)
  • Loss:
    • Lat. historia [histoɾia] => Spanish historia [istoɾja]
      • note: <h> is still spelled; spelling tends to be conservative
  • Change:
    • Old French chat [tʃat] ‘cat’ => Mod. French [ʃa(t)]

Lexical change

  • New words are created
  • Words are lost
  • Words change meaning:
    • narrowing (deer ‘any animal’ => ‘Cervidae’)
    • broadening (barn ‘building for storing barley’ => ‘building for storing any grain’)
    • shifting (challenge ‘false accusation’ => ‘difficult task’)

Morphological change

  • Loss of morphology
  • Remnant of dative case marking in English: in old-en times => in old times
  • New morphology (often from grammaticalization)
  • Old English. hād ‘state, condition, rank’ => Modern English -hood

Syntactic change

  • Change in basic word order: Latin SOV => French SVO
  • Change in specific constructions: I know not => I do not know.

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