SUM: children and language change

Marilyn M. Goebel 73232.3472 at COMPUSERVE.COM
Thu Jan 18 17:22:04 UTC 1996

Dear Funknet,

Last week I posted a query about the role of children's functionally-driven
errors in language change and received helpful replies from the following
people, all of whom I would like to thank: Bill Croft, Bill Turkel, Dorit
Ravid, Joan Bybee, Mickey Noonan, Jan Anward, and somebody else whose name I
accidently deleted. Their suggested readings are at the end of this message.

Surprisingly, Bill Croft and Jan Anward told me that they think that children
play a very *small* role in language change. This goes against all I had been
taught. The argument, as I understand it, is that children lack the social
status that causes innovations to spread. Both the innovations and the
spreads, the argument goes, are the work of high-status adults.

I'm certainly no expert on this, but there are a couple factors that make me
think that children must have *some* fairly important role in language change.
The first is empirical, the second theoretical:

1. Don't studies show that functionally-driven changes correlate inversely
with age? Take the change [hw] -> [w] in English in words like 'which',
'when', etc. I'm pretty sure that the older you are, the more likely you are
to have [hw]; the younger you are the more likely to have [w].

2. On grounds of plausibility, is somebody who has been saying something the
same way for, say, 40 years, all of a sudden going to succumb to the pressure
of parsing ease, discourse efficiency, or whatever, and start saying it a
different, more functionally-driven, way? It seems implausible to me that they
would, though, of course a child, without entrenched habits, would be very
likely to make such a change.

But I'm just learning about this and would love to hear other peoples'

Marilyn Goebel
Robin Clark and Ian Roberts (1993)  'A computational model of language
and language change Linguistic Inquiry 24:299-345 .

Nioygi, P. & Berwick, R. C. (1993) Formalizing triggers: a learning
model for finite spaces.  AI Memo 1449, CBCL Paper 86, MIT.

Niyogi, P. & Berwick, R. C. (1995) The logical problem of language
change.  AI Memo 1516, CBCL Paper 115, MIT.

Ravid, Dorit Diskin. Language Change in Child and Adult Hebrew: A
Perspective", by , Oxford University Press, 1995

Hooper, Joan Bybee. 1980.  Child morphology and morphophonemic change. in
J. Fisiak. Historical morphology. The Hague: Mouton.

Bybee, J and D. Slobin. 1982. Why small children cannot change language
on their own: evidence from the English past tense. In A. Alqvist (ed.)
Papers from the 5th International Conference on Historical Linguistics.
Amsterdam: John Benjamins, 11-47.

Hooper, Joan B. 1976. Word frequency in lexical diffusion and the source
of morphophonological change. In William Christie (ed.) Current progress
in Historical Linguistics. Amsterdam: North Holland, 96-105.

There was also a workshop on this issue at the Child Language Research
Forum in 1993 and the discussion is in the volume edited by Eve Clark and
published by CSLI at Stanford.

 Andersen, Henning: `Abductive and deductive change'. Language 49/4,

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