children and language change

Carl Mills Carl.Mills at UC.EDU
Thu Jan 18 19:16:58 UTC 1996

The flaw in Marilyn Goebel's remarks on children and language change
stems from the fact that her arguments are arguments from plausibility,
common sense, and so forth.  But she is not alone.  Most remarks on
children and language change that I have read depend on arguments from
"theories" that are so loosely stated that they lead to unfalsifiable
conclusions or on appeals to plausibility.

For example, the /hw/ ----> /w/ change in English that Marilyn Goebel
refers to is not simply a matter of age-graded frequency.  Numerous
other factors apply to this change.  Just to mention 2, the chances of
having /hw/ vs. /w/ depend, at the very least, on where one is, when one
is, and who one thinks one is.  Bill Labov has amply documented language
change in process in the speech of adults.

And anyone who believes that children do not have "entrenched habits" is
not a parent.

No doubt, Milford Wolpoff is right:  the data do not speak for
themselves.  But when in doubt, there is no substitute for sound

Carl Mills

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