History of English as punctuated equilibria? A meta-analysis of the rate of linguistic change in Middle English

Terttu Nevalainen, Tanja Säily, Turo Vartiainen, Aatu Liimatta, Jefrey Lijffijt

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In this paper, we explore the rate of language change in the history of English. Our main focus is on detecting periods of accelerated change in Middle English (1150–1500), but we also compare the Middle English data with the Early Modern period (1500–1700) in order to establish a longer diachrony for the pace at which English has changed over time. Our study is based on a meta-analysis of existing corpus research, which is made available through a new linguistic resource, the Language Change Database (LCD). By aggregating the rates of 44 individual changes, we provide a critical assessment of how well the theory of punctuated equilibria (Dixon 1997) fits with our results. More specifically, by comparing the rate of language change with major language-external events, such as the Norman Conquest and the Black Death, we provide the first corpus-based meta-analysis of whether these events, which had significant societal consequences, also had an impact on the rate of language change. Our results indicate that major changes in the rate of linguistic change in the late medieval period could indeed be connected to the social and cultural after-effects of the Norman Conquest. We also make a methodological contribution to the field of English historical linguistics: by re-using data from existing research, linguists can start to ask new, fundamental questions about the ways in which language change progresses.
Originalspråkengelska
TidskriftJournal of Historical Sociolinguistics
ISSN2199-2894
Status!!Accepted/In press - 2019
MoE-publikationstypA1 Tidskriftsartikel-refererad

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title = "History of English as punctuated equilibria?: A meta-analysis of the rate of linguistic change in Middle English",
abstract = "In this paper, we explore the rate of language change in the history of English. Our main focus is on detecting periods of accelerated change in Middle English (1150–1500), but we also compare the Middle English data with the Early Modern period (1500–1700) in order to establish a longer diachrony for the pace at which English has changed over time. Our study is based on a meta-analysis of existing corpus research, which is made available through a new linguistic resource, the Language Change Database (LCD). By aggregating the rates of 44 individual changes, we provide a critical assessment of how well the theory of punctuated equilibria (Dixon 1997) fits with our results. More specifically, by comparing the rate of language change with major language-external events, such as the Norman Conquest and the Black Death, we provide the first corpus-based meta-analysis of whether these events, which had significant societal consequences, also had an impact on the rate of language change. Our results indicate that major changes in the rate of linguistic change in the late medieval period could indeed be connected to the social and cultural after-effects of the Norman Conquest. We also make a methodological contribution to the field of English historical linguistics: by re-using data from existing research, linguists can start to ask new, fundamental questions about the ways in which language change progresses.",
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author = "Terttu Nevalainen and Tanja S{\"a}ily and Turo Vartiainen and Aatu Liimatta and Jefrey Lijffijt",
year = "2019",
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TY - JOUR

T1 - History of English as punctuated equilibria?

T2 - A meta-analysis of the rate of linguistic change in Middle English

AU - Nevalainen, Terttu

AU - Säily, Tanja

AU - Vartiainen, Turo

AU - Liimatta, Aatu

AU - Lijffijt, Jefrey

PY - 2019

Y1 - 2019

N2 - In this paper, we explore the rate of language change in the history of English. Our main focus is on detecting periods of accelerated change in Middle English (1150–1500), but we also compare the Middle English data with the Early Modern period (1500–1700) in order to establish a longer diachrony for the pace at which English has changed over time. Our study is based on a meta-analysis of existing corpus research, which is made available through a new linguistic resource, the Language Change Database (LCD). By aggregating the rates of 44 individual changes, we provide a critical assessment of how well the theory of punctuated equilibria (Dixon 1997) fits with our results. More specifically, by comparing the rate of language change with major language-external events, such as the Norman Conquest and the Black Death, we provide the first corpus-based meta-analysis of whether these events, which had significant societal consequences, also had an impact on the rate of language change. Our results indicate that major changes in the rate of linguistic change in the late medieval period could indeed be connected to the social and cultural after-effects of the Norman Conquest. We also make a methodological contribution to the field of English historical linguistics: by re-using data from existing research, linguists can start to ask new, fundamental questions about the ways in which language change progresses.

AB - In this paper, we explore the rate of language change in the history of English. Our main focus is on detecting periods of accelerated change in Middle English (1150–1500), but we also compare the Middle English data with the Early Modern period (1500–1700) in order to establish a longer diachrony for the pace at which English has changed over time. Our study is based on a meta-analysis of existing corpus research, which is made available through a new linguistic resource, the Language Change Database (LCD). By aggregating the rates of 44 individual changes, we provide a critical assessment of how well the theory of punctuated equilibria (Dixon 1997) fits with our results. More specifically, by comparing the rate of language change with major language-external events, such as the Norman Conquest and the Black Death, we provide the first corpus-based meta-analysis of whether these events, which had significant societal consequences, also had an impact on the rate of language change. Our results indicate that major changes in the rate of linguistic change in the late medieval period could indeed be connected to the social and cultural after-effects of the Norman Conquest. We also make a methodological contribution to the field of English historical linguistics: by re-using data from existing research, linguists can start to ask new, fundamental questions about the ways in which language change progresses.

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KW - Norman Conquest

KW - Black Death

KW - Language Change Database

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KW - historical sociolinguistics

KW - corpus linguistics

KW - English language

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