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How variational acquisition drives syntactic change: The loss of verb movement in Scandinavian

Lookup NU author(s): Dr Joel Wallenberg


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Although language acquisition is frequently invoked as a cause of syntactic change, there has been relatively little work applying a formal model of acquisition to an actual case of language change and testing its predictions empirically. Here we test the model of Yang (Language Variation and Change 12: 231–250,2000) on the historical case of the loss of verb movement to Tense (V-to-T) in Faroese and Mainland Scandinavian, using quantitative data from a number of corpora. We show that the model straightforwardly predicts the historical data, given minimal and uncontroversial assumptions about Scandinavian syntax. In contrast to a number of previous attempts to explain this repeated pattern of change, it is not necessary to appeal to any bias against learning structures involving V-to-T—a welcome result, given current evidence from acquisition. The newer V-in-situ parameter setting over-comes the original V-to-T grammar because it is more learnable in a language that also has embedded verb-second (EV2). Finally, we argue that the course of the diachronic change is evidence against a strong version of the “Rich Agreement Hypothesis” (RAH), but that under this acc ount the stability of V-to-T in Icelandic provides evidence for the weaker version (cf. Bobaljik, Journal of Comparative Germanic Linguistics 6: 129–167, 2002).

Publication metadata

Author(s): Heycock C, Wallenberg J

Publication type: Article

Publication status: Published

Journal: Journal of Comparative Germanic Linguistics

Year: 2013

Volume: 16

Issue: 2-3

Pages: 127-157

Print publication date: 16/11/2013

Online publication date: 16/11/2013

Acceptance date: 16/05/2013

ISSN (print): 1383-4924

ISSN (electronic): 1572-8552

Publisher: Springer Netherlands


DOI: 10.1007/s10828-013-9056-0


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