Philomen Probert and Andreas Willi

in Laws and Rules in Indo‐European

Published in print May 2012 | ISBN: 9780199609925
Published online September 2012 | e-ISBN: 9780191741579 | DOI:

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  • Historical and Diachronic Linguistics
  • Grammar, Syntax and Morphology


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The Introduction examines conceptions of what makes something a ‘law’ or ‘rule’ in historical linguistics. At the most basic level, ‘laws’ and ‘rules’ are observations of some sort of order. When clearer distinctions are drawn, however, a first distinction arises between laws and rules applying to particular linguistic varieties (e.g. sound laws) and higher-level claims about the nature of language change, the latter to be understood as applicable across times, places, languages, and dialects. For both kinds of regularities, the terms ‘law’ and ‘rule’, and especially ‘law’, are often used to signal exceptionlessness. But the terms are also used to signal an expectation that a regularity will, sooner or later, turn out to be exceptionless (even if on current evidence it is not). Alternatively, a regularity is termed a ‘law’, ‘rule’, or ‘principle’ because it is a useful heuristic tool, for example in reconstruction.

Keywords: law; rule; principle; heuristic principle; sound law; tendency

Chapter.  5874 words. 

Subjects: Historical and Diachronic Linguistics ; Grammar, Syntax and Morphology

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