Sound Change

Joseph Salmons

in Linguistics

ISBN: 9780199772810
Published online May 2013 | | DOI:
Sound Change

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  • Linguistics
  • Anthropological Linguistics
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Sound change is the usual name given to a subfield dedicated to how speech sounds become different over time, and it has one of the longest traditions in the field of linguistics. (The area is also often called “historical phonology” and sometimes “phonological change.”) Sound change is a core area of historical linguistics (see the separate Oxford Bibliographies article “Comparative-Historical Linguistics” by Joseph Salmons) and has been since the beginning of modern linguistics. Indeed, it is possible to find older works labeled as “historical linguistics” or the “history of” some particular language that consist more or less entirely of discussion of sound change and the closely connected area of morphological change. It has also long played a major role in phonological theorizing, certainly compared to areas like syntax. For many scholars, the key issue in sound change goes back to the neogrammarian principle of “sound laws,” the exceptionlessness of sound laws (Ausnahmslosigkeit der Lautgesetze), which was central to the establishment of linguistics as a scientific enterprise. The issue remains a vital one in the early 21st century, as illustrated by work on “lexical diffusion.” The study of sound change is not only important to the fields of phonetics, phonology, and morphology (see the separate Oxford Bibliographies articles on “Phonetics,” “Phonology,” and “Morphology”) but also so tightly connected that clear boundaries become difficult to draw. Much early work on sound change drew evidence from written texts across different periods of time, for example, from Latin to medieval and then to modern Romance languages, while other scholarship compared related languages and dialects, such as those within the Algonquian family or across German dialects, to infer patterns of change. More recently, new kinds of evidence for sound change have been developed. In particular, the field moved forward during the 1960s and since thanks to the study of “language change in progress,” which has developed into the allied field of “language variation and change” (see the separate Oxford Bibliographies article on “Sociolinguistics”), which has relied far more heavily on evidence from sounds and sound patterns than evidence from other areas of grammar. Other new tools have revolutionized the field as well, including computational tools, databases, and so on. This article aims to balance the core, traditional areas of the study of sound change against these innovative areas of interest. Indispensable to most of the best work on sound change as of this date is the recognition of the need to draw on the broadest available range of information, theories, and methods, and that is reflected in the selection of references that follow.

Article.  8923 words. 

Subjects: Linguistics ; Anthropological Linguistics ; Language Families ; Psycholinguistics ; Sociolinguistics

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