athabascan - Historical Linguistics and Linguistic...

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Historical Linguistics and “Linguistic Paleontology”: Sapir’s Analysis of Athabascan Prehistory
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Historical Linguistics: Fundamental Principles 1) Languages are dynamic systems that are in constant change at every level of organization (phonology, syntax, semantics, discourse) For example, look at English ca. 900? (from Beowulf ) Hwæt wē Gār-Dena in geār-dagum Þēod-cyninga Þrym gefrūnon, hū δā æÞelingas ellen fremedon . (Listen! We – of.Spear-Danes in year-days/ of.nation-king’s glory heard/how then nobles courageous.deeds performed) [So. The Spear-Danes in days gone by and the kings who ruled them had courage and greatness (Seamus Heaney’s translation)]
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Historical Linguistics: Fundamental Principles 2) Languages resemble each other for many reasons: a) They are descended from a common ancestor b) They have been in contact c) They share typological properties always possible in modern human languages d) Due to chance (really, a subset of (c)) Only resemblances of types (a) and (b) are significant for history.
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The Comparative Method in Historical Linguistics The Comparative Method in Historical Linguistics is a way of identifying resemblances due to common ancestry. The main principles of the Comparative Method are: A. Languages descended from a common ancestor will have words that resemble one another in sound and meaning, And B. The resemblances in sound will follow regular rules, so-called regular sound correspondences ’ or ‘ sound laws ’. This is because the regularities of phonological change operate without exception. That is, a sound change will apply to every word in the lexicon that contains that sound. (This is a generalization to which there are exceptions. However, it is the exceptions that require historical explanation; regularity is the expectation.)
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Regular Sound Change An example of regular sound change: Part of the English “Great Vowel Shift” (14 th C.) The back vowels: (ah) > /o/: stone, home, clothes, holy, oak, boat, foe, whole, road, rope (oh) > /u/: goose, loose, boot, food, doom, moon, fool, tooth (uh) > /aw/: house, hound, foul, cow, thou
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Regular Sound Correspondences Now imagine two languages descended from a common ancestor. Each will have undergone regular sound changes. These are different in the two languages. But – the descendant words in the two languages will have regular sound correspondences.
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Regular Sound Correspondence: It is very unlikely that long lists of words illustrating “regular correspondences”, like those in the next slide between Latin and English, would arise by chance. It is more likely that these correspondences reflect a genuine historical connection: Either descent from a single common ancestor, or language contact. The historical problem is to sort out those two processes (easy in the
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athabascan - Historical Linguistics and Linguistic...

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