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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Some theories of language typology and language change Hawes, Lorna Joy


This thesis considers various theories of language typology put forward over the years, with particular reference to the more recent typologies of word order and the evidence they might provide of how and why languages change. Language typology and change is again arousing much interest in linguistic circles, but our understanding of it is still in the beginning stages and much work remains to be done on language classification. In Chapter II consider nineteenth and early twentieth century classificatory systems, which, for the most part, take the word as their fundamental unit. Tracing the development of typologies from the earlier purely morphological systems of von Schlegel and von Humboldt to the later morphological- conceptual system of Sapir, I compare and contrast the major classificatory systems of the period and indicate their limitations. In Chapter III review the syntactic typologies proposed recently by Lehmann and Vennemann. As a result of the upsurge of interest in syntax, both systems take the sentence as their fundamental unit and base their criteria on word order characteristics in consistent verb initial and verb final languages. I discuss the merits and inadequacies of both typologies and conclude that, as neither classificatory system appears to account for word order data satisfactorily, a further explanation must be sought. I suggest that perceptual strategies employed by speaker and listener can provide this explanation. In Chapter III I review some major work on perceptual strategies and find that misinterpretation of theoretically grammatical structures results from three causes: erroneous segmentation, discontinuity, and multiple centre embeddings. I then try to show how implementation of these perceptual strategies may account for or further explain the word order characteristics of Lehmann's and Vennemann's syntactic typologies. In Chapter IV I am concerned with how the syntactic typologies show evidence of diachronic word order change in language. I review several theories of word order change and comment on hypotheses regarding evidence of older word orders. I discuss the merits of each theory but try to point out where its claims can be questioned. I conclude that although many creditable observations and ideas have been presented within the framework of the syntactic typologies many of the connected hypotheses are subject to controversy and will have to be much more rigorously tested before their validity can be accepted.

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