3. The relationship between synchronic
3.1 Synchronic versus diachronic
of linguistic change is somewhat difficult to assimilate if the intention is, as Labov
states (1994), to arrive at a general theory of language; it becomes difficult to accept -
even in the context of the focus on language that the theory of variation has, that is to
say, as an instrument of communication used by a speech community based, as with all other
theories of language in existence, on associations between arbitrary forms and their signifiés.
It was accordingly based on the Saussurian concept of opposition and distinctive
change is an awkward fact, it disturbs the form/meaning relationship such that the
speakers who are affected by the change no longer signal the meaning in the same way as
the speakers who have yet to be affected by the change that is: the old people in
the community, or speakers of the same age belonging to other communities. And this
circumstance brings with it linguistic instability.
the instability of linguistic systems is not the only difficulty facing linguists,
especially variationists, since the nature of linguistic change also poses substantial
methodological difficulties. As Labov says, "if linguistic change were a constant linguistic
factor it would be easy to analyse"; however, linguistic change is sporadic,
it is disseminated rapidly through the several different component parts of the linguistic
structure, until it loses strength or is distorted and is not recognised for more than a
century or two. It may come to a halt so suddenly that the rules on a given linguistic
phenomenon, which seemed normal and inevitable, become inconceivable and unnatural in the
course of a decade, and may then disappear for millennia, fostering the idea of stability.
Most of the
topics treated by historical linguistics have to do with phenomena rather than principles.
The existence of disagreements on the question of linguistic phenomena is known as the
evidence paradox. And the procedures employed by historical linguistics to overcome this
paradox were firstly a) to re-examine the internal evidence, or b) bring in external
evidence from other fields: history of settlement, literature, demography.
of unexpected phenomena is an indication that there are phenomena searching for a
principle, and so are in an intermediate state between phenomena and principles. For
example, according to Labov (1994: 15), many phenomena studied by historical linguistics
violate principles. This is so in the case of the convergence, observed during the 18th
century, of the English diphthong /ay/ in the word "vice" and the diphthong /oy/
in the word "voice", which came to be pronounced identically and which then
separated again in the 19th and 20th centuries. This is a violation of Garde's principle,
Garde (1961), according to which convergence phenomena are linguistically irreversible.
On the other
hand, the practice and procedures of historical linguistics are predicated on the idea
that phonological change is regular. In contrast, the data used by dialect geography lend
support to the opposite idea, that is, almost every word has its own story. In fact, the
lexical isoglosses of dialect geography do not coincide with the predictions of
In view of
these considerations, it became clear that overcoming the contradictions and paradoxes of
historical linguistics could not be based simply on the reanalysis of linguistic phenomena
known and studied by other theories, but rather would specifically need to be based on the
processing of a different type of data, and it is this proposal which informs the New
Paradigm. Such data would reflect and embody changes going forward now, and throw light on
the linguistic past, and on features connected with unfinished business of historical
3.2 Diachronic versus synchronic
article by Labov (1989), "The child as linguistic historian", which in part
reproduces the research by Houston (1986), situates us in the opposite context: that is to
say, the utilisation of historical explanations to understand the present, specifically in
the form of the synchronic behaviour of the English variable (ING),. The latter is a
morpheme studied from a purely synchronic point of view in a number of different speech
communities (Labov 1966; Trudgill 1974).
variable rule formulated, implies that the variable (ING) - - may be pronounced /in/ in
of synchronic research carried out during the eighties showed conclusively that the /in/
variant is produced most frequently in progressive verbs, less frequently in adjectives,
and seldom or never in gerunds and nouns.
explanation of the research carried out by Houston and reviewed by Labov can be summed up
in the following way: /in/ derives from the old English ending for the participle inde
and was the result of simplification of the /-nd-/ cluster in unaccentuated syllables;
// was arguably the reflex of the verb noun ending
spelt -inge or -ynge. Thus, this study showed an opposition in Old English
had become a social and stylistic variable in other words a marker.
Labov (1989) shows that some linguistic variables, which are not synchronically motivated,
show historical continuity with few changes over long periods of time, indicating that the
separation into synchronic and diachronic linguistics is no longer viable, since children
are perfect linguistic historians. Thus, findings on the English variable (ING)and
they are not alone in this contradict the principle stating that historical
linguistics is irrelevant to the study of synchronic linguistics.
and external variation
into internal and external (linguistic) factors and external (social, stylistic) factors
which constrain the occurrence of variable linguistic phenomena, seems less than practical
for linguists who think, as I do, that language is a whole where "tout se
tient". In fact, these two forms of variation cannot be completely separated:
When it is looked at as internal, the social distribution of the linguistic
variable is also considered. The most important source of data becomes the spontaneous
production of members of specific speech communities, and since such data are identified
or characterised by participants, time and place, they do not lose relevance for the
community where they were collected. They are data which represent the processes of real
change and variation produced in a community, and as such they are
"sociolinguistic". In fact, most variation studies have a sociolinguistic basis.
Nevertheless, either because there are variables that are constrained only by internal
factors, or because certain research contexts entail a purely linguistic approach, it is
sometimes only possible to refer to linguistic systems.
contrast, consideration of internal and external factors together brings us to the field
of micro-sociolinguistics, or sociolinguistic variation, strictly defined, that is to say,
that which has as its object the study of language, which analyses the social construction
of the speech and speech variety of a given community, and which establishes who are the
innovators of the linguistic variation and change based on six independent social
variables considered most relevant: sex, age, social class, ethnicity, race and size of
of these social factors in turn brings us to consideration of the status of the linguistic
variables and speaker variables within the community and the relationship the latter has
with other communities, together with patterns of communication and the homogenising and
intensifying effects of social networks. Additionally, the route taken by the transmission
of variable elements from generation to generation across different historical periods has
to be considered.
Labov, what we are discussing here has to do with the notion of integration, a
key concept in understanding the New Paradigm. Integration here is meant in two senses:
firstly, there is integration of a particular linguistic form and structure into the
structural matrix alongside other linguistic forms given that linguistic variation
and change are constrained, redirected and accelerated through their relationship with
other linguistic forms in the system. Secondly, there is integration into the structure of
a speech community, where to understand the causes of variation and change, we need to
know where they were first produced within the social structure, which groups lead the
innovation, how it has extended to other groups, and lastly which have been the most
resistant groups. (See Turell 1995a and 1995b on a number of Catalan-speaking
communities). Consequently, the integration of an explanation of the variation and change
into a larger structure brings in consideration of multiple causation; and this is the
meaning of the term multivariant analysis for the variable treatment of linguistic
inquiry carried out over the last twenty years has made it possible to establish a whole
series of principles related to the nature of internal and external factors responsible
for the behaviour of linguistic variables under study. These principles can be resumed as
Internal factors are independent from external factors; if an internal factor is removed
or undergoes change, the change in behaviour may be reflected in the other internal
factors, but external factors do not change; if an external factor is removed or undergoes
change, the other external factors change, but internal factors remain the same.
Internal factors are independent among themselves, while external factors are interactive
(See Turell 1995b for a definition of interaction).
As the study
of variation and linguistic change has advanced, other questions have emerged, such as the
cognitive consequences of linguistic change, the evaluation made of the variation and
change by individuals in the community, and the status of the variable rules in synchronic
grammar. These questions have been posed, based on the study of comprehension across
dialects as well as on observations on the acquisition by young children of the patterns
of variation in their community. Similarly, support has come from longitudinal studies of
the same consultants over time at a series of different periods. Which of course brings us
directly up against the notion of real time and the study of syntactic change over
long periods of time, and for example the study of progressive syntactic change observed
in creole languages that are developing.
5. Change in apparent
time and change in real time
5.1 Change in apparent time
way to study linguistic change is to study it in apparent time, based on the
analysis of the distribution of linguistic variables across different age groups. This
distribution across age groups should not be confused with the regular linguistic
behaviour of age grading, repeated in every generation, which has to do rather with
differences resulting from the language development found in all individuals.
One of the
methodological difficulties most frequently met with in studies of change in apparent
time, is the issue of selecting the age of the consultants that will best serve to
obtain samples of spontaneous speech of sufficient quality. This methodological difficulty
has to do with a series of factors: the attention paid to speech and the lack of a stable
language variety in the case of young people, and the possible physical deterioration
(loss of teeth, voice, lax articulation) or possible mental deterioration ( loss of
memory, interest and attention) in the case of the very elderly.
methodological questions are important since most studies show that adolescents
particularly, between 11 and 18 years, but also pre-adolescents aged between 8 and 10, are
the leaders of ongoing language change. At other times, for relevant theoretical reasons,
such as the effect of a specific of the social factor in the characterisation of
linguistic change, it may be decided that the setting up of age groups cannot done
according to biological chronological age, but rather has to be based on the
external social factors in question. This was the case with the study of linguistic change
in the Ribagorçà (on the northern Catalonia-Aragon border) (Alturo and
Turell (1990), Alturo (1995)). Here, the age groups were determined by the relationship of
the speakers with the social upheavals undergone by members of the speech community in the
village of El Pont de Suert, between 1930 and 1970. For example, there were those who were
adolescents during the Spanish Civil War, aged around 70 at the time the data were
collected, secondly those who were adolescents between 1940 and 1950, who experienced the
industrial development of the village and who were aged around 50 and 60 years at the time
of data collection; and lastly those who were adolescents of the sixties, between 1960 and
1969, who saw stabilisation come to the village, aged between 30 and 40 years old at the
time of data collection.
5.2 Change in real time versus
change in apparent time
distribution and occurrence of a given variable by age groups (involving research into
linguistic change in apparent time) does not indicate definitively that such a
linguistic change really is under way in the speech community in question. Instead it may
represent a characteristic age grading pattern, a pattern which develops during the
lifetime of individuals and which repeats itself generation after generation.
beginning with a distribution across age groups in apparent time, the research question
would be: do these results really show the existence of linguistic change in progress?
According to Labov (1994), the only way to solve the problems posed by studies in apparent
time is by providing support for the research findings based on linguistic observation
in real time, that is, observing a speech community at two discrete points in time.