Language Variation & Change

  • BU Course Number: CAS LX346/ GRS LX646
  • Prerequisites: CAS LX250 Introduction to Linguistics.
  • BU HUB: Allows students to earn one Hub unit in Social Inquiry I and Intellectual Toolkit (Teamwork/Collaboration).
  • Offered at the undergraduate and graduate level.

Course Description. [Sample SyllabusWhether one embraces or decries the fact that languages change over time, innovation in linguistic system is inevitable. But why is this the case? What are the seemingly unstoppable underlying causes of language change? Are these causes internal or external to language itself? How fast or slowly can linguistic innovation occur? Are certain parts of a language more susceptible to modification than others? Who leads and who follows in situations of language change, and how are innovations spread across and adopted by communities? One of the central insights of modern linguistic inquiry is that answering these questions about change requires an understanding of another fundamental property of human language, namely, its inherent variability. It is literally the case that one cannot say the same thing twice, and it is apparent to all of us that people’s ways of speaking, at both the individual and community level, vary in relation to broad ranging social factors, such as age, sex, ethnicity, and class as well as local ethnographic and temporary interactional roles. Each of us has a broad linguistic repertoire, and we variably deploy its contents in situation-specific ways that are highly systematic. This course will examine the link between language variation and change, principally focusing on how patterns of synchronic variation give rise to diachronic change. We will explore the relationship between variation and change across a global range of speech communities and at all levels of linguistic structure (phonetic/phonological, morphological, lexical, and syntactic/semantic).