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Diachronic Syntax

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Current research on diachronic syntax has yet to provide an account of syntactic change consistent with our theoretical understanding of “knowledge of language” and its acquisition. However, explanatory adequacy requires us to account for all acquisition – this includes the acquisition of grammars that diverge from their sources (i.e., change) as well as that of fully convergent grammars. This paper argues that an adequate explanation of change phenomena is unattainable given the current widespread confusion regarding such critical concepts as “language,”“language change,’” and “syntax.” It seeks to develop a coherent theory of syntactic change, which necessitates clarification of these fundamental matters. I believe that syntactic change should fall out from an adequate theory of syntax (along with a learning algorithm). This paper frames these issues within a Minimalist perspective. Finally, I present evidence that the study of change may provide valuable insights into the proper characterization of certain syntactic phenomena within current syntactic theory.
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Document Type: Original Article

Affiliations: Department of Classics, Modern Languages and Linguistics, Concordia University, SGW Campus H6G3-15, 7141 Sherbrooke St. West, Montréal, Québec H4B 1R6

Publication date: April 1, 1998

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