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Changing the system from within – a response to Hoffmann


Thomas Hoffmann's article proposes a cognitively viable theoretical framework for explaining how constructions can emerge in the history of a language. The case which Hoffmann discusses is the coming into being of the comparative correlative construction of the type The smaller a car is, the easier it is to park in late Old English and early Middle English. While car sizes and parking spaces were perhaps not a matter for discussion among speakers of that time, it was for them as important as it is for us to be able to say that if any two things differ in one respect, then they also differ in another (for details on the construction's semantics, see Beck 1997; Cappelle 2011). In this particular comparative correlative construction, the first part (C1, for ‘clause 1’) is interpreted as standing in a sort of protasis relation to the apodosis-like second part (C2, for ‘clause 2’). That is, this C1C2 construction reflects, in an iconically appropriate way, the order of a hypothetical statement followed by its consequence.

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Beck, Sigrid. 1997. On the semantics of comparative conditionals. Linguistics and Philosophy 20 (3), 229−71.
Cappelle, Bert. 2011. The the. . .the. . . construction: Meaning and readings. Journal of Pragmatics 43 (1), 99117.
De Smet, Hendrik. 2009. Analysing reanalysis. Lingua 119, 1728–55.
Detges, Ulrich & Waltereit, Richard (eds.). 2008. The paradox of grammatical change: Perspectives from Romance. Amsterdam: John Benjamins.
Fischer, Olga. 2007. Morphosyntactic change: Functional and formal perspectives. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
McColl Millar, Robert & Trask, Larry. 2015. Trask's Historical linguistics, 3rd edn. Oxford: Routledge.
McMahon, April M. S. 1994. Understanding language change. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Traugott, Elizabeth Closs & Trousdale, Graeme. 2013. Constructionalization and constructional changes. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Weinreich, Uriel, Labov, William & Herzog, Marvin. 1968. Empirical foundations for a theory of language change. In Lehmann, Winfred & Malkiel, Yakov (eds.), Directions for historical linguistics, 97195. Austin: University of Texas Press.
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English Language & Linguistics
  • ISSN: 1360-6743
  • EISSN: 1469-4379
  • URL: /core/journals/english-language-and-linguistics
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