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The child as linguistic historian

  • William Labov (a1)

Abstract

Though the diachronic dimension of linguistic variation is often identified with linguistic change, many stable linguistic variables with no synchronic motivation show historical continuity with little change over long periods of time. Children acquire at an early age historically transmitted constraints on variables that appear to have no communicative significance, such as the grammatical conditioning of (ing) in English. Studies of (td) and (ing) in King of Prussia families show that children have matched their parents' patterns of variation by age 7, before many categorical phonological and grammatical rules are established. Some dialect-specific and socially marked constraints are acquired before constraints with general articulatory motivation. Constraints on (td) appear in the speech of a 4-year-old, but there is no evidence in the productions of a 2-year-old child in the same family.

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The child as linguistic historian

  • William Labov (a1)

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