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Lecture | Sociolinguistics & Discourse Studies Series

How Do Populations Shape their Communal Languages?

Monday 15 April 2024
Sociolinguistics & Discourse Studies Series
P.J. Veth
Nonnensteeg 1-3
2311 VJ Leiden


There is a long tradition in descriptive, theoretical, and historical/genetic linguistics which suggests that we can understand languages independent of the population structures in which they evolve. This is more noticeable in the scholarship of the so-called lumpers interested more in cross-individual or cross regional commonalities than in variation. The scholarship on the interface of language contact and language change, which has made evident the significance of especially linguistic continua and therefore the presence and participation of individuals in populations, raises the question of how new norms emerge and why they do not apply across the board. It also suggests that evolutionary linguists, especially those focused on the phylogenetic emergence of Language, think more about how different individuals contributed to this human peculiarity, which couldn’t have been uniform. As individuals, we are all both innovators and copiers, though not equally successful in seeing our innovations spread. Evolutionary linguistics also reminds us that the notion of idiolect has received too little attention, especially beyond the fact that speakers’/signers’ interactional histories have not been identical while, naturalistically, languages are learned by inference. How can we avoid the homogenization of languages in our accounts, for instance through the erasure of minorities and nonstandard speakers/signers in some societies with standard varieties?

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