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Language Acquisition and ChangeA Morphosyntactic Perspective$
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Jurgen Meisel, Martin Elsig, and Esther Rinke

Print publication date: 2013

Print ISBN-13: 9780748642250

Published to Edinburgh Scholarship Online: May 2014

DOI: 10.3366/edinburgh/9780748642250.001.0001

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Structural Ambiguity as a Possible Trigger of Syntactic Change

Structural Ambiguity as a Possible Trigger of Syntactic Change

(p.73) Chapter 4 Structural Ambiguity as a Possible Trigger of Syntactic Change
Language Acquisition and Change

Meisel Jurgen M.

Elsig Martin

Rinke Esther

Edinburgh University Press

Structural ambiguity is attributed a central role as a driving force in diachronic change. However, what is referred to as structural ambiguity in theories of language change does not necessarily imply structurally ambiguous sentences with two interpretations. It refers to the principled possibility of attributing two different structural analyses to a sentence. Generative approaches assume that in first language acquisition, the learner may chose the innovative analysis and reanalyze the input in terms of a new parametric choice if p-ambiguous sentences provide a more economic option which occurs more frequently than a competing older setting in the input. We argue that structural ambiguity alone is unlikely to suffice as a cause for reanalysis because even a minimal amount of unambiguous evidence enables children to develop the grammar of the preceding generation. In addition, it is questionable that structural economy (of representation) is indeed psycholinguistically relevant in language acquisition. With respect to word order change from Old to contemporary French, we argued against the view that superficial word order patterns can at all be triggers of parametric choices.

Keywords:   structural ambiguity, reanalysis, structural economy, parametric ambiguity, triggering experience, logical problem of language change, competing grammars, verb-second (V2), Old French

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