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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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Towards an explanatory theory of grammatical change

Towards an explanatory theory of grammatical change

(p.166) Chapter 7 Towards an explanatory theory of grammatical change
Language Acquisition and Change

Meisel Jurgen M.

Elsig Martin

Rinke Esther

Edinburgh University Press

This chapter summarizes our arguments presented in the previous chapters and embeds them into a general theory of language acquisition and change. Based on the premise that core-grammatical change can only occur during the period of child L1 acquisition, we critically assessed the hypotheses that structural ambiguity in the input or language contact (in the speech community or in the individual) can be qualified as sufficient conditions for grammatical restructuring to take place. We provided empirical evidence showing that this is not the case: Language acquirers rather rely on structurally unambiguous input data, and the mutual influence of contact languages rather manifests itself in language use than in core grammar. Therefore, we claim that neither ambiguity nor contact are sufficient conditions for parametric change. In accordance with this, we show that, upon closer inspection, the number of core-grammatical changes is in fact smaller than initially assumed. As an alternative scenario, it is suggested that non-native (L2) grammatical knowledge presents the decisive factor for core-grammatical change, namely when it influences the acquisition process, either in form of child L2 acquisition or when L2 speakers provide a considerable amount of input to the acquirers.

Keywords:   parameter change, ambiguity, language contact, diachronic change, language acquisition, L2 speakers as agents of change

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