The sociolinguistic types of language change

Gregory R. Guy

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


    Many studies of linguistic change have drawn distinctions between contrasting types of change. Examples are the Neogrammarian distinction between regular sound change and borrowing, and Labov’s contrast between ‘change from above’ and ‘change from below’. A basic criterion for many such distinctions is whether or not language contact is involved in the genesis of a change. Recent works by Thomason & Kaufman (1988) and Van Coetsem (1988) suggest a further important distinction between contact-induced changes that arise through borrowing and those that arise from the imposition of native language habits on a second language. This paper attempts to summarize and critique some major proposals concerning change types, and provide a systematic synthesis that identifies three basic types: spontaneous change, borrowing, and imposition. Each is associated with a distinctive set of social, psychological, and linguistic characteristics, such as the social class distribution, whether speakers are consciously aware of the innovation, and the domains of language structure that are affected. Certain variable parameters that allow the further differentiation of subtypes are also explored, such as (in contact-induced change) the degree of bilingualism and the demographic balance between the languages, and (in spontaneous change) the possible coexistence of contrasting social interpretations of the innovation.

    Original languageEnglish (US)
    Pages (from-to)47-67
    Number of pages21
    Issue number1
    StatePublished - 1990

    ASJC Scopus subject areas

    • Philosophy
    • Linguistics and Language


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