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Walkden, G. (2010). Against inertia. http://www.dspace.cam.ac.uk/handle/1810/227574
Revised version added 12 March 2012
In this paper I challenge the Inertial Theory of language change put forward by Longobardi (2001), which claims that syntactic change does not arise unless caused and that any such change must originate as an ‘interface phenomenon’. It is shown that these two claims and the resulting contention that ‘syntax, by itself, is diachronically completely inert’ (Longobardi 2001: 278), if construed as a substantive, falsifiable theory of diachrony, make predictions that are too strong, and that they cannot be reduced (as seems desirable) to properties of language acquisition. I also express doubt as to the utility and necessity of a methodological/heuristic principle of Inertia, broadly following Lass’s (1980) view of causality.
inertia, syntax, change, diachrony, acquisition, causality
This work was supported by AHRC doctoral award AH/H026924/1.
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