Finding footprints: Evidence for the role of analogy in language change
Although analogy has often been invoked as a mechanism for language change, its explanatory power remains controversial, mainly due to a lack of independent evidence for the workings of analogy in language change (Kiparsky 1974; Plag 2003; Fischer 2018). This PhD project aims to find precisely such evidence. It was hypothesized that analogical support influences how a change unfolds, meaning that analogy leaves traces behind. In a series of corpus studies, we investigated five potential traces of analogy, using a paradigm of deprepositional adnumerals (e.g. about in about twenty people attended the party (see also Plank 2004)).
The first study demonstrated that analogy works within a construction, i.e. syntagmatic analogy (cf. Delbecque & Verveckken 2014), as innovative syntactic environments resemble already established ones. In this way, analogy creates a gradual path of change guided by analogy (cf. De Smet 2016b), which is determined by global and local similarities. The second and third case studies focused on analogy between constructions, or paradigmatic analogy. We carried out a comparative study of the emergence of about, which as the first deprepositional adnumeral could not benefit from similarities to deprepositional adnumeral models, and over, which as a later emerging deprepositional adnumeral could build upon analogical support. This not only showed that analogical support makes a change go faster (cf. Verveckken 2016: 251n25), but also that changes benefiting from analogy do not rely on ambiguity as the trigger of change (Brems 2007; Aaron 2016; Verveckken 2016) . Rather, when there is analogical support, ambiguity acts as fuel for the change. Analogical change is facilitated because analogy acts as the bridge between convention and innovation.
The fourth and fifth study focused on the level of individual cognition, by investigating increased accessibility of analogical models. Since analogy frequently fails because retrieval of analogical models is challenging (Gick & Holyoak 1980; Gentner & Maravilla 2018), analogy can be facilitated when the analogical models are more accessible (De Smet 2016a; De Smet 2018). In the fourth study, we investigated how better entrenchment of analogical models boosts analogical innovation. A comparison of individuals revealed that speakers with better entrenched analogical models more frequently used the innovation, at least when the corpus material was sufficiently fine-grained and the innovation still very recent. The fifth study demonstrated that recent exposure of the analogical models, i.e. priming, boosted the use of the innovation, as long as it is a recent innovation.
In sum, this project found multiple traces of analogy in language change and hence provides evidence for the role of analogy in change. In this way, the importance of analogical links, or similarity associations, in organizing the cognitive network of linguistic knowledge is further confirmed. However, the studies show that not all similarity links are equally important, in that not all potential analogical models seem to affect how change unfolds. Future research could investigate when a similarity is strong enough to act as analogical model. Additionally, future research should investigate different changes to gather even more evidence of analogy in language change.
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Brems, Lieselotte. 2007. The Grammaticalization of Small Size Nouns: Reconsidering Frequency and Analogy. Journal of English Linguistics 35(4). 293–324. https://doi.org/10.1177/0075424207307597.
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Verveckken, Katrien. 2016. Binominal quantifiers in Spanish: syntagmatic and paradigmatic analogy in interaction. Language Sciences (Binominal Syntagms as Loci of Synchronic Variation and Diachronic Change) 53. 114–135. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.langsci.2015.05.008.