If we go back in time, Weinreich, Labov and Herzog : — lay the foundations for much of the subsequent discussion of language change by identifying five issues that any theory of linguistic change and thus also any prediction of future linguistic changes needs to take into consideration: the constraints on changes, the stages intervening in transition, the associated changes and the effects of changes e. As for the generally applying principles, one which is widely accepted in the study of linguistic change cf. For predictions, the uniformitarian principle is simply extrapolated to the future, which means that any general principles that hold true now are expected to apply to future linguistic stages.
As for the recurring patterns regarding linguistic change which predictions might focus on, the spread of innovations represents a central case.
However, a common observation is that this is not how linguistic innovations spread. Instead, linguistic change is more aptly represented graphically as an exponential S-shaped growth curve cf. Lass : ; Denison : 56 , which has, for instance, been observed in the historical separation of modal verbs from ordinary verbs or in the development of the use of the progressive Aitchison : 98— Nevalainen for a critical discussion of that model.
In the beginning, changes only affect few constructions so that the curve is relatively flat. As soon as a critical mass has been affected, the change gathers momentum and has wide-reaching consequences reflected by the steep part of the graph before slowing down with regard to the last remaining constructions of the previous type some of which may actually never change.
With regard to the prediction of linguistic change, the observation of an S-shaped growth curve preceding the present time in an ongoing process of change means that the change is unlikely to speed up in the future, since most items in the language will have been affected by it already. In view of the observation that it is unusual for a language to borrow grammatical words such as personal pronouns which is, however, the case with Scandinavian-origin they , their etc.
Sociolinguistic research has also yielded the result that linguistic change tends to start with younger speakers, with lower-class speakers, in spoken language and in informal language Mair : Mair Based on the assumption that any stage of any language needs to meet certain physiological and cognitive requirements, changes violating such constraints are less likely than other types of change — and sometimes even impossible for instance, the biological foundations of language impose limitations on possible sounds; cf. Lenneberg : Also, the openness and closeness of vowels is restricted by the physical qualities of the articulators Labov : The same applies from the perspective of the listener: since maximally open front and back sounds are difficult to distinguish, linguistic changes which would emphasise this phonemic difference are relatively unlikely Martinet : The non-existence of patterns across a large number of languages in typological research is thus indicative of the limits of potential language change Kortmann : The cognition of their speakers also sets a limit to the shapes that natural languages may take.
Compared to the physiological constraints, limitations on cognition and memory will tend to be even more of the gradual and less of the categorical type. For instance, linguistic changes resulting in a massive increase in very long compounds such as holiday car sightseeing trip are very unlikely, since these make high demands on processing, particularly in spoken language cf.
Schmid : — We may conclude from all of the above that some linguistic changes are indeed likelier than others — but as in any probabilistic model, this does not prevent some unlikely events from happening and some likely events from not happening. It is in full awareness of all of the above that the present volume attempts to discuss the question whether it is possible to predict linguistic change. The authors are not equipped with crystal balls but with corpora, statistical tests and critical minds.
The volume assembles seven papers in total. The first two contributions Nevalainen ; Tagliamonte focus on the general theoretical discussion of predictability in language change. They discuss the predictive potential of S-curve models of change Nevalainen and synchronic regional variation Tagliamonte , among other things. The volume closes with a discussion of the potential influence of linguistic contact between native and non-native speakers of English on language change MacKenzie.
Her research on the Corpus of Early English Correspondence reveals an S-curve-like development in twelve out of fourteen cases under investigation e. Interestingly, some reversals may even slightly revert again e. While an expected S-curve does not call for an explanation, Nevalainen notes, a change reversal usually does — e. Thus more conservative dialects are likely to follow the same steps in their development as more progressive dialects, so that the data from another region can be used to predict linguistic change at a specific place.
Where studies in apparent time and thus synchrony mirror diachrony, the prediction that certain changes will go on seems more reasonable e. Prescriptive tendencies may serve to explain differences that can be observed in specific registers or varieties such as American English , e.
Tagliamonte also points out an important advantage of making predictions, namely that they permit to look for explanations when the actual results deviate from the predicted ones. Eventually, she calls for conducting more replications of existing studies, so as to catch language change in action and to improve predictability. She provides a very detailed discussion of the history of word-final schwa in English and analyses the possible reasons for the historical development of schwa-loss and its reinstatement in English — such as the influence of personal names with word-final schwa and the contact with languages like Latin, Spanish or Italian.
Minkova argues that the reintegration of word-final schwa is irreversible and expects an extension rather than a reduction of its functions such as the marking of personal names as female, e. She argues that a very important aspect to consider in any prediction of linguistic change is what the alternatives to the phenomenon under consideration are, since this has direct implications for the results. For instance, it is very difficult to compare the various periods of English using the same potential triggering expressions for the mandative subjunctive as a context, because these are highly period-specific.
As a consequence, one would be comparing very different systems at different times — a problem which can also be generalised to other phenomena of language change, and ultimately to the prediction of likely future developments. Based on the preference of structures in the left periphery of clauses to connect to previous discourse or to express subjective contents, they expect to find an increase in this function over time in phrases consisting of one adjective with one premodifying general or degree adverb — which they do indeed.
Dorgeloh and Kunter argue in favour of modelling linguistic change statistically, since this manages to represent the gradience of short-term developments. Their conclusion regarding the prediction of linguistic change in general is the importance of selecting a suitable scale for the classification. This involves features such as the use of the simple present rather than the past perfect to express duration, or the use of past time adverbials with the present perfect rather than with the simple past. By comparison to previous stages of English, however, MacKenzie does not expect the same simplifying effect of non-native adult acquisition of English in the future because of widespread literacy and the omnipresence of the written standard variety.
MacKenzie is highly sceptical regarding the amount of influence of non-native English on the native English of inner circle countries, since he believes the native speakers in those countries to be exposed relatively little to non-native language use. Where native speakers adopt non-native constructions, this is presumably because these constructions are regarded as more expressive or as having a certain attention-getting stylistic effect or for reasons of prestige.
Since all contributions in this volume — even those which are sceptical regarding the predictability of future linguistic change — assume that the English language is going to change in the future, one might argue that this constitutes a prediction on a very general level already. However, the expectation that it is an inherent feature of natural languages to change can be found so generally in the literature e. The summaries and the list above indicate already that the individual contributions in this volume address a range of central questions regarding the predictability of future changes in the English language, such as what common methodological problems there are e.
Nevalainen , whether linguistic change is reversible e.
Minkova , how fine-grained predictions of linguistic change need to be in order to work best e. MacKenzie and how we can use present-day geographical variation in order to make educated guesses about future trajectories of change e. This introduction has also addressed a number of issues, such as the question whether negative predictions in which no changes in a particular feature are expected are more likely to come true than positive predictions.
However, a number of questions remain, which could either only be touched upon in passing in the present volume or not at all, but which would merit to have more detailed discussion and research devoted to them:.
This is due to the fact that even synchronic slices of time need to have a certain extension so as to make them analysable in practice. As a consequence, studies which predict the use of particular linguistic variants in specific Present-Day English situational contexts cf. Gries etc. Wetter Online and supported by radar films with simulations of moving clouds, one might wish to argue that it is possible to make plausible predictions for language, too — but only for a highly limited period of time.
This also raises the question whether predictions are more likely to be correct if they concern clearly delimited small-scale phenomena such as the future development of one particular grammatical construction or more general tendencies such as the development of global English.
While some researchers seem to argue in favour of the former e. Szmrecsanyi expect that more general tendencies will lend themselves better to prediction. Be that as it may, what they presumably would still all agree upon is that the prediction of the future of a specific language as a whole is practically impossible to achieve: thus Denison : 67—68 explores the idea of conflating all linguistic changes into one big S-curve for the history of English but reaches the conclusion that this cannot be done plausibly.
Not only would this require an immense amount of data on innumerable linguistic phenomena but it would also be error-prone due to the interaction between the various levels of language.
The prediction of future stages of a language in the form of specific possible text samples is particularly problematic from a statistical point of view: since any text consists of individual linguistic entities some lexical in the traditional sense, others combinations of words in the sense of prefabricated lexical units which can be considered linked by means of linguistic principles i. Since their statistical probabilities would need to be multiplied in order to compute their joint likelihood, this would result in minute probabilities of actual realisation.
Furthermore, academic discussions attempting to predict future developments in the English language usually have two things in common: firstly, they do not make absolute but only probabilistic predictions, and secondly, these are based on the assumption that there are no massive disruptions to the currently observable trajectory of change. However, the fact that an S-curve-shaped trajectory is expected rather than the linear growth usually hypothesised by non-experts , combined with the specifics of the individual phenomenon such as the competing alternative constructions means that this statement is not completely tautological.
In addition, even if the acting forces were natural laws, one would have to admit for the intrusion of additional forces: for instance, in physics, the law of gravitation makes it possible to predict that an object which is dropped on Earth will fall to the ground at a specific angle, because it is attracted by the mass of the planet — but the matter changes completely as soon as an additional force such as wind is applied from the side. To return to the first characteristic above, the fact that empirical linguistic studies can usually only yield probabilistic predictions of future variant distribution has very important epistemological implications cf.
Lass : 19 : since probabilistic laws cannot be falsified by individual counterexamples, we can never be sure, whenever such laws fail to apply in one specific case, whether this represents an exception to the rule or whether the rule as such is an incorrect model. Does this mean, then, that all probabilistic predictions are pointless?
The discussion of the plausibility and probability of potential future developments in language thus offers the opportunity for testing models of language use and language change which are unbiased by the retrospective knowledge of past events and thus potentially more universally applicable , by comparing their predicted outcome with the state of the English language at some predefined time in the future. In addition, the formulation of predictions is not necessarily esoteric: building upon what was said above, humans subconsciously formulate expectations about what will happen in the more or less distant future all the time — e.
Gigerenzer The same can be expected to apply to the use of language in communication. In the natural sciences, researchers also postulate beforehand what will happen when they carry out an experiment — which is comparable to predicting the future in a test tube. To conclude, there are many problems facing the prediction of future linguistic changes, but also the more commonly accepted reconstruction of the past. In order to make educated guesses about potential developments in a specific language such as English, it is possible to build upon what we already know about its past, its present, linguistic change in general and the physiological and cognitive limitations of human language users.
Even upon completion of this volume, there are still many open questions regarding the predictability of linguistic change which merit being discussed. Time will tell whether we have succeeded, in this volume, to build a bridge that will extend into the future of the English language.
I am very grateful to the eVARIENG editorial board for making it possible, with the publication of this volume, to conserve the memories of a workshop with great contributions, vivid discussions and splendid atmosphere at the ISLE 3 conference in Zurich. My compliments go to all the authors of the present volume, who were wonderfully cooperative within our relatively rigid publication schedule.
I would also like to thank all our anonymous reviewers, who contributed their valuable expertise and time to this project. Alba ; Curtis As soon as an event has happened, humans seem to have a tendency to accept the outcome as necessarily derived from the historical situation in hindsight. Also, if we consider the structuralist principle that the value of a linguistic construction depends on that of the other constructions within the same linguistic system cf.
Aitchison, Jean. Language Change: Progress or Decay? Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. Alba, Alejandro. New York Daily News , October 21, Bauer, Laurie. London: Longman.