Human language systems never stop changing, and this change is frequently cast — by experts on nonexperts alike, as far back as Darwin — in terms borrowed from understandings of biological reproduction and evolution: languages are “born”, they have “ancestors” and “family trees”, and their “traits” are altered as they “evolve” and “adapt” to shifting circumstances. Why, though, do we extend these concepts to a subject that is not a living organism, and do they make a good match? In this course, we will ask to what extent comparisons with biological reproduction and evolution assist us in understanding processes of language change, and to what extent they prove unproductive or even misleading. Topics addressed will include the place of language development in human (biological) evolution, ideas of linguistic relatedness and diversity, and forces of selection in shaping language variation. As part of this inquiry, we will also become familiar with the historical linguistic and sociolinguistic tools that allow us to define and capture language change in the first place, and how that change actually presents on scales from months to millennia.
This course is designed to pair successfully with the 2nd seven weeks course Language: The Endangerment Concept, though enrollment in both courses is not required.
Delivery Method: Hybrid in-person and remote, with faculty in-person
Course Level: 2000-level
T/F 2:10PM - 4:00PM (1st seven weeks)
Maximum Enrollment: 20
Course Frequency: One time only
Categories: All courses , Sociolinguistics , Hybrid In-Person and Remote
Tags: linguistics , sociolinguistics , language