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date: 09 August 2020

Abstract and Keywords

This article looks at Edward Sapir’s notion of ‘drift’ in the history of the English language and examines drifts from the perspective of John A. Hawkins’ Performance-Grammar Correspondence Hypothesis (PGCH). According to the PGCH the preferred word orders selected by users in languages with word order freedom are those that are grammaticalized in languages with less freedom and with more fixed and basic orderings. Languages with different verb positions are also predicted by the PGCH to have numerous different correlating properties. In the context of historical change, the PGCH provides a set of principles that are argued to have shaped the evolution of new conventions of grammar as languages change over time. What seem like unrelated changes in the history of English, currently reflected in contrasts between English and German, are examined from this language processing perspective. Many of these changes and contrasts involve greater ambiguity or vagueness in surface forms, both in the lexicon and in the syntax, and a tolerance for temporary ambiguities in performance resulting from the new basic verb position of Middle and Modern English.

Keywords: Edward Sapir, drifts, history, English, German, Performance-Grammar Correspondence, word orders, grammar, John A. Hawkins, typology, linguistics

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