Elly van Gelderen, "The Linguistic Cycle: Language Change and the Language Faculty" (Oxford UP, 2011)


In language, as in life, history is constantly repeating itself. In her book The Linguistic Cycle: Language Change and the Language Faculty (Oxford University Press, 2011), Elly van Gelderen tackles the question of such 'cyclical' changes. The book is a catalogue of examples of linguistic history repeating itself, with over a thousand example sentences drawn from nearly 300 different language varieties, and ranging over negation, tense, case, object agreement and beyond. Beyond this descriptive role, however, the book is also an attempt to understand the processes that we see within a Minimalist syntactic framework, in which economy on the part of the language acquirer is crucial for language change and semantic features are continually reanalysed as syntactic before being lost entirely. In this interview, among other things, we discuss the notion of the linguistic cycle, the relationship between historical linguistics and syntactic theory (sometimes strained, but usually mutually beneficial), the polysynthetic languages of the Americas, and whether Old English can be classified as polysynthetic.

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