The Changing English Language: Psycholinguistic Perspectives

Marianne Hundt, University of Zurich Simone E. Pfenninger, University of Zurich Sandra Mollin, University of Heidelberg

Thematic outline

Language change as it proceeds from generation to generation through daily interaction of speakers may be shaped by language-internal, social and psycholinguistic factors. While the first two factors have been thoroughly researched in historical linguistics, the latter has not been systematically addressed, even though speculative recourse is com-monly made to psycholinguistic explanations. Recent handbooks of (English) historical linguistics do not include systematic discussions of psycholinguistic factors driving language change (with the exception of the sketch by Aitchison in Joseph & Janda eds. 2003).

The aim of the workshop is to address core issues of language change in English from both a historical-linguistic and a psycholinguistic perspective, bringing leading experts from the two disciplines together in order to explore the potential (and limitations) of an interdisciplinary approach to language change. The proposed workshop is the first to provide a platform for the systematic interaction between psycholinguistics and historical linguistics on the question of how language changes over time.

Each key psycholinguistic concept will be addressed from the psycholinguistic and the historical linguistic perspective. The psycholinguist will present the state of the art in psycholinguistic research on this concept and will develop a model of how this concept may be involved in language change. The historical linguist(s) will present one or two case studies in the history of the English language in which the psycholinguistic concept in question may be argued to have played a decisive role, making reference to the psy-cholinguistic discussion provided in the first paper.


Aitchison, J. 2003. Psycholinguistic perspectives on language change. In B. D. Joseph & R. D. Janda, eds. The Handbook of Historical Linguistics. Oxford: Blackwell, pp. 736–743.
Boyland, J.T. 1996. Morphosyntactic Change in Progress: A Psycholinguistic Approach. Dissertation: University of California at Berkeley.
Bybee, J.L. 2002. Cognitive processes in grammaticalization. In M. Thomasello, ed. The New Psychology of Language, Vol II. New Jersey: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates Inc.
Ellis, N.C. 2008. The Dynamics of Second Language Emergence: Cycles of Language Use, Language Change, and Language Acquisition. The Modern Language Journal, 92, ii, pp. 232–249.
Fischer, O. 2008. On analogy as the motivation for grammaticalization. Studies in Language, 32(2), pp. 336–382.
Haiman, J., 1994. Ritualization and the development of language. In: William Pagliuca ed. Perspectives on Grammaticalization. Amsterdam: John Benjamins, pp. 3–28.
Jäger, G. and Rosenbach, A., 2008. Priming and unidirectional language change. Theoretical Linguistics, 34(2), pp. 85–113.

List of speakers

Introduction: Language history meets psychology
Marianne Hundt, University of Zurich, Sandra Mollin, University of Heidelberg, Simone E. Pfenninger, University of Zurich

Part I: Frequency
Harald Baayen & Michael Ramscar, University of Tübingen - Language, usage, and lifelong learning
Martin Hilpert, Université de Neuchâtel - Diachronic corpus linguistics: calling all frequencies!

Part II: Salience
Nick C. Ellis, University of Michigan - Salience in language usage, learning, and change
Elizabeth C. Traugott, Stanford University - Pragmatic salience as an enabling factor in morphosyntactic change

Part III: Chunking
Nick C. Ellis, University of Michigan - Chunking in language usage, learning, and change
Joan L. Bybee, University of New Mexico & Carol Lynn Moder, Oklahoma State University - Chunking and changes in analyzability in context

Part IV: Priming
Kathryn Bock, University of Illinois - Some Grimm reflections on the functional role of structural persistence in language change
Christian Mair, University of Freiburg - From priming and processing to frequency effects and grammaticalisation? Contracted semi-modals in present-day English

Part V: Analogy
Heike Behrens, University of Basel - The role of analogy in language acquisition
Hendrik de Smet, University of Leuven & Research Foundation – Flanders & Olga Fischer, University of Amsterdam - The role of analogy in language change

Part VI: Ambiguity
Claudia Felser, University of Potsdam - Syntactic ambiguity in real-time language processing and diachronic change
David Denison, University of Manchester - Ambiguity and vagueness in historical change

Part VII: Acquisition and transmission
Elena Lieven, Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology (Leipzig) and University of Manchester - Developing language from usage
María José López-Couso, University of Santiago de Compostela - Transferring insights from language acquisition to diachronic change: Some examples from English

This workshop is closed.