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Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Synchronic and Diachronic in Historical Linguistics

Historical linguistic is the branch of linguistics concerned with the study of phonological, grammatical, and semantic changes, the reconstruction of earlier stages of languages, and the discovery and application of the methods by which genetic relationships among languages can be demonstrated.
Ferdinand de Saussure, the most influential scholar in twentieth century linguistics and modern intellectual history had published Cours de Linguistique generale (1916) after hi death in 1913. It was compiled from his students’ notes from his course in general linguistics (given three times between 1907 and 1911) at the University of Geneva. This book is credited with turning the tide of linguistic thought from the diachronic (historical) orientation which had dominated nineteenth-century linguistics to interest in the synchronic (non-historical) study of language.
            Saussure emphasized the synchronic study of language structure and how linguistic elements are organized into the system of each language. The thing signified, say the notion tree, is arbitrarily associated with the sounds (signifier) which signal it, for example with the sound of Baum I n German, kwawitl in Nahuatl, rakau in Maori, tree in English, and so on. According to Saussure, linguistic entities were considered members of a system and were defined by their relations to one another within that system. So, we can conclude that synchronic is the study of language at a given point in time. The time studied may be either the present or a particular point of he past, considered in abstraction from its history; synchronic analyzes can also be made of dead languages, such as Latin.
          Linguistics is also interested in language history, i.e. in working out the details of how particular languages develop through time. The study of synchronic variation, though associated with quantitative sociolinguistics is a window into change in progress, especially in the assumption that an innovation, whether internally caused or introduced through contact with speaker of other languages, start in restricted part of a speech community and then spreads. On the other hand, the study of language history is a window, perhaps a speculative one, into the past, and it is associated with reconstruction of earlier language states and with working out the relationships among languages that give a clue to how they came to be as they are.
            The goal of (synchronic) linguistic theory is to characterize the class of possible human languages, thereby ruling out those linguistic states which never occur and are “impossible” human languages. Most linguists have attempted to conclude that synchronic goal is to identify a set of linguistic universal. In doing synchronic analysis we usually identify a “slice” of a language at a particular point in time. Thus, while English of the twentieth century forms a synchronic “slice” that we can examine, so does modern English, define from Shakespeare’s time in the late sixteenth century to the present, and so does English of the 1980s, etc. So, we can define diachronic as the transition through successive, finely cut synchronic states, and schematized as follow:
                        D         L1        Synchronic stage 1
                        I           L2        Synchronic stage 2
                        A         L3        Synchronic stage 3
                        C         L4        Synchronic stage 4
                        H         -                       -
                        R         -                       -
                        O         -                       -
                        N         Ln        Synchronic stage n
                        Y         Ln+1   Synchronic stage n+1
            The transition between synchronic stages, in as much as the division between these stages is arbitrary, and diachronic forms a continuum of synchronic stages. As Labov 1982 notes, in essence, “solution to the transition problem can be restated as solution to the problem, ‘how can language change from one state to another without interfering with communication among members of the speech community?”
            Finally there is the “actuation” problem of why a given linguistic change occurred at the particular time and place it did. This problem seeks to find the condition that lead to a given change, and adds a further dimension to the understanding of language change, for if understand the causes of change well enough and pinpoint certain condition present in speech community or linguistic system.
            Virtually all aspects of a language are subject to change, except for those that correspond to absolute linguistic universals that truly cannot be violated. Thus, the simple answer to what can change in language is “(virtually) everything,” though is not the case that everything in language at given point must change- there can be diachronic stability as well as diachronic change. For example, the Greek word anemos “wind” has remained virtually unchanged for at least 2,500 years in its segmental phonological composition, its morphological form, its syntactic behavior, and meaning, except foe the realization of the main accent, from high pitch to grater loudness. We can say that diachronic is the study of language over a period of time, where a diachronic account of a language deals with its history, and diachronic theory deals with the nature of historical change in general, and so on.

Scope of Discourse analysis  
            There are three approaches in analyzing historical discourse. But, this cross-disciplinary field may be approached at least two different direction.
            The first approach involves an application of discourse analysis to language history. It is the study of discourse forms, function, or structures- that is, whatever is encompassed by discourse analysis- in earlier periods of a language. However this approach is essentially synchronic, since it involves an analysis, albeit a discourse- oriented one, of a language at a particular stage in its development.
            The second approach involves an application of discourse analysis to historical linguistics. It is the study of “discourse-pragmatic factors” in language change or of the discourse motivations behind diachronic changes, whether phonological, morphological, syntactic, or semantic. The attention of the historical linguist is focused on discourse matters, yet the emphasis remains on language change. Such an approach has the advantage of providing elucidation of certain changes and a fuller understanding of diachronic processes of change.
            The third approach, though less well develop than the others, is more interdisciplinary, involving a synthesis of discourse and diachronic. It involves a study of the changes in discourse marking, functions, and structure over time. That s discourse structure is treated on a par with phonological, morphological, syntactic, and semantic structure as something which changes and develops over time, so that one might legitimately talk of discour(al)  changes as well as, for example, phonological change. This approach may be termed diachronic(ally oriented) discourse analysis.


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