The Significance of What Hasn’t Happened
Naturally enough, the focus of diachronic syntax – and, indeed of historical linguistics more generally – has been on documenting and analyzing recorded instances of change. In a parametric model, this means trying to observe, describe and explain cases of parametric change. However, if change is viewed as abductive reanalysis of Primary Linguistic Data (PLD) in language acquisition, which, in part, also involves resetting parameter values of the underlying grammar (Lightfoot 1979, 1991, 1999), we expect acquisition mostly to be convergent and, thus, that little will change. This is the Inertia Principle of Keenan (2002) and Longobardi (1994), which we can phrase in parametric terms as:
(1) Most of the time, most parameter values don’t change.
(1) is almost certainly true, perhaps a truism. But in order to seriously understand both change and the nature of parameters, we need to qualify both occurrences of most. In other words, which parameters change and when? Are certain parameters more amenable to change than others? If so, what can we learn about parameters more generally from these changes? These are the questions this paper
As we shall see, the cases where a given parameter does not change can be as revealing as those where it does.
A reception will follow in SN 3038.