Gradual change and continual variation

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This article contrasts two different analyses – a diachronic Construction Grammar (CxG) approach and the Principles & Parameters approach of Willis (1998) – of the development of a verb-initial construction, Absolute-initial verb (AIV) order, in Early Modern Welsh. The P&P approach attributes the rise of AIV order in Early Modern Welsh to an abrupt and discrete change in the grammaticality of V1 following the resetting of the V2 parameter. We argue, on the basis of a detailed corpus study of the period c.1550–c.1750, that the historical data shows a gradual increase as well as significant sociolinguistic variation in the frequency of use of AIV order. We further argue that a diachronic Construction Grammar approach can better account for gradual syntactic change and syntactic variation, since, unlike P&P approaches, it does not seek to model gradual historical data in terms of discrete grammars and grammatical categories, but has a gradient conception of grammaticality and grammatical categories and can thus propose gradual mechanisms of change and integrate sociolinguistic variation directly in grammatical description.


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