Towards a comprehensive view of language change: Three recent evolutionary approaches

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This article investigates whether evolutionary accounts can offer new insights into the paradox of language change. Specifically, I will examine three recent influential accounts (Haspelmath 1999, Keller 1994, and Croft 2000). As they contain a broad spectrum of positions on the relations between language and biology, they can be divided into metaphorical, biologistic and generalized views. Cross-cutting these, two types of evolutionary accounts are distinguished, which I call adaptive and two-level views, respectively. I critically evaluate their potential to provide satisfactory explanations for various types of change, drawing on examples from Romance and Germanic. Finally, I propose a revised explanation scheme which brings together the two-level approaches with theoretical distinctions and explanatory factors that have been suggested in earlier non-evolutionary frameworks, so that a more comprehensive view of language change can be obtained.


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