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Based on a corpus of private correspondence written by twelve influential political and cultural figures in eighteenth-century Spain, this article discusses several hypotheses about the role of individual variation in language change. The study analyses five variables undergoing change in early modern Spanish and examines the idiolectal use of the traditional variants. Several conclusions are drawn from the results. The first is that idiolectal patterns vary considerably from one variable to another. Those variants that were clearly in the majority at the time or have undergone slower change processes are more consistent with in-between profiles.

On the other hand, those variants that are more clearly declining or undergoing abrupt changes are represented by more refractory patterns. Still, these profiles are not uniform, so a specific type of variation in one variant does not exclude others. The results concerning the most decisive period in the configuration of the idiolectal distributions are less conclusive, mainly due to the imbalances in the representativeness of the samples. However, among the variables better represented in the corpus, the end of adolescence – set at 18 in this study – seems to be the most significant, in line with some well-known hypotheses in the literature. Nevertheless, we have also detected a few cases of changes in adulthood. Finally, the data support the dominance of stability in syntactic variation, suggesting that speakers change little once their idiolectal distributions have been established. Even so, some longitudinal changes are found, albeit in a recurrent direction: the replacement of traditional forms by alternative, more prestigious variants.


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