Hybrid Grammars: Dynamics of Language Acquisition and Change

Course time: 
Tuesday/Friday 3:30-5:20 PM

This course discusses how grammars emerge ontogenetically and phylogenetically.

Traditional approaches to language acquisition and change have typically assumed that children develop a mental grammar that replicates uniformly the linguistic knowledge of the current members of their monolingual speech communities. Therefore, language change must result from external factors (e.g., L2-acquisition).

This course proposes a shift of perspectives, focusing on multiple-varieties ecologies in which speakers-listeners can acquire, alternate between, and sometimes mix different languages, dialects, or registers. Two questions will be addressed in the first half of the course: (i) How does acquisition proceed in such multiple-varieties ecologies? (ii) What does a theory of the brain/mind of such a learner tell us about the emergence and evolution of grammars? According to Aboh (2015), children exposed to such heterogeneous inputs develop new grammatical systems through recombination of linguistic features.
As instantiated by creoles which developed in multilingual colonial territories in the 17th century or by ethnolects in contemporary urban zones, the outputs of recombination are new hybrid systems in which the selected features may sometimes not operate in ways that replicate the input models. These hybrid systems in turn constitute inputs for new generations of learners, who restructure them too, subject to the extent of differences in the inputs. Ultimately these chains of recombinations result in language change.
This new perspective leads to two theoretical assumptions to be discussed in the second half of the course: (i) learners of a community are likely to not develop identical monolithic grammars from the inputs; (ii) each learner internalizes multiple subgrammars or patterns that evolve from diverse grammars. These assumptions will lead us to discuss additional questions about notions such as competition between grammars, grammaticalization, and relation of this to language change.