Microvariation as diachrony: A view from acquisition
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- Westergaard, M. J Comp German Linguistics (2009) 12: 49. doi:10.1007/s10828-009-9025-9
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Based on spontaneous speech data from adults and children in an acquisition corpus, this paper discusses ‘optional’ verb-second (V2) word order in wh-questions in present-day Norwegian dialects, arguing that the variation is due to a diachronic change in progress. The argument is based on the nature of the variation and the frequencies with which the different wh-questions are attested in typical child-directed speech. The paper takes a microparametric approach to V2 which assumes the existence of many V2 grammars, differing from each other with respect to information structure and the status of the various wh-elements. These grammars are learnable because children are sensitive to minor but linguistically relevant distinctions in the acquisition process. Nevertheless, certain distinctions are vulnerable to change if the corresponding cues are expressed in the children’s input with a very low frequency. On this perspective, gradual historical development may be considered to be the result of many small I-language changes in succession.