Variation and Change

Historical pragmatics

Authored by: Andreas H. Jucker , Daniela Landert

The Routledge Handbook of Pragmatics

Print publication date:  January  2017
Online publication date:  January  2017

Print ISBN: 9780415531412
eBook ISBN: 9781315668925
Adobe ISBN:


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Languages, such as English, Russian, Japanese or Tzeltal, are not homogeneous entities. They are always subject to internal variation. Speakers make use of the resources of a language when they communicate with each other, but each speaker has his or her own small idiosyncrasies in the way they use these resources. They innovate consciously or unconsciously by modifying some aspect of their linguistic resources. They may pronounce an existing word in a slightly different way; they may use an existing word with a slightly different shade of meaning or in a different syntactic context; they may borrow a word from another language or invent a new word in order to meet new communicative demands, for example, to name a new or an existing concept in a creative – humorous or poetic – way. As a result of these modifications, languages cannot be described as uniform entities. Variability is an integral part of each living language. But this variability is not without regularity. Some variability may be idiosyncratic and pertain to individual speakers only. But to the extent that other speakers adopt the innovations and use them more regularly, idiosyncrasies become regular options, and if most speakers of a language adopt a particular option, it is no longer just an option but a regular part of this particular language or language variety. Thus individual idiosyncrasies can lead to regular variation in a language, and regular variation can lead to language change.

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