Jump to ContentJump to Main Navigation

Theoretical Linguistics

An Open Peer Review Journal

Editor-in-Chief: Krifka, Manfred

Ed. by Gärtner, Hans-Martin

4 Issues per year

IMPACT FACTOR increased in 2014: 1.273
Rank 27 out of 171 in category Linguistics in the 2014 Thomson Reuters Journal Citation Report/Social Sciences Edition

SCImago Journal Rank (SJR): 0.677
Source Normalized Impact per Paper (SNIP): 1.460

ERIH category 2011: INT1



Priming and unidirectional language change

Gerhard Jäger / Anette Rosenbach

Citation Information: Theoretical Linguistics. Volume 34, Issue 2, Pages 85–113, ISSN (Online) 1613-4060, ISSN (Print) 0301-4428, DOI: 10.1515/THLI.2008.008, September 2008

Publication History

Published Online:


In this paper we argue that the psycholinguistic mechanism of priming may account for the empirical observation that grammaticalization processes typically proceed in one direction only. It is shown how two well-known unidirectional changes, i.e. the development from spatial to temporal expressions and phonological reduction, may be connected to cases of asymmetric priming as reported in the psycholinguistic literature. In these cases a form or concept A primes a form or concept B, but not vice versa, and this cognitive asymmetry corresponds precisely to the observed unidirectional pathway from A to B in diachronic change. Ultimately, then, we argue that what appears as diachronic trajectories of unidirectional change is decomposable into atomic steps of asymmetric priming in language use. More generally, we also suggest that priming is the ‘missing link’ in evolutionary models of language change in that it provides for a plausible linguistic replicating mechanism, i.e. an ‘amplifier’ of linguistic units.

This is a programmatic paper which should bring to attention the potential of fruitfully applying insights from psycholinguistic research to some central issues of historical linguistics. Specifically, our approach allows for the formulation of falsifiable predictions that can be tested with present-day speakers, under the uniformitarian assumption that the same cognitive mechanisms that we find to be operating in present-day speakers also have operated in past speakers of a language.

Citing Articles

Here you can find all Crossref-listed publications in which this article is cited. If you would like to receive automatic email messages as soon as this article is cited in other publications, simply activate the “Citation Alert” on the top of this page.

J. Lachlan Mackenzie
Language Sciences, 2012, Volume 34, Number 4, Page 421
T. Florian Jaeger and Harry Tily
Wiley Interdisciplinary Reviews: Cognitive Science, 2011, Volume 2, Number 3, Page 323

Comments (0)

Please log in or register to comment.