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Accessible Unlicensed Requires Authentication Published by De Gruyter 2019

The motivated unmotivated: Variation, function and context

Hendrik De Smet


Variation occurs when a language has two or more ways of achieving the same communicative goal. Cases of variation have been approached in very different ways by two different groups of linguists. Variationists assume that variation is natural and common. On this view, change is due to naturally occurring variation interacting with language-external forces. Functionalists assume that variation is anomalous. On this view, change may reflect a language-internal drive to eradicate variation. In this paper, it is argued that these conflicting views can be reconciled by considering how variation functions in the broader context of the grammar. Drawing on a case study into the prepositional complements following emotion adjectives, it is proposed that variation (as Variationists maintain) is natural and that languages have no intrinsic tendency to reduce variability. Nevertheless, the synchronic availability and historical development of specific variants is (as Functionalists maintain) also internally motivated, typically by analogical relations.

© 2019 Walter de Gruyter GmbH, Berlin/Munich/Boston