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Let my speakers talk: metalinguistic activity can indicate semantic change

  • Israela Becker EMAIL logo


In the absence of a diachronic corpus or a synchronic corpus tagged for speakers’ age, substantiating the presence of semantic change and the stage of change ― initial or advanced ― are challenging tasks. In the present study I introduce three methods for overcoming such difficulties by extracting various kinds of evidence from a synchronic corpus not tagged for speakers’ age. All three methods are based on speakers’ metalinguistic activity. Two of them are of a psycholinguistic nature and the third is of a sociolinguistic nature. Not only do these methods provide data hitherto overlooked by researchers for detecting semantic change, but they can also minimize the researchers’ need for interpretative interventions with regard to speakers’ communicative intentions, thus improving the quality of the analysis.

Corresponding author: Israela Becker, Linguistics Department, Tel Aviv University, Tel Aviv 6997801, Israel, E-mail:

Award Identifier / Grant number: 1398/20 to Mira Ariel

Award Identifier / Grant number: 540/19 to Rachel Giora


I am grateful to Mira Ariel, Stefani Wulff and two anonymous reviewers for their most constructive comments on earlier versions of this paper. All errors and oversights are, of course, my own.

  1. Research funding: This research was funded by Israel Science Foundation grant 540/19 awarded to Rachel Giora and Israel Science Foundation grant 1398/20 awarded to Mira Ariel.


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Supplementary Material

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Received: 2021-09-04
Accepted: 2023-05-19
Published Online: 2023-06-08

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