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Journal of Historical Sociolinguistics

Ed. by Rutten, Gijsbert / Auer, Anita / del Valle, José / Vosters, Rik / Pickl, Simon

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2199-2908
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Comparative variationism for the study of language change: five centuries of competition amongst Spanish deontic periphrases

José Luis Blas Arroyo
Published Online: 2018-09-22 | DOI: https://doi.org/10.1515/jhsl-2017-0030

Abstract

Based on a corpus composed entirely of texts close to the pole of communicative immediacy, mainly private letters from the sixteenth, eighteenth and twentieth centuries (c. 1960), this paper analyses the results of a variationist study on the historical evolution undergone by the Spanish modal periphrases with three distinct auxiliary verbs (haber, tener, deber). Using the heuristic tools of the comparative method, the data show that variation has been constrained by a handful of common factor groups over almost five centuries. Nonetheless, with the odd exception, these factors have conditioned each verb in a different way. Moreover, the sense of this variation changes as time goes by, with especially relevant reorganisation in the first part of the twentieth century. Furthermore, there is a notable association between these constraints and the degree of markedness and the frequency of the conditioning contexts, giving support to a usage-based approach to language change in which cognitive processes such as entrenchment play a decisive role. These data also allow a particular profile to be traced for each modal verb in the history of Spanish, in which tener and haber finally undergo a complementary distribution, whereas deber follows a different pattern. After several centuries of stagnation, tener becomes the star in the deontic firmament of spontaneous communication, diffusing abruptly as a change from below in the twentieth century, and replacing haber, which had been the unmarked variant for centuries.

Keywords: variationist linguistics; comparative method; deontic periphrases; Spanish; communicative proximity (Nähesprache); epistolary corpus; frequency effects; cognitive entrenchment

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About the article

Published Online: 2018-09-22

Published in Print: 2018-10-25


This study is part of the project “Structural, social and idiolectal dimensions of linguistic change: new contributions from historical sociolinguistics to the study of Spanish”, funded by the Spanish Ministry of Economy and Competitiveness (Ref. FFI2017-86194-P) and the University Jaume I (Ref. UJI-B2017-01).


Citation Information: Journal of Historical Sociolinguistics, Volume 4, Issue 2, Pages 177–219, ISSN (Online) 2199-2908, ISSN (Print) 2199-2894, DOI: https://doi.org/10.1515/jhsl-2017-0030.

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