Language Change Act

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The law of language change is understood in two ways in linguistics :

  1. a concept as presented by Helmut Lüdtke in 1980 in his study of the principles of communication theory of language change as a kind of ring model for the morphological development of languages. The language change is understood as a constant change between phonetic simplification and lexical differentiation. The so-called sound laws are also to be mentioned here. Early criticism of the concept of law contained in “phonetic law” comes from Rozwadowski (1925), who regards it as merely “general statements of tendency” (Adamska-Sałaciak 1993: 17).
  2. In quantitative linguistics , the law of language change is one of the many mathematically formulated and empirically tested language laws . It says that any language change processes take a regular course. Language changes start slowly, accelerate, and then slow down again. The Linguistic Change Act is also known in linguistics as the Piotrowski law , named after the St. Petersburg linguist Rajmund G. Piotrowski, who apparently was the first to attempt mathematical modeling together with A. A. Piotrowskaja. This suggestion was made by Altmann (1983) and Altmann et al. a. (1983) criticized and developed further. It is a law that has been known in other sciences since Pierre-François Verhulst (1838), initially as a model for population dynamics, later also for the spread of diseases or rumors and many other processes as the logistic law or growth law . The realization that this law can also be observed in processes of language change can be demonstrated at least since Kaj B. Lindgren (1961).

Forms of the Language Change Act (Quantitative Linguistics)

There are two types of law:

  1. the complete or incomplete language change; in this case a linguistic phenomenon spreads until it has either replaced all old forms or has reached a limit tolerated by the language community. A complete language change has taken place in German, in which the Middle High German was (1st, 3rd person, indicative, past tense of the verb sein ) was completely replaced by war . Incomplete changes in language can be observed in the vocabulary, for example in the increase in the vocabulary of a language or especially in the increase in borrowings. The loss of linguistic phenomena also follows this law; only one sign changes.
  2. the reversible language change; this consists in the fact that a linguistic phenomenon first spreads and then decreases again or even disappears; the reverse also occurs. You can z. B. observe that individual words first increase in use and then decrease again; think of Tamagotchi, for example . A relatively recent example is also fighting dog . Changes in style or the choice of first names are also often subject to such developments.

The same type of language change can take different forms under different conditions. Vulanović & Baayen (2007) develop the logistical law in such a way that it should also do justice to such complex conditions and apply it to an example from the syntax of English (the history of the do- description).

Example: Increase in Arabicisms in German

Cumulative number of Arabicisms in German over the centuries and adaptation to Piotrowski's law (c is the limit against which the process strives; a and b are further parameters; t is the time; D is the coefficient of determination , a measure of agreement .)

The increase in Arabicisms in German serves as an example of a language change process. This spreading process follows the logistic model / Piotrowski's law .

In today's German there are 150 Arabicisms for which it can be stated in which century they came into German. If they are added century by century, the result is the cumulative values ​​that are shown in the adjacent illustration together with an adaptation of the model. The result is a very good match (the coefficient of determination D = 0.996 can at most reach the value 1 for perfect match).

The following table shows the data from which the adjacent graphic can be derived:

century t new arabisms every century observed (cumulative) calculated
14th 1 38 38 34.09
15th 2 14th 52 56.33
16. 3 32 84 83.45
17th 4th 26th 110 109.80
18th 5 21st 131 130.31
19th 6th 14th 145 143.68
20th 7th 5 150 151.43
  • Arabisms per century: Number of new Arabisms that are documented in German in the relevant century
  • calculated: values ​​calculated by adapting Piotrowski's law to the observed (cumulative) data


  • Arleta Adamska-Sałaciak: Rozwadowski's laws of language development. In: Folia Linguistica Historica. Vol. 14, No. 1/2, 1993, ISSN  1614-7316 , pp. 15-28, doi : 10.1515 / flih.1993.14.1-2.15 .
  • Gabriel Altmann : The Piotrowski law and its generalizations. In: Karl-Heinz Best , Jörg Kohlhase (Ed.): Exact language change research. Theoretical contributions, statistical analyzes and work reports (= Göttinger Schriften zur Sprach- und Literaturwissenschaft. 2). edition herodot, Göttingen 1983, ISBN 3-88694-024-1 , pp. 54-90.
  • Gabriel Altmann, Haro von Buttlar, Walter Rott, Udo Strauß: A law of change in language. In: Barron Brainerd (Ed.): Historical linguistics (= Quantitative Linguistics. 18). Brockmeyer, Bochum 1983, ISBN 3-88339-305-3 , pp. 104-115.
  • Karl-Heinz Best: Quantitative Linguistics. An approximation (= Göttingen linguistic treatises. 3). 3rd, heavily revised and expanded edition. Peust & Gutschmidt, Göttingen 2006, ISBN 3-933043-17-4 .
  • Karl-Heinz Best: Language acquisition, language change and vocabulary growth in texts. On the scope of the Piotrowski law. In: Glottometrics. 6, 2003, ISSN  1617-8351 , pp. 9-34, (PDF full text ).
  • Karl-Heinz Best, Jörg Kohlhase (Ed.): Exact language change research. Theoretical contributions, statistical analyzes and work reports (= Göttinger Schriften zur Sprach- und Literaturwissenschaft. 2). edition herodot, Göttingen 1983, ISBN 3-88694-024-1 .
  • Karl-Heinz Best, Emmerich Kelih (Ed.): Borrowings and foreign words. Quantitative aspects (= Studies in Quantitative Linguistics. 15). RAM-Verlag, Lüdenscheid 2014, ISBN 978-3-942303-23-1 .
  • Helle Körner: On the development of the German (loan) vocabulary. In: Glottometrics 7, 2004, pp. 25–49, (PDF full text ).
  • Edda Leopold: The Piotrowski law. In: Reinhard Köhler , Gabriel Altmann, Rajmund G. Piotrowski (eds.): Quantitative Linguistics. An international manual. = Quantitative Linguistics (= manuals for language and communication studies. 27). De Gruyter, Berlin et al. 2005, ISBN 3-11-015578-8 , pp. 627-633.
  • Helmut Lüdtke : Language change as a universal phenomenon. In: Helmut Lüdtke (Hrsg.): Communication-theoretical basics of language change. De Gruyter, Berlin et al. 1980, ISBN 3-11-007271-8 , pp. 1-19.
  • Jan Rozwadowski: Les tâches de la linguistique. In: Bulletin de la Société de Linguistique de Paris. Vol. 25, Fasc. 3 = No. 78, 1925, ISSN  0037-9069 , pp. 105-122 , ( The tasks of linguistics. ).
  • Katharina Ternes: Developments in German vocabulary. In: Glottometrics 21, 2011, pp. 25–53, (PDF full text ).
  • Pierre-François Verhulst : Notice sur la loi que la population suit dans son accroissement. In: Correspondance Mathématique et Physique. Vol. 10, 1838, ZDB -ID 428605-4 , pp. 113-121 .

Web links

Wiktionary: Sprachwandelgesetz  - explanations of meanings, word origins, synonyms, translations

See also

Individual evidence

  1. Archived copy ( Memento from July 19, 2011 in the Internet Archive )
  2. Kaj B. Lindgren: The spread of nhd. Diphthongierung up to 1500 (= Suomalaisen Tiedeakatemian toimituksia. Sarja B = Annales Academiae Scientiarum Fennicae. = Series B, 123, 2, ISSN  0066-2011 ). Suomalainen Tiedeakatemia, Helsinki 1961, p. 57; on Lindgren: Karl-Heinz Best: Kaj Brynolf Lindgren (1922–2007). In: Glottometrics. 16, 2008, pp. 127-131, (PDF full text ).
  3. ( Memento from January 1, 2016 in the Internet Archive )
  4. ^ Karl-Heinz Best: On the use of "Kampfhund" in German. In: Glottotheory. Vol. 2, No. 2, 2009, ISSN  1337-7892 , pp. 15-18.
  5. Relja Vulanović, Harald Baayen: Fitting the development of periphrastic do in all sentence types. In: Peter Grzybek , Reinhard Köhler (Ed.): Exact Methods in the Study of Language and Text. Dedicated to Gabriel Altmann on the Occasion of his 75th Birthday (= Quantitative Linguistics. 62). Mouton de Gruyter, Berlin et al. 2007, ISBN 978-3-11-019354-1 , pp. 679-688.
  6. ^ Karl-Heinz Best: On the spread of words of Arabic origin in German. In: Glottometrics. 8, 2004, pp. 75–78, ( full text [PDF; 1.9 MB]).