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Language Change: Progress or Decay?

(Cambridge Approaches to Linguistics)

3.86  ·  Rating details ·  229 Ratings  ·  16 Reviews
This book gives a lucid and up-to-date overview of language change, discussing where our evidence about language change comes from, how and why changes happen, and how languages begin and end. It considers both changes that occurred long ago, and those currently in progress. This substantially revised third edition includes two new chapters on change of meaning and grammat ...more
Paperback, 312 pages
Published December 11th 2000 by Cambridge University Press (first published November 30th 1980)
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Jul 18, 2007 rated it it was amazing
While it's title might make the book seem a collection of papers taking sides in a debate, Language Change: Progress or Decay is a textbook written by Jean Aitchison introducing contemporary study of language change to beginning students of linguistics. The book has proven quite popular for its gentle tone and its clear summarization of important work in the field, and has now gone through several editions.

I read this as a graduate student of historical linguistics, and I had several years of ex
Jan 26, 2017 rated it really liked it
A very nice introduction to the subject of language change, as the title indicates. Consequently, the other focus area of historical linguistics, namely linguistic reconstruction, is only briefly touched upon. The only weakness in my view is the chapter on language death. It has a very emotional tone to it. I understand the sentiment, but it is in stark contrast to the scholarly tone of the rest of the book.
Feb 03, 2012 rated it it was ok
Ended up just skimming the rest because I got so bored. Repeats herself repeatedly (haha). Quite a good introduction to language change though, may read it properly some day.
Emma Lindhagen
An actually pocket sized linguistics textbook? Amazing!

I quite enjoyed this book. It's fairly theory-light but still gets the broad points across well while drawing on a range of easily comprehensible examples.
Apr 03, 2016 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
As always, Jean Aitchison's description of language is succinct, full of examples, and entertaining. She covers all bases in an organised manner that is easy to read for specialists and non-specialists alike. However, after having read her 'Seeds of Speech' I found some serious overlapping which was a bit of a disappointment - there were 1 or 2 examples that seemed to be verbatim, which is unneeded repetition considering world languages are chock-full of examples for each and every situation one ...more
Jan 06, 2012 rated it liked it
Aitchinson presents her subject in a clear manner that is easy to follow and pleasant to read. However, her insane metaphors and comparisons did threw me off course regularly and they made it hard, sometimes, to take her serious.
May 17, 2013 rated it really liked it
Shelves: non-fiction
Good introduction to the the topic of language change!
I would have of course loved to read more on the topics in the final part, esp. that of language death, both murder and suicide. But, the books is very well written nevertheless.
Jan 31, 2015 rated it it was amazing
A highly accessible, well-organized overview of language change processes. An enjoyable read!
Yana Cools
Jan 16, 2015 rated it really liked it
the most fun textbook i've ever read
Jun 16, 2012 rated it really liked it
Shelves: school
As far as text books go, this one is definitely a winner!
Raphael Paulian
Feb 19, 2008 rated it really liked it
extremely well documented, insightful. chapter 13 "chain reaction changes" was news to me : I had never heard about it before. her chapters about creoles run a tad long though.
Jennifer Deegan
Jun 07, 2008 rated it really liked it
Shelves: non-fiction
Very accessible and fascinating linguistic text.
Hans Henrik
Aug 13, 2010 rated it really liked it
Shelves: nonfiction, language
Required reading for my college Introduction to Linguistics course. Clear, fluid writing.
Karen S.
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Dec 26, 2012
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Jean Aitchison is a Professor of Language and Communication in the Faculty of English Language and Literature at the University of Oxford and a Fellow of Worcester College, Oxford.

Her main areas of interest include:

Socio-historical linguistics
Language and mind
Language and the media

Other books in the series

Cambridge Approaches to Linguistics (9 books)
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  • How Children Learn Language
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“Language change is not a disease, any more than adolescence, or autumn are illnesses.” 8 likes
“It's hard to see what the problem is. Language speakers and writers have always been inventive, and texting is just one further example of human creativity. As David Crystal has expressed it: ' the latest manifestation of the human ability to be linguistically creative... In texting, we are seeing, in a small way, language in evolution...” 2 likes
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