Center for the Study of Language and Society

The Uniformitarian Hypothesis and prehistoric sociolinguistics: what were stone-age languages like?

Tuesday, 2019/03/12, 16:15


The Forum Language and Society is a series of guest lectures on sociolinguistic topics. Doctoral students of the GSH are credited with 0.25 ECTS per guest lecture attendance. CSLS MA students are credited with 1 ECTS after visiting 6 guest lectures.

Event organizer: Forum Language and Society
Speaker: Peter Trudgill (University of East Anglia, Université de Fribourg)
Date: 2019/03/12
Time: 16:15 - 17:45
Locality: 105
Hauptgebäude
Hochschulstrasse 4
3012 Bern
Characteristics: open to the public
free of charge

The uniformitarian principle that knowledge of processes that operated in the past can be inferred by observing ongoing processes in the present is fundamental to historical linguistics. But there is an important respect in which the present is not like the past. For 97% of their history, human languages were spoken in neolithic and pre-neolithic societies which were societies of intimates, characterised by small size and dense social networks. A sociolinguistic-typological perspective suggests that the languages spoken in these communities may therefore have been typologically rather different from most modern languages, and that the methodology of ‘using the present to explain the past’ might therefore be less useful the further back in time we go.