The learning outcomes are that you (i) are capable of understanding state of the art literature in considerable detail, (ii) can express and evaluate (dis)similarities between various theoretical positions, (ii) can identify questions, open ends and predictions of the various proposals and (iv) can synthesize (i)-(iii) into a new research proposal.
Within a set of related language varieties, language variation and change are two inextricably related phenomena: there is no variation without change, and no change without variation. This means that, on the one hand, we can try to understand the variation that we observe by studying the way in which languages change over time. At the same time, we can study the co-existence of neighbouring varieties (macro-variation), or even grammatical variation within a single variety (micro-variation), and learn a thing or two about language change. In this sense, then, describing changes that happen over time and describing the variation we observe at a particular moment (for instance: now) are two research programmes that are mutually supportive. The aim, however, is more than describe what we observe. The aim is to find patterns that are revealing with respect to how humans use, acquire and cognitively represent natural languages. What grammatical and extra-grammatical factors cause variation and changes? And what are the restrictions on these processes that enable us to reach an even bigger goal, namely to formulate theories on variation and change that have predictive power? In this course, we will look at recent discussions in this area, focusing on a restricted number of linguistic phenomena, and see what progress has been made.