15 October 2012

Opening Message

This is my first attempt at blogging. I am going to learn all the tricks of the art as I go along, so excuse me if the layout is simple and the organisation seems a little messy. The whole thing will be streamlined later on.

I work at Adam Mickiewicz University in Poznań, a city in western Poland. The university has a large Faculty of English, where I am employed as a university professor. My main areas of research were initially the history of the English language and phonological theory, but I have also worked in Germanic, Indo-European and general historical linguistics, theories of language change, and the application of generalised models of evolutionary change in the study of languages.

Traditionally, historical linguists have been concerned with describing and reconstructing dead languages and studying the changes that affected those languages in the past. It used to be thought that language change was so slow as to be imperceptible and hardly observable during its operation. For that reason its study was the exclusive domain of the historians of language. We now realise that ongoing change can be observed, and that there is a close relationship between variation visible in a language at a given time and change visible over time. The two are actually different aspects of the same phenomenon: language evolution. The findings of modern sociology and dialectology complement those of historical linguistics. In my opinion, the time is ripe for a synthetic approach explaining the microevolutionary processes responsible for generating small-scale variability of languages and the long-term effects of accumulated change (including the rise of new dialects and languages and the consequences of prolonged language contact). My intention is to publish here short essays related to my academic research and to welcome comments, not necessarily from linguists.

I am also interested in biology — a discipline which has studied evolutionary change in the living world for about one and a half centuries. Biological evolution and language evolution are of course different phenomena, but they share some important formal features. In both domains there are “replicators” — entities that produce copies of themselves from generation to generation. Thanks to replication, biological species and languages prolong their existence. In both cases copying involves occasional heritable errors (mutations), which give rise to variants. What happens to those variants, which of them spread and which die out, is the crucial question in evolutionary studies, whether biological or linguistic. That is why insights offered by biology are of great value to a linguist.


The purpose of this blog is to discuss language change, historical linguistics and the impact of interdisciplinary insights (generalised theories of evolutionary change) on our understanding of linguistic processes.

Piotr Gąsiorowski is a professor in the Faculty of English at the Adam Mickiewicz University (Poznań, Poland):