Language change vs. sociolinguistic change

The socioperiods of Estonian re-revisited

Keywords: language change, sociolinguistic change, periodization, mediatization, big data, small data, English, Estonian

In this article, we discuss the meaning of language change and sociolinguistic change, review some periodizations which describe changes in and around Estonian, and suggest new directions for future research. We approach the issue from the perspective of the 2014 volume edited by Jannis Androutsopoulos, who invites researchers to overcome the dualism of structuralist and post-structuralist paradigms in studying language change and to bring the study of language and society closer together. Sociolinguistic change is not limited to a single sound, lexical or syntactic element in a language, and not even to a single language, but it includes the whole linguistic repertoire in use in a society and also considers language-political processes. The new relevant context for contemporary language change is the mediatization of daily life. Another important process is Englishization, which is by no means simple or unidirectional. English is spoken as a first or second language by speakers of many different languages; it dominates in linguistic landscapes and soundscapes. It is far from being “foreign”: children often acquire English in parallel with their native language these days.

Scholars have studied change in Estonian from various angles: their focus has varied from the literary monuments of Estonian to broader, cultural-typological change, from phonological change to change in spoken vs. written language. The latest period in the sociolinguistic development of Estonian has been described as pluralist and democratic. Big data is currently opening up new research perspectives for linguistics. Nevertheless, data-intensive humanities research does not replace the need for small data, experimental or qualitative linguistics, as language is context-bound. Moreover, big language data is neither neutral nor representative of all speaker groups. For example, youth language as “deviant” speech remains under-researched, as it is difficult to collect.

Kristiina Praakli (b. 1977), PhD, University of Tartu, Institute of Estonian and General Linguistics, Associate Professor of Applied Linguistics (Jakobi 2, 51005 Tartu),

Kadri Koreinik (b. 1970), PhD, University of Tartu, Institute of Estonian and Gen­eral ­Linguistics, Senior Researcher in Language Sociology (Jakobi 2, 51005 Tartu),