18 March Peter Trudgill: Sociolinguistic Typology and the Uniformitarian Hypothesis

Professor Peter Trudgill will visit the Department of Modern Languages and give a guest lecture entitled “Sociolinguistic Typology and the Uniformitarian Hypothesis”.

Date: Wednesday, 18th March, 14-16
Venue: Metsätalo auditorium 1 (ground floor)

Prof. Trudgill’s visit is hosted by the Academy project Reassessing Language Change at VARIENG.

Everyone is welcome to attend.


One of the fundamental bases of modern historical linguistics is the uniformitarian principle. This principle states that knowledge of processes that operated in the past can be inferred by observing ongoing processes in the present. In this paper I present a sociolinguistic-typological perspective on this issue, where by “sociolinguistic typology” I mean a form of linguistic typology which is sociolinguistically informed and which investigates the extent to which it is possible to produce sociolinguistic explanations for why a particular language variety is like it is.

This work is based on the assumption that there is a possibility that certain aspects of social structure may be capable of having an influence on certain aspects of language structure. I argue that, insofar as the characteristics of individual human languages are due to the nature of the human language faculty, there cannot be any questioning of the uniformitarian principle. We have to assume that the nature of the human language faculty is the same the world over, and that it has been like that ever since humans became fully human. But what about if some of the characteristics of individual human languages are due to social factors?