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On cause and correlation in language change. Word order and clefting in Brazilian Portuguese

Journal Contribution - Journal Article

Studies of language change frequently wrestle with the problem of cause and correlation. It is comparatively simple to observe a correlation between historical trends. However, it is much more difficult to demonstrate that the changes in the frequency of a construction A were indeed the cause of the changes in the frequency of a construction B. We present a statistical method that can help to assess whether two historical changes are not only correlated, but also causally related. In particular, we use Granger Causality to determine whether the gradual replacement of ex-situ wh-interrogatives with clefted wh-interrogatives in 18th to 20th century Brazilian Portuguese resulted from word order change, and particularly the rise in the frequency of SV word order. Our results indeed suggest that SV word order Granger causes the use of clefted whinterrogatives, as well as declarative ‘that’-clefts, but not the other way around.
Journal: Language Dynamics and Change
ISSN: 2210-5824
Issue: 1
Volume: 11
Pages: 130 - 166
Publication year:2021