Received this today at work:
Primacy is accorded to synchronic linguistics, and diachronic linguistics is defined as the study of successive synchronic stages. Saussure's clear demarcation, however, is now seen to be idealised. In practice, a purely synchronic linguistics is not possible for any period before the invention of the gramophone.
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The findings of historical linguistics are often used as a basis for hypotheses about the groupings and movements of peoples, particularly in the prehistoric period. In practice, however, it is often unclear how to integrate the linguistic evidence with the archaeological or genetic evidence. For example, there are a large number of theories concerning the homeland and early movements of the Proto-Indo-Europeans, each with their own interpretation of the archaeological record.
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The sociolinguist William Labov famously recorded the change in pronunciation in a relatively short period in the American resort of Martha’s Vineyard and showed how this was the result of social tensions and processes. Even in the relatively short time that broadcast media have been available, we can observe the difference between the ‘marked’ pronunciation of the newsreaders of the 1940s and the 1950s and the more neutral, ‘unmarked’ pronunciation of today. The greater acceptance and fashionability of regional accents in the media may also reflect a more democratic, less formal society.
Fascinating stuff, huh?