What will the future of English, or Dutch, or any other language look like? The mainstream view among linguists is “that it is not possible to make sensible predictions about future linguistic developments” (Sanchez-Stockhammer 2015), and that language change is “irrational, violent, and unpredictable” (Labov 1994: 10). I argue that this position is mistaken: we can predict language change just as we can predict economic, political or meteorological change, if we have the relevant data and use the appropriate tools. Like in those disciplines, we won’t be able to achieve 100% predictive accuracy, but we can perform better than chance – and historical linguists are in fact making predictions about future language changes all the time, even if they don’t realise it.
You can re-watch the lecture here:
George Walkden is Professor of English Linguistics and General Linguistics at the University of Konstanz, Germany. He obtained his MPhil and PhD at the University of Cambridge, after which he worked for several years as a lecturer at the University of Manchester. His research interests are historical linguistics, syntax, and the early Germanic languages, and he has published on a variety of topics in language change, corpus linguistics, syntactic theory, and historical reconstruction. He is the editor-in-chief of the open-access Journal of Historical Syntax, and was recently awarded a European Research Council Starting Grant to work on the consequences of different sociohistorical settings for syntactic change. Funding from the Volkswagen Foundation has allowed George to take research leave to investigate whether it is possible to predict language change, and he will be presenting his early thoughts from this project.