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The principles of the comparative-historical method





The stages of the comparative-historical method

The comparative-historical method

Synchrony and diachrony in the language study

A language can be considered from different angles. In studying Modern English we regard the language as fixed in time and describe each linguistic level – phonetics, grammar or lexis – synchronically, taking no account of the origin of present-day features or their tendencies to change. The synchronic approach can be contrasted to the diachronic. When considered diachronically, every linguistic fact is interpreted as a stage or step in the never-ending evolution of language. In practice, however, the contrast between diachronic and synchronic study is not so marked as in theory: we commonly resort to history to explain current phenomena in Mod E. Likewise in describing the evolution of language we can present it as a series of synchronic cross-sections, e.g. the English language of the age of Shakespeare (16th – 17th c.) or the age of Chaucer (14th c.).

The comparative-historical method is widely used to study the history of the language. It helps to reconstruct language phenomena of the past, which are not recorded in the earliest extant written texts. If two or more languages contain words with the same root, it is possible to assume that these words are of the same origin. Thus, at the beginning of the 19th century it was proved that there was a remarkable likeness between certain languages now called Indo-European. These languages have much in common both in the vocabulary, phonetic, and grammatical structure. For example,


English brother

German Bruder

Latin frater

Ukrainian брат


Dr. Yuriy O. Zhluktenko distinguishes the following stages of the comparative-historical method:

1. Comparison of sounds and morphemes in the related languages. It is supposed that these units are of the same origin.

2. Determination of natural correspondences between the compared elements.

3. Determination of approximate chronological correlations between the compared phenomena.



4. Reconstruction of the archaic form, so-called “archetype”. At this stage, the phonetic peculiarities of the language development and the possible effect of analogy are taken into account.

 

The principles of the comparative-historical method are as follows:

1. The compared language units should be genetically related.

2. The compared units should be meaningful. It means that a comparison is made not between separate sounds, but between meaningful words or morphemes, which contain these sounds.

3. One should ascertain that the sound similarity in the compared words is not accidental, but regular.

4. It should be proved that the sound correspondences, which we trace as regular, could be really caused by the development of one archaic sound.

5. Semantic correspondence. Even if the sound correspondences are natural, the semantic correspondences between the compared words or morphemes should be analyzed.





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