Chapter 1 introduces the study’s topic, the history of copular and passive constructions in early English; it also outlines an innovative view of language change, drawing on insights from ecology. Following discussion of linguistic notions of competition and environment, it is hypothesized that constructions operating at lower hierarchical levels (lexemes) dynamically interact with higher-order constructional clusters (clause, text type) much like species in a dynamic ecosystem. Complementing Croft’s evolutionary approach, it is proposed that propagation of language change is also a language-internal affair, a rebalancing of grammatical subsystems inside individuals’ mental grammars. This leads to novel hypotheses about the role of multiple lineages, productivity thresholds, and environmental constructions in changing function words.
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