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Conclusion

We have seen then that Ball and I take very different approaches to what is essentially the same diachronic study: investigating the historical development of the English it-cleft. Although Ball (1991, 1994) does not overtly discuss her theoretical assumptions, her work draws from and is presented within the generative tradition of the early 1990s. In contrast, I examine the historical evidence from within the theoretical framework of construction grammar (see Patten 2010, 2012).

In this chapter, I have explored the question of whether the differences in our diachronic accounts reflect, or can be traced back to, the assumptions which form the basis of these theories. I have shown that these assumptions seem to influence not only how Ball and I interpret the data, and make judgements as to which evidence is more or less valuable or relevant, but also our fundamental, methodological decisions about which data needs to be interpreted and which is ostensibly outside the scope of the project. Specifically, our assumptions and expectations influence not only our understanding of how and why the it-cleft changed, but also our most basic claims about when this configuration came into existence and which examples can properly be considered it-clefts.

By comparing these (broadly) generative and constructional approaches, I have suggested that, in this instance, the historical data is better suited to explanations based on constructionist principles. In particular, there are places where

Ball's account seems unintuitive in light of (what comes across as) "reluctant" data (see 4.3). In part, this reflects a difference in constructional and generative models of language structure. While the former groups specialized linguistic patterns into families of constructions, the latter relates them to more basic structures (see 2.1). This encourages the constructionist to prioritize superficial, surface similarities (which reflect the observable characteristics of the data) over underlying, structural ones (which are theory-dependent) (see Goldberg 2002, 2006). For a low-frequency construction like the it-cleft, the diachronic data is especially subject to interpretation (see 5). However, I have suggested that there is evidence of gradualness and directionality in the development of the English it-cleft, which is especially amenable to a constructional explanation (see 2.2). Nevertheless, while such data is difficult to reconcile with traditional generativist perspectives on language change, it is not incompatible with more recent developments in generative grammar (see Roberts & Roussou 2003; Roberts 2010; van Gelderen 2004, 2010, 2011).

This comparative case study also allows us to reflect on the role of linguistic theory in historical language research, more generally. We have seen that our theoretical assumptions permeate every aspect of diachronic investigation, both analytically and methodologically. Of course, this is not an argument for undertaking historical language study without a theoretical basis. It is well known that, even without a firm theoretical position, we inevitably bring our assumptions or expectations with us when dealing with data (see Fischer 2004: 713). By overtly acknowledging a particular theoretical viewpoint, we at least ensure that the approach is consistent. Examining data in relation to a different theory offers a fresh perspective and encourages us to actively seek out certain patterns in the data. As Vincent & Borjars (2010: 296) comment, "Different theoretical approaches lead one to look for explanations in particular places, so that awareness of a plurality of approaches means a better appreciation of potential explanations"

 
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