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Languages sometimes undergo major shifts, when multiple phenomena change together, often called catastrophes, phase transitions, or saltations. Recently Emonds and Faarlund (2014) argued for a major shift when the syntax of Middle English was largely replaced by Scandinavian syntax. Their proposal was met with hostility by historians of English, committed to the gradualness of change. However, if one thinks in terms of internal languages holding of individuals (‘I-languages’ in Chomsky 1986) and not of languages as wholes or Chomsky's ‘E-language’, we can follow the methods of population biology and understand better the mechanisms of such major shifts.

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