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What is the difference between diachronic and synchronic linguistics? How can you explain this difference with clear examples?

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Lynnette Wofford eNotes educator | Certified Educator

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Ferdinand de Saussure is often cited as the founder of modern linguistics, and his work Cours de linguistique générale (1916; Course in General Linguistics, 1959) is a seminal work in the field. In this work, Saussure examines language as a system of differences.

One can study differences in linguistics two ways: synchronically (in terms of differences between simultaneous features within a linguistic system) and diachronically (in terms of how a language changes over time).

A synchronic study might look at all the different color terms within a given language in a specific year. The range of meaning of "mauve," for example, could be seen as a set of differences between mauve and related colors such as maroon, violet, lavender, and purple. Saussure sees synchronic study as important for understanding how a language functions.

Diachronic or historical linguistics is the study of how languages change over time. This can include changes in the pronunciation of words, such as in the study of the Great Vowel Shift, or changes in their meanings.

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Diachronic linguistics is the same thing as historical linguistics. Diachronic linguistics is the study of the changes in language over time. Synchronic linguistics is the study of the linguistic elements and usage of a language at a particular moment. Diachronic analysis can be the general evolution of all languages or the evolution of a particular language or dialect

Think of a sychronic analysis as a single frame in a roll of film. The diachronic analysis would be the study of all the frames. 

In Course in General Linguistics, Ferdinand de Saussure discusses how an individual can contribute changes in a language but without the acknowledgment of this change by others in his/her social community, no change...

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