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Language and age: Studying linguistic change in real and apparent time. LIN120: Sociolinguistics Instructor: Marjorie Pak February 27, 2008. We know that language changes over time… Great Vowel Shift in Middle English: /mu:s/  /maws/ Do- support: I know not  I do n’t know

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language and age studying linguistic change in real and apparent time

Language and age:Studying linguistic change in real and apparent time

LIN120: Sociolinguistics

Instructor: Marjorie Pak

February 27, 2008

slide2
We know that language changes over time…
    • Great Vowel Shift in Middle English:/mu:s/  /maws/
    • Do-support:I know not  I don’t know
  • These changes have all been observed through diachronic studies of historical texts.
slide3
But can we also see language change happening in real time, through synchronicmethods of study?
  • How do we know when we’re looking at a change in progress?
slide4
In the ideal world, linguists would have access to recorded speech…
  • spanning several generations
  • representing speakers of various ages within each sample
  • maintaining consistency over other factors (style, sex, ethnicity, formality…)
slide5
We’re not living in an ideal world…
  • Linguistics is a young science
  • Recording and archiving technology is also young
slide6
But we can make a lot of progress by looking at the role of speakers’ age in synchronic studies of linguistic variation.

We start with cases where…

  • Young people sound different from old people.
  • The older you are, the more/less likely you are to do X.
slide7
Example: Bailey et al. 1991 looked at 14 features of Texas speech, including:
    • i  I before /l/ (field, real)
    • e  ε before /l/ (sale, jail)
    • y  Ø after alveolar (Tuesday, student)
slide9
All three slopes are monotonic(they don’t change direction)
  • The older the speakers, the less likely they were to say /fIld/, /sεl/, /tuzdi/instead of /fild/, /sel/, /tyuzdi/
  • When we see a pattern like this, we can at least entertain the hypothesis that we’re looking at a linguistic change in progress.
slide10
Apparent-time method (Labov 1963, 1966; following Gauchat 1905)
  • We can view synchronic age patterns as a window on what has happened in a community over the last few generations
  • Basic assumption: Adults speak the language they learned as children.
slide11
Critical period: humans have a period when they’re ‘primed’ to acquire language
    • once we’re past this age (early teens?) it’s impossible to acquire native-like competence in a new language
  • The way you talk won’t change once you hit a certain age – even if the language changes
  • So we can listen to the speech of a 55-year-old and get a sense of what the community norms were when s/he was a child (50 years ago)
slide12
Sound change advances from generation to

generation by incrementation (Labov 2007)

  • Child hears speakers of various ages and notices that the younger the speaker, the more advanced the change
  • Child positions him/herself at the end of the trajectory and advances the change a little more
slide13
Sound change advances from generation to

generation by incrementation (Labov 2007)

  • Short-a tensing:/æ/ is raised, fronted and diphthongized before nasals (other contexts depend on dialect)

mæǝn mɛǝn meǝn mIǝn miǝn

(grandma) (mom) (aunt) (sister) (me)

slide14
The apparent-time method has allowed linguists to make considerable advances in understanding language change in progress
  • But this method isn’t perfect! Why not?
  • There’s always another possible interpretation of a monotonic age slope: age grading
slide15
English t/d deletion(Guy 1980, Guy/Boyd 1990)
  • Alveolar stop  Ø after a consonant at the end of a syllable

best friend  /bεs frεn/

  • Conditioning factors:
    • Preceding/following segment
    • Style, speech rate
    • Morphological structure
slide16
t/d deletion is less likely to apply if the final t/d is a past-tense suffix

probabilityof deletion

Un-suffixed word (mist, past) .65

‘Semiweak’ past-tense word (lost) .55

Regular past-tense word (missed, passed) .31

slide17
‘Semiweak’ verbs have a vowel change as well as a suffix in the past tense…
    • keep, tell, sell, feel…
  • With semiweak verbs in particular, age plays an important role in t/d deletion
  • The older the speakers, the less likely they were to delete t/d in semiweak verbs

Probability of t/d deletion in semiweak verbs

Age >.75 .60-.75 <.60

0-18 7 1 0

19-44 0 9 3

45+ 0 4 10

slide18
Observed speech in a ~4-year-old girl:

and then I started /startId/ crying… and then I screamed /skrimd/… and then daddy yelled /yεld/ at me.. but I kept /kεp/ on crying…

slide19
So is t/d deletion in the semiweak verb class a change in progress?
  • Guy & Boyd: No! t/d deletion is a stablevariable, but there’s an age gradingeffect:
  • Age grading: Each generation of speakers modifies its linguistic behavior at a particular stage in life – sometimes well into adulthood. But the language itself does not change across generations.
slide20
t/d deletion is a case of late acquisition:
  • Kids don’t realize that there’s a past-tense -ed on semiweak verbs at all – they think the past tense of keep is just /kεp/
  • Much later in life – perhaps well past the critical period – speakers learn that semiweak verbs do have a -ed suffix.
  • Speakers then apply t/d deletion at the same (low) rates as with the regular past-tense -ed.
slide21
Support: t/d deletion doesn’t have the characteristic features of change in progress
  • Changes in progress are usually…
    • led by working/middle classes and women
    • differentiated ethnically and geographically
    • socially evaluated, with ‘prestige’ forms increasing in more formal speech
  • None of these are true of semiweak-verb t/d deletion in particular
slide22
Another way to tease apart generational change-in-progress and age-grading interpretations: Real-time studies!
    • Go back and re-study a community after some time has passed.
    • Trend study (resample a community with comparable speakers)
    • Panel study(locate and re-interview the same speakers)
slide23

Real-time trend study 1: Fowler’s (1986) restudy of Labov’s (1963) ‘department store’ study

  • Fowler replicated the NYC department store study in exact detail (23 years later)
  • All results were reproduced, with rates of /r/-pronunciation 10-20% higher
slide25
Real-time trend study #2:Bailey et al. (1990) compared their results with an older survey (Linguistic Atlas of the Gulf States (LAGS), data collected 15-20 years earlier)
  • For all the innovative features studied in Bailey et al., the percentage of respondents who used the feature was higher than the percentage of LAGS respondents who did
slide27
Panel studies: track down the same speakers and re-study them after an interval of time
  • Cukor-Avila (2000) interviewed 4 speakers of African-American Vernacular English in a small Texas town in 1988, 1992, and 1998
    • Older speakers (b. 1913, 1961) change very little in the 10-year interval
    • Younger speakers (b. 1979, 1982) show increase in AAVE features – even in late adolescence – as they spend more time in a nearby city
slide28
Other panel studies:
    • Development of uvular /r/ in Montreal (Blondeau et al. 2003)
    • Yiddish folksinger Sara Gorby (Prince 1987)
    • Trudgill’s study of /r/ pronunciation in British pop singers (Beatles, etc.)
slide29
Panel study results have largely vindicated the apparent-time method
  • People generally remain stable – and when they do change, it’s in the direction of the community change
slide31
Summary: If a synchronic observation of a community shows a steady increase/ decrease in the frequency of a variable with age, there are at least two interpretations:
  • Generational change in progress(apparent-time interpretation)
  • Age grading

Real-time studies (trend or panel) can help disentangle these two interpretations, as can understanding fundamental principles of language change.

slide32
The apparent-time construct has proven to be an excellent surrogate for real-time evidence.

As with all linguistic research…the more data, the better.

But considerable progress can be made with limited data, as long as the underlying issues are understood.

slide33
References
  • Bailey, Guy. 2002. Real and apparent time. In Chambers et al. (eds.), Handbook of language variation and change (pp. 312-332). Blackwell.
  • Guy, Gregory R. and Boyd, Sally. 1990. The development of a morphological class. Language Variation and Change 2, 1-18.
  • Labov, William. 2007. Transmission and diffusion. Language 83, 344-387.
  • Meyerhoff, Miriam. 2006. Introducing sociolinguistics [ch.7]. Routledge.
  • Sankoff, Gillian. (to appear). Cross-sectional and longitudinal studies in sociolinguistics. In Ammon U, Dittmar N, Mattheier K & Trudgill P (eds.) Handbook of sociolinguistics, vol. II. Berlin: De Gruyter.