Language Socialization and Sound Change in Progress

19th April 2017, Edinburgh, UK

Organisers: Mary Stevens (IPS Munich) and Mary Beckman (Ohio State University)

Contact email:

This satellite meeting addresses the relationship between phonological acquisition and the mechanisms of various types of phonological change. The focus will be on infancy to late childhood, although we are well aware that acquisition and change may well be lifelong processes.

One of the primary questions driving this focus is how different patterns of language socialization across communities and cultures might interact with developmental constraints in driving phonological change in progress. This is a primary focus because one of the few explicit models of regular sound change, that of Labov (2001), is based on a great deal of data for late adolescence and early adulthood. However, given the dearth of data on early language socialization the model is forced to make arbitrary assumptions about the relationship between acquisition and change at the onset of life. Specifically, the model assumes that the phonological system transmitted to children is less advanced than the one that children will eventually create. Up until the age of about five children’s pronunciations will reflect an older stage of a sound change. Only when children begin to participate in social negotiations with people other than their primary caregiver and their immediate family circle will their pronunciations reflect the next stage of incrementation.

There are substantial gaps in our understanding of language socialization patterns in infancy and childhood in different speech communities and the impact these might have on the time-course of regular sound change. We need case studies of developmental patterns in communities where there are changes affecting sound contrasts before we can confidently hypothesise about differing timelines for regular sound change versus borrowing. We also need ethnographic data – but of what kind? This satellite meeting will explore differences in language socialization across communities and cultures. It will explore how these differences might influence the trajectory of sound changes in progress.

The satellite workshop will focus on discussion of material that will be posted beforehand, including extended abstracts and background readings provided by the following invited participants:

The workshop will begin with three sessions of a talk followed by a conversation between the speaker and the audience. Then, after a short break for an early lunch, there will a more extended discussion period led by several invited panelists (TBA). If you wish to be part of the audience at this satellite meeting, please send your name and affiliation in an email to Mary Stevens with “Participation in Satellite Meeting” in the subject line by 31 March 2017. (If you have any dietary restrictions, please also specify them so that we can order enough vegetarian / vegan sandwiches.) Abstracts for invited talks and some suggested background readings are available here. Audience members are invited to submit comments and questions for discussion during the workshop (and suggestions for other background readings) by email to Mary Stevens.


The satellite workshop will be held in Room 3.10 / 3.11 of the Dugald Stewart Building (third floor), 3 Charles Street, Edinburgh (next door to the Informatics Forum).

Workshop Schedule

Time Speaker
8:30-8:35 Welcome: Mary Stevens
8:35-9:30 Penny Eckert: Kids in the social-semiotic landscape and discussion
9:30-10:25 Sophie Holmes-Elliot and Jennifer Smith: How language socialization and developmental constraints interact in the acquisition of a stereotyped British variable and discussion
10:30-11:20 Paul Vogt: Infant engagement in three cultures: the role of the (extended) family and discussion
11:20-11:40 Substantial refreshments
11:40-12:45 Panel discussion of material presented in the talks and circulated beforehand by all participants, including Laura Shneidman