LEC talk 28th April: Joe Fruehwald

By Kevin | April 24, 2015

Tues 28th April 11-12.30, Room 1.20, Dugald Stewart Building

Joe Fruehwald

Cohorts, Lifespans, and The Zeitgeist

I’ll be discussing three different kinds of time dimensions and how they relate to language change.

  1. Generational Time – Time defined in terms of generations, or birth cohorts, of speakers. An important component of language change is the differences between generations, independent from the speaker’s specific age, or the era in which they live.
  2. Lifespan – Time defined in terms of the lifespan of a speaker. The degree to which speakers remain stable in their linguistic system over their lifespan is a contested issue. This could be important if there is a characteristic age-linked pattern to which speakers participate in language changes.
  3. The Zeitgeist – Time defined in the normal way. To the extent that language change can be modeled as an innovation rapidly diffusing out to all current members of the speech community, the state of linguistic change would be best described in terms of the linguistic zeitgeist in the community at any point in time.
  4. Current sociolinguistic approaches to language change treat (1), generational time, as the primary dimension to explore, with some noise factors introduced by (2), lifespan change. The linguistic Zeitgeist is essentially just ignored.

    After coving a bit of background literature, I’ll walk through and attempt to tease a part these three dimensions, looking at three different language changes in the Philadelphia Neighborhood Corpus. The results show that the current sociolinguistic focus on generational change is well motivated. There is some marginal evidence for both Lifespan effects and Zeitgeist effects (the 80s was a weird time for /ow/), but otherwise generational time dominates the patterns observed.