CLE talk 3 May: James Kirby & Morgan Sonderegger

By jon | April 27, 2016

Tuesday 3 May, 11:00–12:30
1.17 Dugald Stewart Building

James Kirby (Edinburgh) & Morgan Sonderegger (McGill)

Population dynamics in the actuation of sound change

Sound change arises from the pronunciation variability ubiquitous in every speech community, but most such variability does not lead to change. Hence, an adequate model must allow for stability as well as change. Existing theories of sound change tend to emphasize factors at the level of individual learners promoting one outcome or the other, such as channel bias (which favors change) or inductive bias (which favors stability). Here, we consider how the interaction of these biases can lead to both stability and change in a population setting.

First, we show that while population structure itself can act as a source of stability, both stability and change are possible outcomes only when both types of bias are active, suggesting that it is possible to understand why sound change occurs at some times and not others as the population-level result of the interplay between forces promoting each outcome in individual speakers. We then discuss how this account of actuation may be generalized to at least two other cases where change can occur without production bias: contact between subpopulations, and phonetic variants which bear different levels of prestige. We show how phonetic systems can remain stable under a variety of perturbations, such as lenition, contact, and social prestige, depending on the relative magnitudes of the biases involved. This result suggest a more unified account of the mechanics of actuation, with the crucial factor being the relative magnitude, rather than the specific source, of the displacement event.