Principles of Linguistic Change

Volume 3: Cognitive and Cultural Factors


Chapter 1: Cognitive and Cultural Factors

Both cognitive and cultural factors are seen as aspects of language learners' ability to perceive the general patterns in the speech community. This volume will develop further the general principles of linguistic change with the help of the large data from the recently completed Atlas of North American English [ANAE].

Part A: The Ccognitive Consequences of Linguistic Change

Chapter 2: Natural Misunderstandings

An analysis of a collection of 850 natural misunderstandings, 27% the result of sound change, shows repeated failure to apply knowledge of dialect differences even by those who know most about them.

Chapter 3: Control Methods Used in the Study of the Vowels

A replication of the Peterson-Barney experiment of 1952, with subjects and stimuli representative of three dialect areas: Philadelphia (Mid-Atlantic Shifts), Birmingham (Southern Shift) and Chicago (Northern Cities Shift).

Chapter 4: Gating Experiments on Cross-Dialectal Comprehension

A series of experiment carried out in Philadelphia, Birmingham and Chicago in which subjects from local colleges and high schoolsl were asked to identify advanced tokens of sound change in word, phrase and sentence context. Results show serious interference of sound change with comprehension across and within speech communities.

Part B: The Life History of Linguistic Change

Chapter 5: Triggering Events

The pursuit of the actuation problem for three of the large-scale linguistic changes in North America: the Northern Cities Shift, the Canadian Shift, and the general fronting of /uw/.

Chapter 6: Governing Principles

An assessment of the evidence for general constraints on mergers, splits and chain shifts, the mechanism responsible for maximal dispersion within sub-systems, and a new definition as to how phonological sub-systems are inserted into the acoustically defined phonetic space. The superposition of all ANAE data shows that peripherality is well defined for high and mid vowels, but does not discriminate tense and lax low vowels.

Chapter 7: Forks in the Road

Bidirectional changes are found throughout the genesis of linguistic changes, in which chance effects can lead neighboring dialects to shift back and forth. Typical of these are the fronting and backing of low vowels.

Chapter 8: Divergence

This chapter attacks the question as to how neighboring popultions in full communication can diverge in their linguistic patterns. A model is proposed in which divergence is the result of a combination of the bidirectional changes of Chapter 7 with the unidirectional changes of Chapter 6. The increasing divergence of North American dialects is seen as the result of alternations of bidirectional and unidirectional changes.

Chapter 9: Driving Forces

Various proposals for identifying the motivating forces of linguistic change are assessed: local identity, association with communities of practice and other acts of identity, reference group behavior, effects of fashion and the rachet principle. The explanatory of such local mechanisms is by the fact that within a metropolis like Philadelphia, upper class speakers follow behind the middle and working classes at the same rate of change in apparent time. On a larger scale, no mechanism based on face-to-face influence can explain the extraordinary uniformity of the Northern Cities Shift progression across 88,000 square miles and 13 million speakers in the Inland North.

Chapter 10: Yankee Cultural Imperialism and the Northern Cities Shift

One way of accounting for the unifiormity of the NCS is developed through a study of the settement history of the Inland North in the early 19th century.. The opposition of Yankee and Upland Southerner cultural patterns is described in some detail, along with the religious ferment of the Second Great Awakening in New York State. The dialect boundaries of the eastern U.S. coincide precisely with maps of three political cultures identified by Daniel Elazar. Opposition to slavery is seen as the central theme of Yankee ideology in the formation of the Republican Party, leading to the close parallel of the Northern dialect region with the electoral patterns of the Blue States from 2000 to 2008.

Chapter 11: Social evaluation of the Northern Cities Shift

A report of an experiment to test the proposals of Chapter 10, in which subjects from the Midland area were asked to project the political opinions of Northern and Midland speakers in regard to abortion, affirmative action and gun control.

Chapter 12: Endpoints

Given the fact that the great majority of linguistic features of all languages are the end results of completed changes, an effort is made to describe the forces and conditions that lead to final uniformity in a speech community. Changes in the patterns of skewness of changes in progress, first described in Volume 2, are used to identify such end points of linguistic change.

Part C: The Unit of Linguistic Change.

Chapter 13: Words Floating on the Surface of Sound Change

Since the effort to resolve the Neogrammarian Controversy in 1981 and Volume 1, many reports of lexical diffusion have appeared but no reports of regular sound change. This is because regularity of sound change is so generally accepted by historical linguists that reports of regularity are not publishable. The 130,000 measurements of vowel change in the ANAE data base are used to examine the existence of lexical effects. Regression analyses of the fronting of /uw/, the fronting of /ow/ and the raising of /æ/ show robust phonetic conditioning, smaller and completely independent social effects, no effect of frequency and only occasional lexical effects which disappear when data sets are randomly split. It is proposed that these small lexical effects have no relation to selection by the sound change mechanism but represent slight modifications of the final output in response to affective factors.

Chapter 14: The Binding Force in Segmental Phonology

Co-articulatory forces lead to allophonic differentiation which can in extreme cases disrupt the integrity of a phoneme. The question is raised as to whether the unit of chain shifting is the allophone or the phoneme. Several cases of possible allophonic chain shifting are examined, and no such effects are found. Typical is the extreme bifurcation of short-a allophones before nasals and elsewhere in the nasal short-a configuration. No parallel response to this allophonic movement is found in the neighboring short-o phoneme.

Part D: Transmission and Diffusion

Chapter 15: Transmission and Diffusion

This chapter attempts to resolve the opposition between family tree and wave model theories of linguistic change. It is proposed to distinguish between transmission of change as the result of continuing incrementation by children within the community, and the diffusion of change across communities which is largely the work of adults. Such diffusion frequently shows a loss of structural detail. Two major cases are studied: the diffusion of the New York City split-a system to New Jersey, Albany, Cincinnati and New Orleans, in which grammatical constraints are lost, and the diffusion of the Northern Cities Shift from Chicago to St. Louis, which appears to be a series of adult borrowing of individual sound changes rather than the acquisition of the shift by children.

Chapter 16: Diffusion across Communal Groups

The issues raised in Chapter 15 for geographic spread are applied to highly segregated groups within the same speech community. The diffusion of the Philadelphia short-a system to the African-American community is studied, and the diffusion of the general consonant cluster simplification pattern to the Latino community. In these and other cases, the pattern shows the effect of adult language learning which only approximates the original pattern.

Chapter 17: Conclusion

An overview of the causes of linguistic change, considering the ways in which the social and cultural functions relate to the representation of propositions. While the principle of least effort and the need to represent propositional information are in an antagonistic relation, the pressure to convey social information is orthogonal to the representational function. There is no regular repair mechanism to supply information lost in chain shifting. It seems likely that the loss of communicative efficiency in the course of linguistic change is the result of two separate streams of language inheritance, representing different aspects of human nature.