Language Variation and Change in Seoul Korean

In this project, I examine linguistic innovations on the levels of phonetics, phonology and morphosyntax in Seoul Korean. Little attention, in the realm of variationist sociolinguistics, has been paid to Seoul, the capital of South Korea with a population of more than 10 million. Seoul and its surrounding areas, the fourth largest megalopolises in the world, provides fertile ground for large-scale sociolinguistic research for linguistic innovations as well as language and dialect contact for its unique historical and social backgrounds (the Japanese colonial occupation (1910-1945) and the Korean war (1950-1953), followed by spectacular economic growth and progress in modernization, a great influx of people from countryside as well as other countries throughout the second half of the 20th century).


I have sampled native Seoul Koreans born between 1920 and 2000, stratified by age, gender, social class and educational level and a corpus of spontaneous spoken Seoul Korean (over 100 hours) is being compiled using conventional sociolinguistic interviews.


The project thus far has discovered vigorous changes in a number of linguistic features (e.g. back vowels, (w)-deletion, and intensifier use). The crucial role of adolescents in driving forward linguistic innovations has been identified. It also suggests that, in the acquisition of sociolinguistic variables, there is a great gap between the preadolescents and their immediate elders. Findings of the project have implications for our understanding of mechanisms of linguistic innovation and change in less studied urban areas in East Asia.

Papers & Presentations

Second Dialect Acquisition: A case study of Noam Chomsky

In this project, I examine individual speakers’ language change across the lifespan and how it is influenced by the interplay of multiple layers of factors. In a case study of Noam Chomsky’s language change across his lifespan, I investigated the longitudinal vowel shifts in Chomsky’s speech after he relocated to Boston, a region characterized by a different dialect from his native dialect of Philadelphia. The study reveals that, over a 40-year period, Chomsky’s short-a has undergone a phonological restructuring and his low back vowels made a substantial phonetic shift toward the norm of his new speech community. I suggest that these substantial changes may have a social (low social values of the variants of his native dialect) and phonetic (phonetic and perceptual influences from nasalization) motivation. This project serves as an important demonstration of how the interplay between social and phonetic factors can drive the change of adult speaker’s representation of sociolinguistic variables over the course of the lifetime.

Papers & Presentations

Articulatory insights into variation and change

I am also interested in how articulatory factors make impact on our speech production and perception and, ultimately, the diachronic evolution of languages. Ultrasound is an excellent tool for articulatory studies in that it allows safe, non-invasive imaging of the movement of the whole tongue. In this project, I aim to take account of various issues including (1) socially-stratified articulatory patterns; (2) articulatory economy account of deletion; (3) gradient vs. categorical nature of deletion; (4) the effect of prosodic position on segmental deletion.

Papers & Presentations

The interplay between phonological and morphological constraints

In this project, I seek to develop a model that best accounts for the complex interplay of phonological and morphological constraints on grammatical architecture. Chapter 3 of my dissertation, for example, develops a model that explains the unexpected quantitative patterns in variable deletion of (w) in Seoul Korean. Data show that two word categories differentiated by derivational history show different deletion rates by speaker age: Class A words in which (w) is underlying show higher deletion rates than Class B words where (w) is derived in older speakers, whereas the pattern is the opposite in younger speakers. I argue that the data best support a model under which (w)-deletion is active at all levels for older speakers while it is active at the word and phrase level only. I further argue that this suggests a possibility that a rule is lost from the narrowest morphosyntactic domain, say, from the stem, word and then phrase level.

Papers & Presentations

The acquisition of phonological universals

I also draw upon artificial language learning paradigm to learn more about the nature of phonological representation. In a study testing the existence of an asymmetry in learning initial and final extrametricality, I show that there was no significant difference between the group who learned the Latin stress pattern with initial extrametricality and the group who learned the Kashaya stress pattern with the final extrametricality: these two stress patterns of formally equivalent mirror-images were learned equally well. This finding suggests that synchronic grammar does not treat final and initial extrametricality differently. More importantly, languages with initial extrametricality exists (e.g. Kashaya (Buckely 1994) and Azkoitia Basque (Hualde 1998)). I argue that the prosodic typology must include initial extrametricality. It is true that the inclusion of initial extrametricality overgenerates unattested patterns and it is a problem. Excluding the attested patterns, however, is a more serious problem. This resonates with Chomsky’s (1964) early argument that an essential requirement for a typology of possible stress systems is descriptive adequacy.

Papers & Presentations