November 11, 2015

Guest speaker: Sali A. Tagliamonte (University of Toronto)

Our department has recently welcomed back faculty sociolinguist Sali A. Tagliamonte from a two-year research leave after she was awarded a Killam research fellowship in 2013. Sali has spent her leave writing two books - Making Waves: The Story of Variationist Sociolinguistics, a history of the subfield, and Teen Talk: The Language of Adolescents - on top of giving talks all over the world, keeping up with her other research activities, and supervising half a dozen graduate students.

Sali will be giving a invited talk for our department on her recent research on Friday, November 20, in SS 560A at 3:30 PM sharp: "Roots and branches in the variation of English." A reception will follow in the department lounge.

I analyze corpora of spoken vernaculars in three geographic regions, the UK, Canada and the Caribbean. The communities comprise a range of relic, rural and urban contexts as well as source and off-shoot situations. Taken together they offer multiple tests for probing questions of historical origins, transmission and diffusion, obsolescence and innovation. What can a comparative perspective, variationist sociolinguistic methods and quantitative analyses contribute to probing these questions and offering insights?

I focus on several linguistic features that contrast different types of change. An obsolescing feature, verbal -s as in (1), is found in most places. Longitudinal changes, such as in the stative possessive, as in (2), flourish but with diverse composition of the alternating forms, have/’s/’ve got, has/have and got. Within the relative pronoun system, circumscribed use of the well-known change from above, who, exposes the influence of the standard language and social evaluation.

(1)    The dialects really comes through strong. (PVG/I)
(2)    We always have an advance’s got its advantages. (MPT/n)
(3)    All the farmers who were able, they’d go.  (ALM/005)

While the dialects may differ in their favoured variant in each change and frequency can vary dramatically, the internal linguistic factors that constrain the variability offer decisive insights. When parallel constraints can be traced in the history of the English language, they can be interpreted as persistence. While cross-dialectal differences in frequency expose how the changes are progressing, contrastive internal patterns offer insights into stages in the evolving system and distinguish transmission vs. diffusion Through the lens of contrast and comparison, it is possible to identify exogenous vs. endogenous change and to expose universal patterns vs. local deviations. The findings combine to show that that synchronic data contribute a great deal to understanding the mechanisms that constrain processes of linguistic change. The large scale multi-variety perspective is critical for making sound use of the dialectic between diachronic change and synchronic variation.

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