Using the Tolerance Principle to predict phonological change

Betsy Sneller, Josef Fruehwald, Charles Yang

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

9 Scopus citations

Abstract

Language acquisition is a well-established avenue for language change (Labov, 2007). Given the theoretical importance of language acquisition to language change, it is all the more important to formulate clear theories of transmission-based change. In this paper, we provide a simulation method designed to test the plausibility of different possible transmission-based changes, using the Tolerance Principle (Yang, 2016) to determine precise points at which different possible changes may become plausible for children acquiring language. We apply this method to a case study of a complex change currently in progress: the allophonic restructuring of /æ/ in Philadelphia English. Using this model, we are able to evaluate several competing explanations of the ongoing change and determine that the allophonic restructuring of /æ/ in Philadelphia English is mostly likely the result of children acquiring language from mixed dialect input, consisting of approximately 40% input from speakers with a nasal /æ/ split. We show that applying our simulation to a phonological change allows us to make precise quantitative predications about the progress of this change. Moreover, it forces us to reassess intuitively plausible hypotheses about language change, such as grammatical simplification, in a quantitative and independently motivated framework of acquisition.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1-20
Number of pages20
JournalLanguage Variation and Change
Volume31
Issue number1
DOIs
StatePublished - Mar 1 2019

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
Sneller Betsy Fruehwald Josef Yang Charles Georgetown University University of Edinburgh University of Pennsylvania We would like to thank the audiences at MFM 2016 in Manchester, FWAV 2016 in New York City and NWAV 2016 in Vancouver for their feedback on earlier versions of this project. The project has benefited greatly from comments by three anonymous reviewers. This research was funded in part by National Science Foundation grants BCS-1251437 and BCS-162. 02 05 2019 03 2019 31 1 1 20 Copyright © Cambridge University Press 2019  2019 Cambridge University Press

Funding Information:
We would like to thank the audiences at MFM 2016 in Manchester, FWAV 2016 in New York City and NWAV 2016 in Vancouver for their feedback on earlier versions of this project. The project has benefited greatly from comments by three anonymous reviewers. This research was funded in part by National Science Foundation grants BCS-1251437 and BCS-162.

Publisher Copyright:
© Cambridge University Press 2019.

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Language and Linguistics
  • Education
  • Linguistics and Language

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