Talk and masterclass with Richard Blythe

Posted on April 27, 2016 by



On Tuesday 3rd May there will be a talk by Edinburgh’s Richard Blythe on S-curves and mechanisms of propagation in language change. This will be followed on Wednesday 4th May by a masterclass on Using agent-based models to answer questions about language change.

The talk is at the usual time (4.15) in the usual place (SG1). The masterclass will be from 9-11am in Samuel Alexander A202. Here’s the abstract for the talk:

A variety of mechanisms have been proposed in sociolinguistics for the propagation of an innovation through the speech community. The complexity of social systems makes it difficult to evaluate the different mechanisms empirically. We take an approach where the different mechanisms can be understood in terms of different symmetries (equivalences) that may be present or absent. For example, an account that appeals to social prestige of specific linguistic behaviour implies an asymmetry between different variants of a linguistic variable; alternatively, an account that appeals to social network structure implies an asymmetry between the identity of an innovator. A fairly general mathematical framework is then used to show that these symmetries impose constraints on how the community-wide frequency of an innovation can change over time, and in particular we show that the widely-observed empirical pattern of an S-curve temporal trajectory of change can be captured only if the mechanisms for propagation include differential weighting of the competing variants in a change, except under highly specialized circumstances that probably do not hold in speech communities in general.

And here’s the abstract for the masterclass:

In this informal session, I will set out my views on the role that mathematical models may – and may not – play in answering questions about language change. I will discuss in particular the Utterance Selection Model developed in collaboration with Gareth Baxter, William Croft and Alan McKane, focussing in particular on the rationale underpinning the choices we made, and some of the questions we have been able to answer with it. Participants are invited to bring along their own thoughts about models of language change, and/or contribute to the debate as to how much we can learn from them.

All are welcome!

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