Bermúdez-Otero in Glossa

Posted on January 5, 2021 by

By now you will have surely devoured the Science Advances paper co-authored by Ricardo, and if you have an appetite for more, we have good news for you. Ricardo has done a Hohaus, which is Manchester slang for “published multiple impressive papers in a ridiculously short window of time”. The paper you’re about to discover is a solo gig published in venerable yet edgy Glossa.

“The initiation and incrementation of sound change: Community-oriented momentum-sensitive learning” is an awe-inspiring rumination which essentially nails how sound change works. Linguists have long been puzzling over this one, but they were looking in the wrong place, that is mostly outside the North-West of England. Meanwhile, the answers were hiding in plain sight, that is on Manchet. Consider George Bailey’s research on Velar Nasal Plus in Manchester, Stephen Nichols and George Bailey’s investigation of /s/-retraction in Manchester, Danielle Turton‘s findings on /l/-darkening in English (especially dark in Manchester), and let’s not forget everything we’ve learnt from Maciej Baranowski on Mancunian GOOSE and GOAT. Add a pinch of Henri Kauhanen’s modelling magic and his ideas on neutral change, and it all begins to fall into place, but you will still enjoy being guided through this universe by Ricardo’s beautiful analysis, incisive argumentation and elegant writing peppered with words such as “adumbrated”. To see an example of “adumbrated” used in context, press here. The abstract is below.

This article presents a theory of the initiation and incrementation mechanisms whereby individual phonetic innovations become community-wide sound changes. The theory asserts that language learners are community-oriented and momentum-sensitive: they are community-oriented in that they acquire and obey a mental representation of the collective linguistic norm of their speech community, rejecting individual idiosyncrasies; they are momentum-sensitive in that their mental representation of the community norm includes an age vector encoding linguistic differences between age groups. The theory is shown to fulfil four critical desiderata: (i) it accounts for the sporadic and localized occurrence of community-wide sound change, (ii) it incorporates Ohala’s prediction of a lawful relationship between the strength of the phonetic biases driving individual innovation and the typological frequency of the corresponding sound changes, (iii) it explains how community-wide sound change advances by intergenerational incrementation producing adolescent peaks in apparent time, and (iv) it reliably generates monotonic—including sigmoid—diachronic trajectories. Moreover, the hypotheses of community orientation and sensitivity to momentum, combined with the mechanical effects of density of contact, suffice to explain several macroscopic phenomena in the propagation of sound change, including class stratification, the curvilinear pattern in change from below, and the existence of change reversals. During propagation, linguistic variants do acquire indexical value, and so social meaning, but this produces only small-scale attitudinal effects; it is not the force that drives the intergenerational incrementation of sound change.