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Language variation and change within the individual

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If you have a question about this talk, please contact Jamie Douglas.

While the traditional focus of sociolinguistic research has been the speech community, there are nonetheless many questions to be asked and answered about how sociolinguistic variation is stored and produced by individual speakers. In this talk, I’ll discuss how new methodological tools can shed light on two related aspects of sociolinguistic variation at the level of the individual: (i) the nature of individuals’ mental representations of variable phenomena, and (ii) the types of factors that can condition variability. The first half of the talk will address point (i), specifically as it concerns the (in)stability of an individual’s mental representations across their lifespan. This strand of my research makes use of a novel longitudinal dataset collected from Sir David Attenborough’s nature documentary narrations across his half-century-long career. The second part of the talk will address point (ii) by asking how psycholinguistic aspects of the language production system may shape patterns of variation. I’ll present evidence from corpus data on the role of the incremental planning of speech in the patterning of auxiliary contraction in English, and discuss upcoming experimental work to probe these results further. At the end of the talk, I’ll draw conclusions from the presented findings for the nature of grammatical architecture and the cognitive mechanisms that derive varying linguistic forms.

This talk is part of the Cambridge University Linguistic Society (LingSoc) series.

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