Generations, lifespans, and the zeitgeist

Josef Fruehwald (2017)


This paper is equal parts methodological recommendation and an empirical investigation of the time dimensions of linguistic change. It is increasingly common in the sociolinguistic literature for researchers to utilize speech data that was collected over the course of many decades. These kinds of datasets contain three different time dimensions that researchers can utilize to investigate language change: (i) the speakers’ dates of birth, (ii) the speakers’ ages at the time of the recording, and (iii) the date of the recording. Proper investigation of all three time dimensions is crucial for a theoretical understanding of the dynamics of language change. I recommend utilizing two-dimensional tensor product smooths, fit over speakers’ date of birth and the year of the recording, to analyze the contribution of these three time dimensions to linguistic changes. I apply this method to five language changes, based on data drawn from the Philadelphia Neighborhood Corpus. I find relatively weak evidence for lifespan effects in these changes, robust generational effects, and in one case, evidence of a zeitgeist effect.

Published Language Variation and Change 29.1 pp 1-27


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