Invited Speakers

William Labov
University of Pennsylvania

Enigmas of Uniformity

The systematic study of variation begins with the principle of accountability, reporting the non-occurrence as well as the occurrence of the item of interest. This requires the definition of a closed set of possibilities, an invariant structural base for the variation in focus. A number of studies have found a remarkable uniformity of this structural base across the speech community, but how such uniformity is achieved has never been demonstrated. How new forms spread so rapidly has not yet been explained. The problem of accounting for uniformity across large geographic areas is complicated by the observation that extensive contact and travel is largely characteristic of adults, and diffusion through adults appears to lack the precision needed to achieve uniformity. It would seem that the main instruments of uniform transmission must be relatively small numbers of children. The spread of the low back merger detected among young children in Eastern Massachusetts by Johnson 2007 points to the crucial research site for resolving these questions.


Rena Torres Cacoullos
The Pennsylvania State University

Yo and I in New Mexico:
Accounting for variation in evaluating convergence via code-switching

Despite much speculation about the relationship between code-switching and grammatical convergence, or structural similarity due to language contact, empirical evidence of such a relationship is scarce. This study tests the hypothesis that code-switching is a 'causal mechanism' of grammatical convergence, as has been claimed by some scholars of language contact (e.g. Backus 2004:179, Gumperz and Wilson 1971; Thomason 2001, inter alia), by investigating Spanish variable first-person singular subject (yo) expression in bilingual conversations of New Mexican speakers of Spanish and English. Our results demonstrate that first-person singular subject expression in New Mexican Spanish follows the same patterning, conditioned by the same internal constraints, as monolingual varieties and that this is the case regardless of the degree of bilingualism. We thus find that the data do not support Spanish convergence with English in this variety, nor code-switching as a mechanism of contact-induced change. We conclude that the study of the linguistic consequences of contact must rely on comparison of variable patterns, including consideration of priming, which may modestly raise the rate of a parallel structure without involving grammatical change.

Plenary panel

Henrietta J. Cedergren
Université du Québec à Montréal

David Sankoff
University of Ottawa

Gillian Sankoff
University of Pennsylvania

Suzanne Laberge
Université de Montréal

Pierrette Thibault
Université de Montréal

Before there were corpora: the Montreal French Project
in the early days of sociolinguistics

In 1969-70, sociolinguistics as we know it today was in its infancy. Labov’s work in New York City had inspired Fasold, Shuy and Wolfram and others working on similar communities. Peter Trudgill was planning his project in Norwich, and Henrietta Cedergren had carried out variationist research on Spanish in Panama City. In Montreal, Cedergren and Gillian Sankoff, who had first met as graduate students at a Linguistic Institute in 1964, ran into each other and discovered mutual interests that led to the Montreal French Project. David Sankoff supplied theoretical and technical expertise, and a group of advanced graduate students contributed many important ideas.

This panel, gathering together for the first time in four decades the members of the original Montreal French Project, will discuss the context of the methodological advances in sampling, and constitution, transcription, computerization and exploitation of large-scale corpora of spontaneous speech that developed out of this project, as well as technical developments in variable rule analysis. Theoretical constructs developed by the Montreal group which continue to inform practice today include concepts of the linguistic marketplace, weak complementarity, neutralization in discourse, and syntactic variation. Forty years down the road, the panel will also explain the rationale behind the subsequent real-time investigation of speakers from the original Montreal corpus, and how the three successive corpora have enabled us to understand linguistic change, in apparent time, real time and across the lifespan.