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Learnability as an explanation of language change in contact settings
Stockholm University, Faculty of Humanities, Department of Archaeology and Classical Studies. Dalarna University, Sweden.ORCID iD: 0000-0001-8840-076X
2017 (English)Conference paper, Oral presentation with published abstract (Other academic)
Abstract [en]

Accelerated language change in contact settings, especially language shift, has commonly been attributed to innovation during the second language acquisition process (Weinreich, 1979; Thomason & Kaufman, 1988). The role of second language speakers in contact-induced change is investigated quantitatively by Bentz et al. (2013) who find negative correlations between the proportions of L2 speakers and morphosyntactic complexity in synchronic cross-linguistic data. At the same time, evolutionary models and experiments have revealed learnability as a general force in language evolution (Kirby 2001, Kirby et al. 2008), suggesting that more learnable features (such as morphological simplicity or compositionality) would be favored by language acquisition in general and not only by second language acquisition. The aim of this paper is to use agent-based modeling and simulations in order to test if diffusion of linguistic innovation in a language shift setting may result from a general acquisition effect reinforced by large proportions of learners, or if special weight needs to be attributed to second language acquisition. The models’ predictions are compared to linguistic and demographic diachronic data from the ongoing language shift from Bantu languages to Portuguese in Maputo, Mozambique.

To model linguistic interaction, I adapted Jansson et al. (2015)’s model of creole formation. Speakers interact pairwise and chose a variant of a linguistic feature based on their probability distribution of usage. Each agent modifies their distribution of usage based on what they heard. The simulation starts with a conservative linguistic variant fixed. After a round of interactions, population turnover occurs with some individuals dying and new first and second language speakers entering. New individuals are assigned with a probability of introducing a novel variant during a period of acquisition.  Experienced speakers accommodate less to learners than vice versa.  To investigate the role of first and second language acquisition, we test if a rate of innovation low enough not to spread in a situation with no recruitment of second language speakers, may result in the observed spread of reduced verbal morphology in Maputo Portuguese when demographic parameters are fixed to data on the number of first and second language speakers in Maputo over the period 1975-2007. The linguistic data comprehend recordings with 20 participants in similar circumstances from two time points (1993 & 2007), where variation between the conservative pre-contact variant (full verbal plural agreement) and the innovative variant (deletion of verbal plural suffix) is quantified. Results show it is possible to account for a stable low level of use of the new variant with standard population turnover, as well as to account for the diffusion of the new variant when the proportion of learners increases due to language shift. With parameters set to demographic data on language shift from Bantu languages to Portuguese in Mozambique, changes in proportions of learners are sufficiently high to account for the spread of new variants. The model where all learners introduce the new variant is a better fit to data than the one where only second language learners introduce the new variant. This suggests that learnability This qualitative deviation suggests that mechanisms included in recent models for replicator-neutral language change may also be important to account for contact-driven change where some variants are inherently favored.

Place, publisher, year, edition, pages
2017.
Keywords [en]
Language contact, language change, agent-based model, Portuguese, Mozambique
National Category
General Language Studies and Linguistics
Identifiers
URN: urn:nbn:se:su:diva-159869OAI: oai:DiVA.org:su-159869DiVA, id: diva2:1246487
Conference
XlanS: Triggers of language change in the Language Sciences, Lyon, France, October 11-13, 2017
Available from: 2018-09-07 Created: 2018-09-07 Last updated: 2018-09-10Bibliographically approved

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