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Computer Simulation of Dialect Feature Diffusion

  • William A. Kretzschmar (a1), Ilkka Juuso (a2) and C. Thomas Bailey (a3)


This paper describes the independent construction and implementation of two cellular automata that model dialect feature diffusion as the adaptive aspect of the complex system of speech. We show how a feature, once established, can spread across an area, and how the distribution of a dialect feature as it stands in Linguistic Atlas data could either spread or diminish. Cellular automata use update rules to determine the status of a feature at a given location with respect to the status of its neighboring locations. In each iteration all locations in a matrix are evaluated, and then the new status for each one is displayed all at once. Throughout hundreds of iterations, we can watch regional distributional patterns emerge as a consequence of these simple update rules. We validate patterns with respect to the linguistic distributions known to occur in the Linguistic Atlas Project.


Corresponding author

* Address for correspondence: Bill Kretzschmar, Dept of English, University of Georgia, Athens, GA 30602. 706-542-2246 Email


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