Skip to main content
×
×
Home

Neutral change 1

  • HENRI KAUHANEN (a1)
Abstract

Language change is neutral if the probability of a language learner adopting any given linguistic variant only depends on the frequency of that variant in the learner’s environment. Ruling out non-neutral motivations of change, be they sociolinguistic, computational, articulatory or functional, a theory of neutral change insists that at least some instances of language change are essentially due to random drift, demographic noise and the social dynamics of finite populations; consequently, it has remained little investigated in the historical and sociolinguistics literature, which has generally been on the lookout for more substantial causes of change. Indeed, recent computational studies have argued that a neutral mechanism cannot give rise to ‘well-behaved’ time series of change which would align with historical data, for instance to generate S-curves. In this paper, I point out a methodological shortcoming of those studies and introduce a mathematical model of neutral change which represents the language community as a dynamic, evolving network of speakers. With computer simulations and a quantitative operationalization of what it means for change to be well-behaved, I show that this model exhibits well-behaved neutral change provided that the language community is suitably clusterized. Thus, neutral change is not only possible but is in fact a characteristic emergent property of a class of social networks. From a theoretical point of view, this finding implies that neutral theories of change deserve more (serious) consideration than they have traditionally received in diachronic and variationist linguistics. Methodologically, it urges that if change is to be successfully modelled, some of the traditional idealizing assumptions employed in much mathematical modelling must be done away with.

Copyright
Corresponding author
Author’s address: The University of Manchester, Linguistics and English Language, Samuel Alexander Building, Oxford Road, Manchester, M13 9PL, UK henri.kauhanen@manchester.ac.uk
Footnotes
Hide All
[1] I thank Ricardo Bermúdez-Otero, David Denison, Tobias Galla and George Walkden for numerous discussions which have contributed greatly to this paper; Laurel MacKenzie, Alan McKane, Mark Muldoon and three anonymous Journal of Linguistics reviewers for comments which resulted in important improvements; audiences at the Student Conference in Complexity Science 2014 (Sussex), the Manchester Forum in Linguistics 2014 (Manchester), the International Conference on Computational Social Science 2015 (Aalto University), the 2015 Meeting of the Linguistics Association of Great Britain (UCL) and the Theory Club of the Cognitive Science Unit at the University of Helsinki, as well as Fernanda Barrientos, Deepthi Gopal, Michaela Hejná and Yuni Kim for feedback; the Faculty of Engineering and Physical Sciences at The University of Manchester for CPU time; and the School of Arts, Languages and Cultures, University of Manchester, and Emil Aaltonen Foundation for financial support.
Footnotes
References
Hide All
Alonso David, Etienne Rampal S. & McKane Alan J.. 2006. The merits of neutral theory. Trends in Ecology and Evolution 21.8, 451457.
Anttila Raimo. 1989. Historical and comparative linguistics, 2nd edn. Amsterdam: Benjamins.
Bailey Charles-James N. 1973. Variation and linguistic theory. Arlington, VA: Center for Applied Linguistics.
Barabási Albert-László & Albert Réka. 1999. Emergence of scaling in random networks. Science 286, 509512.
Baxter Gareth J., Blythe Richard A., Croft William & McKane Alan J.. 2006. Utterance selection model of language change. Physical Review E 73, 046118.
Baxter Gareth J., Blythe Richard A., Croft William & McKane Alan J.. 2009. Modeling language change: An evaluation of Trudgill’s theory of the emergence of New Zealand English. Language Variation and Change 21.2, 257296.
Blythe Richard A. & Croft William. 2012. S-curves and the mechanisms of propagation in language change. Language 88.2, 269304.
Coussé Evie & De Sutter Gert. 2012. De historische wortels van de rode en groene volgorde in het Nederlands. Taal en Tongval 64, 73101.
Croft William. 2000. Explaining language change: An evolutionary approach. Harlow: Longman.
Denison David. 2003. Log(ist)ic and simplistic S-curves. In Hickey Raymond (ed.), Motives for language change, 5470. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Fagyal Zsuzsanna, Swarup Samarth, Escobar Anna María, Gasser Les & Lakkaraju Kiran. 2010. Centers and peripheries: Network roles in language change. Lingua 120, 20612079.
Ghanbarnejad Fakhteh, Gerlach Martin, Miotto José M. & Altmann Eduardo G.. 2014. Extracting information from S-curves of language change. Journal of the Royal Society Interface 11, 20141044.
Gross Thilo, Dommar D’Lima Carlos J. & Blasius Bernd. 2006. Epidemic dynamics on an adaptive network. Physical Review Letters 96, 208701.
Harrington Jonathan. 2006. An acoustic analysis of ‘happy-tensing’ in the Queen’s Christmas broadcasts. Journal of Phonetics 34, 439457.
Hawkins John A. 1990. Seeking motives for change in typological variation. In Croft William, Denning Keith & Kemmer Suzanne (eds.), Studies in typology and diachrony: Papers presented to Joseph H. Greenberg on his 75th birthday, 95128. Amsterdam: Benjamins.
Hubbell Stephen B. 2001. The unified neutral theory of biodiversity and biogeography. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.
Hull David L. 1988. Science as a process. Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press.
Itkonen Esa. 1981. Rationality as an explanatory principle in linguistics. In Geckeler Horst, Schlieben-Lange Brigitte, Trabant Jürgen & Weydt Harald (eds.), Logos semantikos: Studia linguistica in honorem Eugenio Coseriu 1921–1981, vol. 2, 7787. Berlin: De Gruyter.
Itkonen Esa. 1982. Short-term and long-term teleology in linguistic change. In Peter Maher J., Bomhard Allan R. & Konrad Koerner E. F. (eds.), Papers from the 3rd International Conference on Historical Linguistics, 85118. Amsterdam: Benjamins.
Ke Jinyun, Gong Tao & Wang William S.-Y.. 2008. Language change and social networks. Communications in Computational Physics 3.4, 935949.
Kerswill Paul. 1996. Children, adolescents, and language change. Language Variation and Change 8, 177202.
Kimura Motoo. 1994. Population genetics, molecular evolution, and the neutral theory. Chicago, IL: The University of Chicago Press.
Kivelä Mikko, Arenas Alex, Barthelemy Marc, Gleeson James P., Moreno Yamir & Porter Mason A.. 2014. Multilayer networks. Journal of Complex Networks 2, 203271.
Komarova Natalia L., Niyogi Partha & Nowak Martin A.. 2001. The evolutionary dynamics of grammar acquisition. Journal of Theoretical Biology 209, 4359.
Kroch Anthony S. 1989. Reflexes of grammar in patterns of language change. Language Variation and Change 1.3, 199244.
Labov William. 1972. Sociolinguistic patterns. Philadelphia, PA: University of Pennsylvania Press.
Lass Roger. 1997. Historical linguistics and language change. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Lightfoot David. 1979. Principles of diachronic syntax. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Lightfoot David. 1999. The development of language: Acquisition, change, and evolution. Malden, MA: Blackwell.
Milroy James & Milroy Lesley. 1985. Linguistic change, social network and speaker innovation. Journal of Linguistics 21.2, 339384.
Milroy Lesley. 1980. Language and social networks. Oxford: Blackwell.
Mitchener W. Garrett. 2006. A mathematical model of the loss of verb-second in Middle English. In Ritt N., Schendl H., Dalton-Puffer C. & Kastovsky D. (eds.), Medieval English and its heritage, 189202. Frankfurt am Main: Peter Lang.
Nahkola Kari & Saanilahti Marja. 2004. Mapping language changes in real time: A panel study on Finnish. Language Variation and Change 16, 7592.
Niyogi Partha & Berwick Robert C.. 1997. A dynamical systems model for language change. Complex Systems 11, 161204.
Niyogi Partha & Berwick Robert C.. 2009. The proper treatment of language acquisition and change in a population setting. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 106.25, 1012410129.
Ohala John J. 1989. Sound change is drawn from a pool of synchronic variation. In Breivik L. E. & Jahr E. H. (eds.), Language change: Contributions to the study of its causes, 173198. Berlin: Mouton de Gruyter.
Pierrehumbert Janet B. 2001. Exemplar dynamics: Word frequency, lenition and contrast. In Bybee Joan L. & Hopper Paul J. (eds.), Frequency and the emergence of linguistic structure, 137157. Amsterdam: Benjamins.
Postal Paul M. 1968. Aspects of phonological theory. New York, NY: Harper & Row.
Postma Gertjan. 2010. The impact of failed changes. In Breitbarth Anne, Lucas Christopher, Watts Sheila & Willis David (eds.), Continuity and change in grammar, 269302. Amsterdam: Benjamins.
Reeve H. Kern & Keller Laurent. 1999. Levels of selection: Burying the units-of-selection debate and unearthing the crucial new issues. In Keller Laurent (ed.), Levels of selection in evolution, 314. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.
Roberts Ian & Roussou Anna. 2003. Syntactic change: A minimalist approach to grammaticalization. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Rogers Everett M. & Floyd Shoemaker F.. 1971. Communication of innovations, 2nd edn. New York, NY: Free Press.
Sankoff Gillian & Blondeau Hélène. 2007. Language change across the lifespan: /r/ in Montreal French. Language 83.3, 560588.
Traulsen Arne, Santos Francisco C. & Pacheco Jorge M.. 2009. Evolutionary games in self-organizing populations. In Gross T. & Sayama H. (eds.), Adaptive networks: Theory, models and applications, 253267. Cambridge, MA: NECSI.
Trudgill Peter. 2008. Colonial dialect contact in the history of European languages: On the irrelevance of identity to new-dialect formation. Language in Society 37, 241254.
Vennemann Theo. 1993. Language change as language improvement. In Jones Charles (ed.), Historical linguistics: Problems and perspectives, 319344. London: Longman.
Wallenberg Joel C.2013. A unified theory of stable variation, syntactic optionality, and syntactic change. Talk delivered at the 15th Diachronic Generative Syntax (DiGS) Conference, University of Ottawa, August 2, 2013.
Yang Charles D. 2000. Internal and external forces in language change. Language Variation and Change 12, 231250.
Recommend this journal

Email your librarian or administrator to recommend adding this journal to your organisation's collection.

Journal of Linguistics
  • ISSN: 0022-2267
  • EISSN: 1469-7742
  • URL: /core/journals/journal-of-linguistics
Please enter your name
Please enter a valid email address
Who would you like to send this to? *
×

Keywords:

Metrics

Full text views

Total number of HTML views: 20
Total number of PDF views: 230 *
Loading metrics...

Abstract views

Total abstract views: 762 *
Loading metrics...

* Views captured on Cambridge Core between September 2016 - 22nd January 2018. This data will be updated every 24 hours.