Skip to main content
    • Aa
    • Aa

Revisiting transmission and diffusion: An agent-based model of vowel chain shifts across large communities

  • James N. Stanford (a1) and Laurence A. Kenny (a1)

In this study, we present the first agent-based simulation of vowel chain shifts across large communities, providing a parsimonious reinterpretation of Labov's (2007) notions of transmission, diffusion, and incrementation. Labov determined that parent-to-child transmission faithfully reproduces structural patterns such as the Northern Cities Shift (NCS), but adult-to-adult diffusion does not. NCS is transmitted faithfully to new generations of U.S. Inland North children. But St. Louis speakers, depending only on adult-adult contact, only attain an incomplete, unsystematic version. Labov (2007) attributed the difference to children's superior language-learning ability; transmission and diffusion are categorically different processes in that approach. By contrast, our multiagent simulation suggests that such transmission/diffusion effects can be derived by simple density of interactions and simple exemplar learning; we also find that incrementation is a natural outcome of this model. Unlike Labov (2007), this model does not require a dichotomy between transmission and diffusion. While dichotomous assumptions about child versus adult learning may be necessary in other contexts, our results suggest that the NCS effects in Labov (2007) may be explained economically in terms of simple density of interactions between speakers. Our results also provide an agent-based perspective supporting and explicating the notion of speech community.

Linked references
Hide All

This list contains references from the content that can be linked to their source. For a full set of references and notes please see the PDF or HTML where available.

Daniel Abrams , & Steven Strogatz . (2003). Modeling the dynamics of language death. Nature 424:900.

Gareth Baxter , Richard Blythe , William Croft , & Alan McKane . (2006). Utterance selection model of language change. Physical Review E 73:046118.

Richard Blythe , & William Croft . (2009). The speech community in evolutionary dynamics. Language Learning 59(1):4763.

Richard Blythe , & William Croft . (2012). S-curves and the mechanisms of propagation in language change. Language 88(2):269304.

Mary Bucholtz . (1999). “Why be normal?”: Language and identity practices in a community of nerd girls. Language in Society 28:203223.

Joan Bybee . (1994). A view of phonology from a cognitive and functional perspective. Cognitive Linguistics 5:285305.

Joan Bybee . (2001). Phonology and language use. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Joan Bybee . (2010). Language, usage and cognition. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Joan Bybee , & Paul Hopper . (2001). Frequency and the emergence of language structure. Amsterdam: Benjamins.

Eve Clark . (2009). First language acquisition. 2nd ed.Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Bart De Boer . (2000). Self-organization in vowel systems. Journal of Phonetics 28(4):441465.

Bart De Boer , & William Zuidema . (2010). Multi-agent simulations of the evolution of combinatorial phonology. Adaptive Behavior 18(2):141154.

Zsuzsanna Fagyal , Samarth Swarup , Anna Maria Escobar , Les Gasser , & Kiran Lakkaraju . (2010). Centers and peripheries: Network roles in language change. Lingua 120:20612079.

Anthony Giddens . (1979). Central problems in social theory: Action, structure, and contradiction in social analysis. Berkeley: University of California Press.

Keith Johnson . (2000). Adaptive dispersion in vowel perception. Phonetica 57:181188.

Keith Johnson . (2006). Resonance in an exemplar-based model: The emergence of social identity and phonology. Journal of Phonetics 34:485499.

Paul Kerswill , & Ann Williams . (2000). Creating a New Town koine: Children and language change in Milton Keynes. Language in Society 29:65115.

William A. Kretzschmar Jr. (2009). The linguistics of speech. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

William Labov . (2007). Transmission and diffusion. Language 83:344387.

William Labov . (2010). Principles of linguistic change. Vol. 3: Cognitive and cultural factors. Malden: Wiley Blackwell.

Johan Liljencrants , & Bjorn Lindblom . (1972). Numerical simulations of vowel quality systems: The role of perceptual contrast. Language 48:839862.

Ian Maddieson . (1984). Patterns of sounds. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Corrine McCarthy . (2011). The Northern Cities Shift in Chicago. Journal of English Linguistics 39(2):166187.

Norma Mendoza-Denton . (2008). Homegirls: Language and cultural practice among Latina youth gangs. Malden: Blackwell.

James W. Minett , & William S.-Y Wang . (2008). Modeling endangered languages: The effects of bilingualism and social structure. Lingua 118:1945.

Partha Niyogi , & Robert Berwick . (2009). The proper treatment of language acquisition and change in a population setting. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 106(25):1012410129.

Martin Nowak , Natalia Komarova , & Partha Niyogi . (2002). Computational and evolutionary aspects of language. Nature 417:611617.

Pierre-Yves Oudeyer , & Frederic Kaplan . (2007). Language evolution as a Darwinian process: Computational studies. Cognitive Processing 8:2135.

Janet Pierrehumbert . (2001). Exemplar dynamics: Word frequency, lenition, and contrast. In J. Bybee & P. Hopper (eds.), Frequency effects and the emergence of lexical structure. Amsterdam: Benjamins. 137157.

Teresa Satterfield . (2001). Toward a sociogenetic solution: Examining language formation processes through SWARM modeling. Social Science Computer Review 19:281295.

Jean-Luc Schwartz , Louis-Jean Boe , Nathalie Vallee , & Christian Abry . (1997). The dispersion-focalization theory of vowel systems. Journal of Phonetics 25:255286.

James N. Stanford (2008). Child dialect acquisition: New perspectives on parent/peer influence. Journal of Sociolinguistics 12:567596.

Luc Steels , & Angus McIntyre . (1999). Spatially distributed naming games. Advances in Complex Systems 1:301323.

Michael Tomasello . (2009). The usage-based theory of language acquisition. In E. Bavin (ed.), The Cambridge handbook of child language. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. 6988.

Peter Trudgill . (2008). Colonial dialect contact in the history of European languages: On the irrelevance of identity to new-dialect formation. Language in Society 37(2):241254.

Peter Trudgill . (2010). Investigations in sociohistorical linguistics. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Zhihui Wang , Le Zhang , Jonathan Sagotsky , & Thomas Deisboeck . (2007). Simulating non-small cell lung cancer with a multiscale agent-based model. Theoretical Biology and Medical Modelling 4:50.

Andrew Wedel . (2006). Exemplar models, evolution and language change. The Linguistic Review 23:247274.

Recommend this journal

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

Language Variation and Change
  • ISSN: 0954-3945
  • EISSN: 1469-8021
  • URL: /core/journals/language-variation-and-change
Please enter your name
Please enter a valid email address
Who would you like to send this to? *


Full text views

Total number of HTML views: 4
Total number of PDF views: 100 *
Loading metrics...

Abstract views

Total abstract views: 245 *
Loading metrics...

* Views captured on Cambridge Core between September 2016 - 19th August 2017. This data will be updated every 24 hours.