Analyzing the Rate of Language Change

Josef Fruehwald, University of Pennyslvania

In this talk, I will argue that it is possible to determine whether
the influence of one segment on another is phonetic or phonological by
examining how they interact during sound change.

I will begin with an introduction to the Philadelphia Neighborhood
Corpus, which has been developed at Penn. It represents both the
cumulative effort of fieldwork since the 1970's and the most recent
developments in automated acoustic analysis (Labov & Rosenfender,
2011). I will then briefly present some of the initial results from
the corpus, specifically the reversal of some sound changes which were
originally identified as new and vigorous in the 1970's (Labov,
Rosenfelder & Fruehwald, forthcoming).

The remaining presentation will focus on the interrelation of
phonology and phonetics, and how this is affected by sound change.
Specifically, some sound changes are conditioned, or favored in
certain linguistic contexts. Whether this conditioning is phonetic or
phonological is an open question, and is another in instantiation of
the  general question of whether the influence of one segment on
another is phonetic or phonological (e.g. Cohn 1993; 2007). I argue
that a comparison of the rates of sound change across contexts is an
important diagnostic for determining whether and when conditioning of
a sound change is phonetic or phonological. This methodology is
actually borrowed from historical syntax (Kroch 1989), but requires
modification in statistical practice for the cases of sound change
examined here.

published on: 29th August 2012