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The University of Southampton
Centre for Linguistics, Language Education and Acquisition Research

Signs of life in language death Seminar

Languages, Cultures and Linguistics
16:30 - 18:00
14 November 2018
Building 65 Lecture Theatre B Avenue Campus SO17 1BF

For more information regarding this seminar, please email Prof Roumyana Slabakova at .

Event details

Part of the annual seminar series for CLLEAR.

A general principle of sociolinguistic theory is that speakers style shift (i.e. vary the way in which they talk from moment to moment). This has traditionally been conceived of as a continuum ranging from more or less casual to formal styles, reflecting attention to speech (Labov 1971). However, contrary to Labov’s Principle of style shifting, studies in language obsolescence have argued that speakers of dying languages are ‘monostylistic’ (e.g. Dressler 1972:454), a characterization questioned in this presentation. We examine quantitative evidence from native speakers and adult learners of Francoprovençal: a severely endangered language spoken transnationally across French, Italian and Swiss borders, which has recently become the focus of revitalisation efforts. We will ask (a) to what extent variability in language obsolescence differs from that found in ‘healthy’ languages, and (b) how innovations might spread through communities speaking threatened languages characterized as 'monostylistic’,given that style shifting is a central resource for linguistic change. It will be shown that, while categorical rules can come to apply optionally in the process of language death (i.e. ‘linguistic decay’), this underspecification can give rise to new forms of socio-stylistic variation. Therefore, monostylism is not inevitable. Among a community of L2 learners dedicated to language revitalisation, the evidence points to an emergent sociolinguistic norm without precedence in the speech communities under study. The results offer fresh insights on how new variants can emerge and acquire social meaning over time.

Speaker information

Jonathan Kasstan, QMUL. Leverhulme Early Career Fellow

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