Real-Time Language Change The Moral of the Essay

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Real-Time Language Change

"The moral of the story is that if we think we observe a change in progress from a to B, we need to provide evidence not just of the existence of B, but also of the prior existence of A" (Britain, 2008:1).

So it is how Britain summarizes his overall findings of an investigation into the origins of a conservative conservational variant in 19th century New Zealand English. It turns out to be the case that the MOUTH diphthong that he was looking into was not really all the present in actual usage as had often been thought. And yet the changes that did not come about did not arise in isolation, which was why they were seen as being movement away from what others would assume to be a standardized language base (Coupland, 2010). Instead, it was more of an example of why it is important to more fully understanding the importance of the need for greater detailed and explicit knowledge of the structure of the dialect and the demographics of those who are thought to be the ones making language change occur (Fagyal et al., 16).

Why Britain's work can be seen as important stems not from its specifics but from the fact that in many ways it is its own harbinger of change -- one seeking to conceptualize a hybrid of sociolinguistic innovation and social change writ fast and undeniably by modern technologies that have the ability to operate in both apparent and real time settings, namely media ranging from television to computer accessibility (Coupland, 2010). Whether looking at language change patterns longitudinally (with a different meaning of real time) or synchronically (apparent time), the downfall of the underlying assumptions of these two perspectives comes from their viewpoints failing to focus sufficient attention on a third leg of understanding (perhaps a "C" element to Britain's moralistic formulization; as in "C" perhaps for connectivity!). Globalization and computerization of study and language itself makes it possible for us to see and experience through graphic representations and manipulations the true dynamics of change as it happen no matter whether the setting is synchronic or diachronic (Auer and Schmidt, 2009). Modern technological capabilities make the "period effects" of the past part of true simulations that bring about an entirely different game of language change (Coupland, 2010:76).

The dramatic changes that technology offers are only now beginning to be factored into this area of study. Still, in understanding the unfolding of the new dynamics made possible by "computer-mediated communications" (Gao, 2008), it is useful to look through the lenses of the real and apparent time approaches in that they remain evident throughout out much of the existing research. This piece seeks to do this while seeking to incorporate some of the technological potentials that are also at work to give a clearer understanding of why the future may no longer be so dependent upon the past to understand language change as it actually happens.

APPARENT-TIME: It is safe to say that, for the most part, apparent-time assessments of language change grew out of the necessity of quantitative ease. It was simply more pragmatic to explore synchronically and then to extrapolate from that single point in time to what might happen in later periods. If the elements of either minor language changes or major innovations could be seen and isolated, it would be easier to predict which would stay true into the future. Turell (2003) draws attention to this by noting the methodological simplicity of doing this across simultaneous age groups and then distinguishing which changes are connected to the language modification and which are associated with the normal gradations of physical and communication maturity -- the kind of language development found in all persons (Turell, 2003:5).

Kallel, in looking back on the periphrastic 'do' in English offers a rather clear-cut family representation of this concern:

Where a change is taking place, a certain variant will occur in the speech of children, though it is rare, or absent, in the speech of their parents. A variant in the parents' speech will occur in the speech of their children with greater frequency, and in the speech of their grandchildren with even greater frequency. In the community at large, successive generations will show incremental frequencies in the use of the innovative variant. The ultimate consequence of this will be the categorical use of that new variant and the elimination of older variants (Kallel, 2002: 163).

The age-gradation factor has become central to this understanding of the apparent time model even though its components can be difficult to isolate (Gao, 2008:363). Distinguishing what happens in each of the age collective snapshots becomes more problematic for several reasons that relate to theoretical assumptions and practical considerations. For one thing, apparent-time theories seem to presuppose that the underlying "S" shaped pattern of using and accepting the change is clear and consistent. Change in this understanding starts gradually, possibly testing and reverting to accepted understandings, and then speeds up until it levels off over time, graphically forming an S. pattern (Matsuda, 2002: Fagyal et al., 2010:2). This "stability hypothesis" is most consistent with normative expectations across the lifespan where young people are less tied to standards of usage but then grow into greater acceptance as they age (Lifespan, nd.: 4). People have to go through these steps in order to ensure orderly change. Matsuda further connects the necessity of this slow but steady and consistent progression as being central to the apparent-time model -- something that theorists have argued for in describing why waves of usage occur across generations or study cohorts. Matsuda uses this characteristic to draw distinctions in regard to whether the linguistic context is a dependent or independent variable of age (Matsuda, 2002). If they are related, then the changes are part of the age grading and not fundamental change in the making.

A key weakness of the apparent-time perspective, however, comes from the fact that in these instances time and even the underlying motivations for social change are effectively held in stasis (Fagyal et al., 2010:3). Coupland puts it this way:

The time that matters most for the apparent time method is the end of the critical period for language acquisition, when people's vernacular speech norms are, it is argued, consolidated, allowing young adult speech patterns across a range of familiar social categories such as gender and class to stand for their cohort types. There is no interest in how any particular historical configuration, in a socio-cultural sense, might shape the forms or functions of the speech varieties or systems in question (2010:56).

Other studies have gone into much greater detail about some of these weaknesses (Auer and Schmidt, 2009). When and from where the individual groups are drawn, regional variations, whether the language changes are iconic or brought into being by "loners" or "in-betweeners," as Fagyal et al. (2010) have suggested, each becomes more relevant in understanding if the impact is as true and honest as thought -- an extension of Britain's (2003) earlier concern about period effects. "Ideolectic," or unexpected and seemingly out-of-place changes, that don't fit in would under this mindset be rejected for fear of drawing researchers into too many potential areas, and thus confusing what might have really occurred (Turell, 2003:3) Studies on social networking and how people interact in artificially constructed social gaming sessions will later expand upon these concerns but in a way that values and explores what it means when unusual changes at least get started. It should also be understood that apparent-time change may not be able to make adequate distinctions between the various levels of change, which can occur for individuals or for the community as a whole. Traditional studies such as those focused on Martha's Vineyard, for example, have helped to established the critical role that youth and language acquisition plays in starting innovations; but later extensions have demonstrated that scientific methods, discourse analytics and psycho-social factors are also critical in understanding when that change really settles in (Schilling-Estes, nd). These issues are also becoming less clear as technology (often thought to be a young person's game) is in fact being accepted by older audiences, many of whom are more readily jumping into accepting fairly significant language and communication patterns, as will be discussed below.

(NOTE: If I were you I might add a summary of the PowerPoint type material you gave me here, but it is not sufficient for me to make enough sense out of it. This might link the paper closer to your classroom experience.)

REAL-TIME CHANGE: There are, of course, other theoretical ways to look at linguistic change and how it has actually played out across time (Vogt, 2009: 253). Real-time presumptions are grounded in this expectation. Picking representative groups synchronically is almost always considered a less desirable approach than actually looking at the generational change over an extended period of time (Matsuda, 2002). If researchers can literally document what happened in all of its…[continue]

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