Age Pattern: Language and Age

The age pattern is a typical sociolinguistic pattern based on the age of a speaker. It describes a characteristic type of age-graded linguistic variation and describes change in the speech behaviour of individual speakers as they get older. General linguistic tendencies can be determined for different life stages: adolescence – younger adults (up to 50 years of age), older adults (over 50 years of age).

A formulation of the age pattern (age-grading):

There is a relationship between the age of a speaker and the use of a particular linguistic variety in the form that:

  • Adolescents will generally use more non-standard varieties than younger adults (= non-prestige varieties, often specific ‘anti-prestige’). From adolescence to adulthood the use of non-standard forms of speech will gradually decrease in favour of more standard forms of speech (prestige varieties) until a particular stage in late adulthood.

  • The frequency of using standard forms of speech will again decrease within older adults and more non-standard forms (non-prestige varieties) will be used.

The age pattern shows regularity: The pattern is repeated with each new generation of speakers.

The relative frequency of vernacular forms (non-prestige varieties) in different age groups:

Source: Holmes (2001: 168)

Stable variables may exhibit age-grading.

The existence of The Linguistic Marketplace can be seen as an influential factor for the occurrence of age-graded variation.