Sociolinguistic Patterns and Language Change

In the section on language and age the age pattern is discussed as a characteristic type of age-graded linguistic variation. It is a typical change in the overall speech behaviour of the individual speaker as (s)he moves through life. The age-pattern is repeated with each new generation of language users. We find that, with respect to the variants of a variable, younger speakers tend to use language differently from older speakers (see here for the age-pattern).

When we compare the speech of younger speakers to that of older speakers in a speech community, we need to consider two factors. First, there is linguistic change in the individual speaker as he or she gets older and in society as variation is repeated with new generations. Second, there is linguistic change in a speech community over time.

The central question is whether linguistic differences based on speaker age constitute an instance of regular age grading or whether these differences can indicate language change in progress. If language change is the case, a linguistic change can be made visible in a deviation from the regular U-curve-like pattern for age-graded variation (see diagrams below about the use of variants of a variable). Such a variable is called a variable involved in linguistic change.

Regular age-grading:

Possible pattern of distribution for a variable when a change is in progress:

Possible pattern of distribution for a variable when a change is in progress:

(Source of the diagrams: McMahon, April M.S. (1994). Understanding Language Change. Cambridge et al.: Cambridge University Press, 241/242).

Stable Variables and Variables Involved in Linguistic Change

Apparent Time and Real Time Studies of Language Change

Change from Above and Change from Below

Language Change and the Problems of Actuation, Transition and Embedding