Published online by Cambridge University Press: 30 July 2021
Why does a sound change spread faster among one group of people than another? While variationist sociolinguistics was founded on the idea that a variant’s social meaning might be part of the answer, the proposal is still the source of active debate. Eckert (2008, 2012) calls for a renewed focus on social meaning, articulating the core interest of ‘third wave’ research. Here, we join some recent work that highlights the benefits of combining analytic perspectives from all of Eckert’s (2012) three waves, particularly with respect to the study of sound change. By directly comparing insights from parallel analyses of the same data, we argue that all sound change researchers can potentially benefit from considering a third-wave perspective, in the sense that social change results in indexical change, and this may explain the trajectory of a sound change. Our data come from white and Chinese American residents of San Francisco’s Sunset District, recorded in 2008. As with the COT-CAUGHT merger (Hall-Lew 2013), focus on social change over time suggests that the individuals who came of age during the peak of social change are key to mapping the trajectory of GOAT-fronting.