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The long tail of language change: A trend and panel study of Québécois French futures

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  16 June 2020

Gillian Sankoff
Affiliation:
University of Pennsylvania
Suzanne Evans Wagner
Affiliation:
Michigan State University
Corresponding

Abstract

A previous panel study of 59 speakers of Montreal French showed an increase in inflected futures (IF) at the expense of periphrastic futures (PF) as this population aged, running counter to the direction of historical change: reduction of IF. Matching two samples of speakers across the same time interval by age and social characteristics, the current trend study investigates whether or not this increase reflects retrograde change in the speech community. Results show community stability over the same period, confirming the earlier age grading interpretation and disconfirming any possibility that the disappearance of IF may be reversing. We propose that this pattern of retrograde lifespan change may emerge from a combination of social forces typically found in late stages of language change, with concomitant stylistic effect. Further, such a pattern may suggest the mechanism that creates a very long tail for retreating variants.

Résumé

Résumé

Une étude par panel longitudinal antérieure a révélé une augmentation de l'utilisation des verbes conjugués au futur simple (FS) au détriment des verbes conjugués au futur proche (FP) par 59 locuteurs du français montréalais au cours du temps. Ceci allait à l'encontre de la direction reconnue du changement historique, à savoir vers une réduction de l'utilisation du FS. En comparant deux groupes de locuteurs correspondant par l’âge et par leurs caractéristiques sociales au cours du même intervalle temporel, la présente étude des tendances cherche à déterminer si cette augmentation reflète un changement rétrograde dans la communauté linguistique. Nos résultats démontrent une stabilité communautaire durant la même période, ce qui confirme l'interprétation précédente, et infirme la possibilité d'un renversement de la disparition du FS. Nous proposons que cette tendance rétrograde pendant la durée de vie des locuteurs en cause peut être l'effet d'une combinaison de forces sociales qui se manifestent typiquement aux étapes avancées des changements linguistiques, avec un effet stylistique concomitant. De plus, une telle tendance appuie l'idée d'un terme long pour la disparition finale des variantes linguistiques en rechapage.

Type
Article
Copyright
Copyright © Canadian Linguistic Association/Association canadienne de linguistique 2020

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Footnotes

We are grateful to the Killam Foundation and to the Ministère de l’Éducation du Québec for funding the original Montreal French project, and to the U. S. National Science Foundation for funding the analysis on which this paper is based (“Language Change Across the Lifespan,” BCS-0132463). Without the restudy directed by Diane Vincent and Pierrette Thibault in 1984, this longitudinal research would not have been possible. Thanks in particular to Pierrette Thibault for consultation at many stages of this work, and to Julie Corder Medero, who wrote and revised our Python scripts. For comments, corrections, suggestions, and additional readings, we also thank Hélène Blondeau, Laura Jensen, Bill Labov, and three anonymous reviewers for RCL/CJL.

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