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  • Print publication year: 2020
  • Online publication date: November 2020

2 - The Analysis of Sociolinguistic Change over the Lifespan


The approach to language variation developed over the last half century has focused on systematic variation of variants for a single structural unit under the construct of the linguistic variable. While this approach may offer important detail for particular variables, it is essential to examine the overall configuration of a language variety as well. Composite linguistic measures facilitate the exploration of social factors and offer a profile of change for the entire linguistic system. We describe the methodological tools to provide a global description of language variation, “the composite index”, and to fully capture when and why individuals change their linguistic behavior over time. We emphasize the need to view language as a system by moving beyond individual variables to more fully characterize the ways in which individual linguistic features move in-tandem across the lifespan. The study demonstrates that a composite index score like the Dialect Density Measure (DDM) can be used as a means of tracking trajectories of language use across the lifespan on a unidimensional scale.

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