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Typology in variation: a probabilistic approach to be and n't in the Survey of English Dialects

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  12 July 2007

JOAN BRESNAN
Affiliation:
Department of Linguistics, Stanford University, Stanford CA 94305 USAbresnan@stanford.edu
ASHWINI DEO
Affiliation:
Department of Linguistics, Yale University, 370 Temple Street, PO Box 208366, New Haven CT 06520, USAashwini.deo@yale.edu
DEVYANI SHARMA
Affiliation:
English Department, King's College London, London WC2R 2LS, UKdevyani.sharma@kcl.ac.uk

Abstract

Variation within grammars is a reflection of variation between grammars. Subject agreement and synthetic negation for the verb be show extraordinary local variation in the Survey of English Dialects (Orton et al., 1962–71). Extracting partial grammars of individuals, we confirm leveling patterns across person, number, and negation (Ihalainen, 1991; Cheshire, Edwards & Whittle, 1993; Cheshire, 1996). We find that individual variation bears striking structural resemblances to invariant dialect paradigms, and also reflects typologically observed markedness properties (Aissen, 1999). In the framework of Stochastic Optimality Theory (Boersma & Hayes, 2001), variable outputs of individual speakers are expected to be constrained by the same typological and markedness generalizations found crosslinguistically. The stochastic evaluation of candidate outputs in individual grammars reranks individual constraints by perturbing their ranking values, with the potential for stable variation between two near-identical rankings. The stochastic learning mechanism is sensitive to variable frequencies encountered in the linguistic environment, whether in geographical or social space. In addition to relating individual and group dialectal variation to typological variation (Kortmann, 1999; Anderwald, 2003), the findings suggest that an individual grammar is sensitively tuned to frequencies in the linguistic environment, leading to isolated loci of variability in the grammar rather than complete alternations of paradigms. A characteristic of linguistic variation that has emerged in distinct fields of enquiry is that variation within a single grammar bears a close resemblance to variation across grammars. Sociolinguistic studies, for instance, have long observed that ‘variation within the speech of a single speaker derives from the variation which exists between speakers’ (Bell, 1984: 151). In the present study, individual patterns of variation in subject–verb agreement with affirmative and negative be extracted from the Survey of English Dialects(SED, Orton et al., 1962–71) show striking structural resemblances to patterns of interdialectal, or categorical, variation.

Type
Research Article
Copyright
Cambridge University Press 2007

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Footnotes

We wish to thank Lieselotte Anderwald, Brady Clark, Richard Coates, Andrew Garrett, Jane Grimshaw, Bruce Hayes, Wouter Kusters, Hanjung Lee, Roger Levy, Chris Manning, Elizabeth Traugott, two anonymous reviewers, and audiences at the OT Symposium of the English Linguistic Society of Japan (Kobe, November 2000), the Bay Area Typology Workshop (University of California at Berkeley, March 2001), the 2003 Nijmegen Lectures (Max-Planck Institute, Nijmegen, December 2003), the University of Sussex (February 2005) and ICLCE1 (University of Edinburgh, June 2005) for many comments which have improved earlier versions of this work. We remain solely responsible for all errors of fact and interpretation. This work is based in part on work supported by the National Science Foundation under Grant No. BCS-9818077.
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