The Spontaneous Emergence of Language Variation from a Homogeneous Population
12 Pages Posted: 12 Nov 2015 Last revised: 9 Nov 2019
Date Written: August 12, 2015
We present a large scale model of socio-phonetic micro-variation; the simulation involves a system of multiple vowels, each consisting of two acoustic formants, a continuous variable over which vowels may range. The population consists of approximate four thousand agents divided into two groups, each with a related underlying vowel system. In addition, the agents are equipped with a simple method of concept formation in response to their linguistic experience; this allows them to class acoustic input into phonemes. We show, first, that a heterogeneous population will, over time, blend their vowels into a coherent system of vowels. Second, when there are influential agents - Language Leaders - these leaders will introduce distortions into the blending process, although the vowels ultimately blend into a coherent system. Third, when the Language Leaders form a network over which the preferentially talk to each other, the resulting system will be distorted and the segregated groups will fail to blend. Finally, from this result we will show that a homogeneous population, segregated into two groups, will spontaneously exhibit language variation under the influence of language leaders who preferentially signal to each other over a network.
Keywords: language variation, language change, sociolinguistics, agent-based model
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