NWAV Workshop: Longitudinal Studies

Walt Wolfram, North Carolina State University; Gillian Sankoff, University of Pennsylvania; John Rickford, Stanford University; Janneke Van Hofwegen, Stanford University; Mary Kohn, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill; Charlie Farrington, University of Oregon

As the study of language variation and change has advanced over the past half-century, it has become apparent that there is a need for longitudinal studies to complement and to challenge some of the assumptions of the apparent-time construct. How do apparent-time and real-time models of language change converge and contrast in modeling language change over time, and what are the parameters of language change over the lifespan of a speaker? Theoretically, there are questions about the nature of and the constraints on change over the lifespan of an individual, questions about stability and change within the individual and the speech community, and questions about the interface between individual change and community change over time. Many of these questions cannot be answered without employing longitudinal studies; accordingly, there is now a growing pool of the longitudinal studies in sociolinguistics that raise theoretical, descriptive, and methodological issues for the examination of language stability and change in real time. The workshop offers an opportunity to examine current issues in longitudinal studies presented by a panel of researchers actively addressing these issues empirically, in a range of settings and from different vantage points. Presenters consider descriptive models and analytical paradigms of longitudinal change; stages of development, change, and stability within the lifespan extending from early childhood through adulthood; descriptive models for profiling trajectories of change in real time; and different approaches to the analysis of longitudinal datasets. For example, the longitudinal analysis of individual linguistic variables on different levels of language organization (e.g. vowel change vs. consonantal change, phonological vs. morphosyntactic change, etc.) is compared and contrasted with summary, indexical measures of change (e.g. dialect density measures) to consider how particular linguistic structures and overall varieties may change over the lifespan. There are also a number of practical methodological and analytical issues that arise in longitudinal studies that range from the establishment of comparable social contexts, data collection techniques, and instrumentation procedures. For example, in measuring vowels during childhood and early adolescence, how do we normalize acoustic measurements to accommodate the physical maturation of children during this period while examining socially significant variation? In adulthood, how to we account for the limited potential tokens of particular morphosyntactic and syntactic variables found in traditional sociolinguistic interviews for reliably measuring language variation longitudinally? And how do we arrive at general principles and constraints on possible change over the lifespan?

Presenters will address theoretical, descriptive, and practical issues relating to longitudinal research studies based on their current, diverse research projects. At the same time, they will collaboratively consider principles and procedures that might guide the expanding base of longitudinal studies in sociolinguistics. As a part of the workshop, participants will learn how to code in SALT for indexical dialect scoring in longitudinal dialect studies.