Life-span trajectories in the realization of (ING): A dynamic perspective
2022-04-14, 15:00–15:30 (Europe/Vienna), Room 1

This paper aims to contribute to our understanding of the range and the determinants of post-adolescent linguistic malleability (Bowie & Yaeger-Dror 2015, Sankoff & Blondeau 2007). Panel research has collated a wealth of studies exploring changes across the life-span of the individual speaker. These provide us with a series of snapshots into age-specific linguistic choices at different stages of the human life-course. However, previous panel research lacks the dynamic context needed to model changes in individual speakers as they move through consecutive life stages. In this paper, we report on a novel dataset which traces the trajectories of 12 speakers from the Tyneside area in the North East of England across some of the key adult “life experiences that give age meaning” (Eckert 1997:167). These speakers were recorded two or three times respectively in a highly controlled interview situation. Speakers are divided into an ‘old panel’ (with participants recorded in 1971, then again in 2014 and 2019), and a ‘young panel’ (with participants recorded in 2009, 2014, and 2019).

The sociolinguistic literature makes clear predictions about life stage-related patterns of linguistic variation and change. This includes the adolescent peak, the middle age trough, and the tail in older age (Buchstaller 2006, Chambers 2008, Labov 2001, inter alia). We report on a larger project which aims to test hypotheses put forth by the existing panel literature by exploring dynamic changes of variable forms throughout individual adults’ lifespan. This presentation focuses on the variable realization of (ING), the paradigm case for a stable variable. Previous panel work has explored speaker’s realization of the nasal alternation at a number of life-stage specific transitions, such as maturational effects during primary and secondary school (Van Hofwegen & Wolfram 2018), as well as the juncture between high school and university (Wagner 2012). What is lacking, however, is empirical evidence to support sociolinguistic assumptions about speakers’ trajectory across the lifespan as a whole. Our innovative panel design allows us to explore the realisation of the alveolar/velar nasal alternation across the key adult life stages, spanning university and emergent adulthood, into retirement.

A prior analysis of variation in (ING) that draws on the first two time points for the older speakers in this panel corpus reveals a complex set of trajectories that can be explained on the basis of phonetic, life-span specific, and individual factors (Mechler & Buchstaller 2019).

The present paper substantially extends this analysis via the addition of a young panel, as well as a third recording for a subset of the speakers. This provides us with a complex dynamic picture of aging, including individual and group-based constraints as well as the limits of linguistic maturation.


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Lea is a student assistant in the Sociolab led by Prof. Isabelle Buchstaller at the University of Duisburg-Essen. She is interested in language variation and change.

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