Ageing in LVC

Aims of the research project (2019-2021)
Within the field of Language Variation and Change, age is often approached as a social variable. This means that differences in the language of different generations are explained by social motivations. At the same time, age is typically put on par with chronological age; this means social age is established through the speakers’ date of birth. Chronological age may however not be the best correlate of social aspects of ageing and, indeed, the characteristics of age are wonderfully multifaceted (e.g. Eckert 1997). Last but not least, when approaching age as biological (i.e. how fast our bodies age), chronological age is also frequently used in the relevant linguistic research to quantify biological age.

In this light, the first aim of the project is to identify the appropriate methodology currently used in fields other than linguistics, and extend it to the field of Language Variation and Change in order to conduct research that considers social age on the one hand and biological age on the other.

Most likely because biological age is difficult to determine without obtaining biological data, the role of biological ageing on language variation and change has not received as much attention as, for example, biological sex (vis-à-vis social gender identity). The second aim of the project therefore is to contrast biological and chronological age and shed light on whether the former has any effects on selected laryngeal phenomena. This will include collection and analyses of production data as well as collection of the speakers’ biomarkers (in collaboration with Gillian Pepper). The project will enable us to establish not only whether biological ageing is a factor relevant for at least some consonantal and vocalic changes, but also what the magnitude of this potential effect may be.

For almost one year, Anna Jespersen (the researcher employed to work on this project primarily) was on leave, but we’re getting more active again in April 2020 and beyond. Stay tuned.

This project is generously funded by the AUFF Starting Grant.
Photo I took in Dublin in 2018.
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