Research Interests

Sociolinguistics and Language Variation and Change — My primary interest is with language and society and how mindset, identity, mobility, network, and other social, cultural, political, historical, psychological, and technological factors drive or inhibit language change. Here’s a preview of some of my research in this area:

Mobility and dialect identity as factors in language change: Findings from a 35-year panel and trend study in Swabia Recent research has shown that mobility and identity construction influence dialect performance and play a critical role in language change (Blommaert 2016, Britain 2016, Coupland 2001, Johnstone 2011). ‘Dialect identity’ – the “positioning as a user or non-user of the local dialect” (Johnstone 2016:51) – and ‘place identity’ – the use of local/regional dialect forms in innovative and strategic ways (Coupland 2001) – have been shown to be pivotal factors in dialect usage. This study analyses the speech of 120 Swabian speakers from two communities: the urban towns surrounding Stuttgart and the semi-rural villages neighbouring Schwäbisch Gmünd. Thirty phonological and morphosyntactic variables demonstrate the changing dialect situation in Swabia. Measures of dialect density, along with indices of identity, mobility, and social networks, have been developed to show how Swabian identity, mobility, and social contacts influence speakers’ choice of dialect variants. The findings show that, over time, speakers with high Swabian orientation retain more dialect variants, while those with high mobility scores lose more variants. Yet Swabian women are strategically holding on to even more dialect variants, signalling their dialect identity and reinforcing Heim ‘home’ and Heimat ‘homeland’ in the face of increasing mobility, education, and standardization pressures. The results offer new insights in how dialect identity, in both rural and urban communities, play a vital role in dialect usage and hence language change.

‘des beschtes Deutsch wo es gib’: Variation and change in the relativization system in Swabian German Kroch and Small (1978) maintain that ‘grammatical ideology’ ensures that dialect and standard forms always show social and stylistic stratification (Kroch and Small 1978). Indeed various researchers have found significant social stratification in relative pronoun usage in a number of English dialects (Jankowski 2009; Romaine 1982, 1984; Tagliamonte, Smith, and Lawrence 2005). In their analysis of Toronto English, D’Arcy and Tagliamonte (2010) found that “speakers … use the relative pronouns in ways that … evince their social position within the community and indicate accommodation to their interlocutors” (D’Arcy and Tagliamonte 2010:384). This work follows a sociolinguistic variationist analysis of the polysemic wo-relative pronoun (‘where’, ‘who’, ‘that’), which varies with standard German relatives (der, die, das, den, dem) in many southern German dialects. Previous analyses of relativization in German dialects have focused solely on formal issues (Bayer 1984; Brandner and Bräuning 2013; Fleischer 1977, 2005; Seiler and Salzmann 2010; Weise 1916). It has generally been assumed that wo-relatives in German are used to signal some abstract notion of place and that their usage has spread to other contexts (Brandner and Bräuning 2013:133). To investigate this phenomenon, relative clauses were analyzed across three generations of speakers of Swabian, a dialect spoken in southwestern Germany. Results from a multivariate analysis show that, over a 35-year timespan, use of wo-relatives has decreased in nominative cases with animate antecedents and increased in oblique cases. External factors, most notably community (urban/rural), education, occupation and notions of ‘Swabian identity’, also influence speakers’ choice between standard d-pronouns and wo-relatives.

Loss of Historical Phonetic Contrast Across the Lifespan (in collaboration with Fabian Tomaschek) This work explores the extent to which phonetic environment, lexical frequency, and social factors interact and incite or impede sound change over the lifespan of the individual. The corpus consists of sociolinguistic interviews with 20 panel speakers of Swabian, an Alemannic dialect spoken in southwestern Germany, from two different communities, Stuttgart and Schwäbisch Gmünd, first recorded in 1982 and again in 2017. We investigate the modern standard German diphthong [ai] which evolved from two different Middle High German (MHG) phonemes, /i:/ and /ei/. We use generalised additive mixed-effect models to investigate to what extent F1/F2 trajectories in the vowel space differ in lemmata originating from the two MHG phonemes based on the Total Euclidean Distance Squared (TEDS). In addition to voicing effects, we find that an interaction between community, lexical frequency, and indexicalities of Swabian identity affects the degree to which the two diphthongs are merging, or at least becoming more similar to one another, within the lifespan of one generation. By analysing intra-speaker trajectories, we show how sound change is governed by the intricate interplay between structural factors and individual speaker notions of language ideology, social meaning, and dialect identity.

Lexical frequency effects and dialect attrition across the lifespan: a panel study of Swabian German (in collaboration with Harald Baayen and Michael Ramscar) Lifespan dialectical changes in individuals are typically seen as reflecting the attritional effect of standard languages on native dialects. However, particularly relevant to lifespan studies of dialect usage is the observation that the distributional properties of natural languages guarantee that the lexical knowledge of individuals increases continuously throughout their lifetime and that the overwhelming majority of lexical types any individual knows are rare and often unknown by other speakers. These considerations suggest an alternative account of the changes in individual speech patterns across the lifespan: that is, the increased influence of later acquired, usually non-dialect, lexical knowledge on speakers’ vocabulary choice, not the “loss” of dialect itself. Consistent with this view, an analysis of the speech of 20 speakers of the southwestern German dialect, Swabian, recorded in 1982 and again in 2017, reveals that rather than “lose” dialect over the course of their lifetime, speakers acquire a vast amount of non-dialectal vocabulary reflecting experiences gained in later life. Within the set of relatively high-frequency words sampled in this study, the least frequent dialect forms, rather than being lost, have become slightly more frequent 35 years later, a finding that supports the enduring role that dialect plays across the lifespan.

Modelling lectal coherence: The case of Swabian German Forty years ago, Weinreich, Labov, and Herzog (1968:188) observed that “idiolects do not provide the basis for self-contained or internally consistent grammars”, rather it is the grammar of the speech community, governed by social factors, which reflects regularity and coherence and where linguistic change occurs. Guy & Hinskens (2016) claim that the concept of orderly heterogeneity implies that “speech communities are sociolinguistically coherent …. [meaning that] the community should collectively behave in parallel: variants (or rates of use of variants) that index a given style, status, or a social characteristic should co-occur … like a falling domino can make a row of neighbouring dominoes fall” and “can be characterized as displaying coherence” (Guy & Hinskens 2016:1-2). Co-variation is one approach to coherence; however, another and perhaps more promising approach utilises Guttman and Bickerton-like implicational scaling (Bickerton, 1973; Guttman, 1944) to identify types and levels of coherence across various lectal chains in an implicational like pattern. To explore the concept of sociolinguistic coherence and how it shapes variation and fosters or constrains language change, this work examines language usage in two Swabian speech communities across two points in time (1982 and 2017). Following the traditional quantitative variationist approach, pioneered by Labov in analysing the variation between dialect and standard language features (Labov, 1966, 1994, 2001, 2011), coupled with Guttman and Bickerton-like implicational scales (Bickerton, 1973; Ghyselen & Van Keymeulen, 2016; Guttman, 1944; Rickford, 1991), and drawing on concepts from the order and lattice theory of mathematics, thirty phonological and morpho-syntactic features of Swabian, along with six social factors (speaker age, sex, education, orientation, mobility, networks) are modelled to examine aspects of linguistic coherence and language change across the two time periods. The hypothesis of this research is that more coherent lects are less vulnerable to change and convergence to the standard language, while less coherent lects are more susceptible. This modelling approach brings together three views of lectal coherence – covariation, implicational scaling, and lattice theory – to demonstrate a holistic approach to the theory of linguistic coherence and its impact on language change.

Global Mindset and Cultural Diversity — I’m also interested in exploring more about how individual mindset and identity promote cultural awareness, tolerance and acceptance of differences across cultures and peoples.

Global Technology and Organizational Design — I’ve spent years studying global organizational design and technology architecture and how various structural models can facilitate and/or hamper organizational effectiveness.