Linguistics and English Language

Language evolution seminar

Speaker: Lewis (Ching-Yat) Cheung (Max Planck Institute for Psycholinguistics, Nijmegen)

Title: How age and gender shape linguistic accommodation - an experimental design

Abstract: Previous sociolinguistic studies suggest that women and teenagers use more innovative forms and are more likely to adapt new variants, making them drivers of change (e.g., Labov, 2001; Tagliamonte & D’Arcy, 2009). Similarly, in the case of newly evolving sign languages, younger signers have been implicated as the leaders of language formation (e.g., Senghas et al, 2004; Senghas & Coppola, 2001). However, these tendencies have not been systematically tested by the research paradigm in language evolution, and it is currently unclear which of the social and individual attributions associated with age and gender categories (e.g., conformity, perceived prestige) actually drive differences in linguistic behaviour.

In this talk, I will present the design of a pre-registered experiment that aims to test the effect of age and gender on language change by looking at how the social attributions of participants and their interactive partners shape accommodation patterns. This will be an artificial language study in which participants from two age groups and two genders first learn how to pluralize novel words in a language with conditioned variation of plural marking. After mastering this language, participants will play a director-matcher game with a partner from either the same or different group. Following Fehér et al. (2016), while the participants believe they are interacting with another person, in reality they will be communicating with the computer. Crucially, the computer is a categorical language user who only produces one of the two plural markers learned during training. In addition, we would like to investigate whether differences in linguistic behaviours can be attributed to personality traits (e.g., openness to experience, extraversion, agreeableness) that have been previously correlated with age and gender (e.g. Donnellan & Lucas, 2008; Weisberg et al., 2011). For this purpose, participants will also fill out a personality questionnaire eliciting their individual traits as well as their gender attitudes.

We predict that:

  1. all participants will be more likely to accommodate to members of their own age/gender group;
  2. women and adolescent will be more likely to accommodate to their partners. Moreover, we predict that these patterns would be accounted for by age- and gender-related differences in personality traits, such as a general tendency for reduced openness with age. Our findings will hopefully shed light on the role of personality traits in linguistic innovation and accommodation, and on the role of gender and age in language formation and change.


Seminars are organised by the Centre for Language Evolution

May 09 2023 -

Language evolution seminar

2023-05-09: How age and gender shape linguistic accommodation - an experimental design

Room 1.20, Dugald Stewart Building, 3 Charles Street, Edinburgh, EH8 9AD; online via link invitation