Ricardo Bermúdez-Otero, University of Manchester

Title and abstract TBA

Richard A. Blythe, University of Edinburgh

Competition between linguistic variants at the individual and population scale

A number of documented language changes (e.g., names for an object, or alternative grammatical structures) can be couched as a competition between an existing ‘conventional’ variant and one or more incoming ‘innovations’. Mathematical models allow one to determine how processes acting at the individual speaker level (such as matching the frequencies of existing variants, cognitive biases that favour specific innovations or sociolinguistic prestige effects) manifest themselves at the population scale, with social network structures mediating between them. These models have counterparts in population genetics, and one can recognise analogues of mutation, selection and drift in language change. In this talk, I will show that disentangling these fundamental contributions to change is difficult, in part because the simplest neutral theory (in which all changes are random) exhibits rich behaviour. Moreover, it is hard to find combinations that are consistent with empirical data over many languages and long time periods. I will also attempt to offer possible resolutions of these inconsistencies.

Janet B. Pierrehumbert, University of Oxford

Title and abstract TBA