Linguistics Colloquium: Daniel Erker (Boston University) – “‘They put the /s/ where it goes’ – How ideologies and identities shape language change”

November 12, 2021
3:00 pm - 4:00 pm
Somers Family Hall 216 (Danforth Campus)

 “‘They put the /s/ where it goes’ – How ideologies and identities shape language change”

Hosted by the WashU Linguistics Program.

NOTE This is a PNP-related talk.

Abstract: In this talk I examine the linguistic behavior of Spanish speakers in Boston, MA. Using the tools of variationist sociolinguistics, I argue that the way Spanish is spoken in the city is undergoing change, but only in certain domains. A pattern of structural convergence with the grammatical norms of English is observed in four linguistic features: (1) subject pronoun presence vs. absence, (2) subject pronoun position, (3) syntactic constituent order, and (4) filled pauses. In contrast, a fifth feature, coda-/s/ deletion, reveals no evidence of change. I propose that the key to understanding this pattern – that is, the co-occurrence of linguistic innovation and stability in the Spanish of Boston – is to recognize the power of ideologies to shape the trajectory of language change. Though the first four features are well-known to linguists as sites of dialectal variation in the Spanish-speaking world, they are not prominent in folk-ideologies of linguistic prestige or in regionally- or nationally-based stereotypes about what it means to “speak Spanish like an X”. Coda-/s/ deletion, by comparison, is the most salient site of sociolinguistic variation in the Spanish-speaking world, well-known to linguists and non-linguists alike. The study’s results suggest that in situations of contact-induced language change, linguistic features that are ideologically neutral or otherwise fall below the threshold of sociolinguistic awareness are more likely to shift in parallel. In contrast, features like coda /s/, which are powerfully ideologically charged and therefore more directly managed by language users, may resist the tide of innovation.

For inquiries contact