Naomi Nagy

Linguistics at U of T

LIN 1256: Advanced Language Variation & Change
Language Contact, Corpora & Our Changing Society

Course Description (2021)

Syllabus / Schedule * Reading * Assessment

Class meets Thursdays, 10:10am-noon (Toronto time), by Zoom

You'll find the Zoom link in Quercus.

Topic and format

Quantitative analysis of large sets of data from corpora of conversational speech has been a productive approach in quantitative linguistics, particularly in understanding synchronic variation in monolingual communities. In this graduate seminar, we will apply these methods to the study of language contact phenomena and look at languages that have been subject to less sociolinguistic scrutiny. We will connect 3 topics:

  • Contact: Asking and investigating the “Big Questions” relating to language change & our changing society/ies
  • Corpora: Learning how to use corpora to answer the Big Questions
  • Analysis: We'll contrast Corpus Linguistics to Variationist Sociolinguistic approaches

In the first section of the course, we will read and discuss articles that introduce each topic. [Readings]

In the second section, we will revisit each topic, and you will present relevant articles and corpora to the class. [Article presentation guidelines] [corpora presentation guidelines]

In the third section, you will develop (but likely not conduct) a research project to investigate (some of) the “Big Questions” and demonstrate mastery of the methods.

A motivating quote for this course

"It should be stressed that the results we obtained...are not meant to be independent of this particular set of languages. In other language pairs, quite different factors may turn out to be operant, depending on sociolinguistic factors and different contrasting typological properties." (van Hout & Muysken 1994:61, Modeling lexical borrowability in LVC)

Big questions for the course

  1. (How) can we differentiate change in society from change in language?
  2. How do we recognize change due to contact (vs. internal change or universal tendencies)?
  3. What parts of language are more susceptible to change? what levels? similar parts? salient/marked parts? different types of morphology? different phonetic features...
  4. Are there many imprecise and/or untested/undocumented hypotheses about parts of grammar that are more or less susceptible to (contact) influences because there is so much possible variation in language change in general? or due to methodological differences?
  5. How can we quantify change in order to see where there is more/less (in different levels of language as well as in different sectors of community)?

Goals and outcomes

  • By reading and discussing recent literature, you will become familiar with state-of-the-art research findings.
  • You will learn to design a research project in the sociolinguistic subfields of variationist and/or corpus linguistics.
  • You will engage in interesting debates and discussions to develop our thoughts and plans, both for the course and in the longer term.
  • You will critically engage with a range of academic writing by critically reading journal articles and using published models to improve your own writing of abstracts, critical reviews, and research paper components.
  • You will learn about language’s structure and variability by working with corpora of naturalistic (read: "messy!") speech data.

Please note that many important policies relevant to this course are posted in Quercus and do not appear in this online syllabus. Look through the "Policies" section of Quercus carefully.


Updated January 26, 2021

email: naomi dot nagy at utoronto dot ca | Return to my home page