A view into the processing of sound change: sociolinguistic migration
Sociolinguists (e.g. Labov 2007) and phonologists (e.g. Hamann 2009) often assume that adults do not perform structural reanalyses in processes of sound change. I present empirical data from Dutch that challenges this assumption. Over the past 100 years, the Dutch spoken in the Netherlands has diverged from the Dutch spoken in Belgium in its realizations of the tense mid vowels [e:,ø:,o:]. In Belgium, these are monophthongs. In the Netherlands, they have changed into upgliding diphthongs [ei,øy,ou] and, in doing so, have become subject to a preexisting phonological rule blocking upglides before coda /l/. Thus, the Netherlands have an innovative allophone split (monophthongs before coda /l/, diphthongs elsewhere), while Belgium doesn’t. This coincidence of diachronic change and synchronic variation makes it possible to study the process and processing of sound change empirically. I present perception, production, and ERP experiments studying whether, when, and how these differences are adopted by sociolinguistic migrants (‘SMs’): Belgians who have moved to the Netherlands. The results indicate that SMs do not adopt the Netherlandic realizations in the medium term (nine months) but do in the long term (multiple decades), although with significant individual differences. This demonstrates that adults can adopt even phonological differences, and hence can be actors in processes of phonological reanalysis.