call reminder: Transmission and Diffusion

Ans van Kemenade A.v.Kemenade at
Sun Aug 19 14:33:25 UTC 2007

Call reminder: 
Transmission and Diffusion
17-18-19 January 2008
Venue: Radboud University Nijmegen, Centre for Language Studies
The title ‘Transmission and Diffusion’ is inspired by Labov’s recent
paper (to appear in Language), in which he attempts to fit together the
family tree model of language change with the wave model into a general
framework based on changes in language learning ability across the
lifespan. The general argument is that the (usually relatively slow)
divergence of branches of the family tree is based on the transmission
of language structure from adults to children (who learn the native
language with depth and perfection), and the incrementation of changes
in progress by children. The diffusion of language contact across
branches of the tree is primarily the work of adults who do not preserve
structural conditions with the same fidelity (as adult second language
learning is to varying degrees imperfect), which accounts for the
limitations on borrowing of structure. 
Labov illustrates these issues by case studies on recent and ongoing
changes in the sound system of North-eastern American city dialects
based on the American Dialect Atlas. The overall model proposed opens a
number of perspectives and at the same time raises a number of
interesting larger questions that set the theme for this conference.
The theme of the conference can be approached on various levels of
*	the macro-level of (sub-)continental transmission and diffusion
patterns, as in the field of the historical-comparative of larger
language families such as Amerind, Austronesian and Trans-New Guinea
Phylum, or Semitic within Afro-Asiatic
*	the meso-level of language contact, acquisition, and pidgin and
creole studies
*	the micro-level of more fine-grained (historical)
dialectological research, e.g. within the Germanic language area
We welcome theoretically informed papers on the following intersecting
issues and perspectives:
*	Issues of convergence vs. divergence: the view that
incrementation of change in progress by children is primarily
responsible for divergence is relatively well-supported by the shape of
the Indo-European family tree. Is the converse also possible, i.e. can
relative homogeneity within language branches arise out of original
diversity by convergence fuelled by incrementation during first language
learning? Such questions can be approached on various scales: the
perspective might span the time frame involved in the shaping of a
language family tree, but is equally useful when considering the level
of dialects, dialect contact resulting from urbanization and so on. Case
studies on the role of first and second language learning in convergence
and divergence are especially welcome, particularly if they move beyond
the realm of sound correspondences and address topics in morpho-syntax
as well.
*	Questions concerning processes involved in first language
learning and second language learning: why should first language
learning necessarily lead to incrementation of change in progress? One
issue with respect to second language learning is whether more drastic
language contact and less drastic dialect contact involve the same kinds
of processes.
*	Evidence for first and second language learning, or: making the
best of bad data (another notion coined by Labov). There is recent major
progress in quantitative research tools tracking down relatively diffuse
patterns in historical data, concerning phonological as well as
morpho-syntactic diversity. Thus, it is now possible to distinguish
typical effects of first and of second language learning, even at
considerable historical depth, and including grammatical properties. As
a result, sophisticated quantitative methodologies are rapidly being
developed to allow more refined research into language/dialect
relationships resulting from transmission and/or diffusion than has
hitherto been possible.  As a research tool, such methodologies may cut
both ways: they may serve to separate the effects of stable transmission
and of diffusion through language contact in histories of language
families; on the other hand, they may help in tracing deeper
relationships that may exist with isolated languages that seem
typologically remote. Similarly, such methodologies may serve to reveal
the superficially rather diffuse effects of dialect contact in
situations of urbanization such as arose in Western Europe during the
late Middle Ages. Case studies developing and using such research tools
based on historical corpora and on typological databases are
particularly invited.
Invited speakers
Lyle Campbell  (Utah)
William Labov (Penn)
April McMahon (Edinburgh
Jürgen Meisel (Hamburg)
Jonathan Owens (Maryland)
Russell Gray (Auckland)
Fred Weerman (Amsterdam)
Donald Winford (Ohio)
Abstracts are solicited for 45 minute papers (including 10 minutes
discussion).  Please send in an abstract of max. one page, single
spaced, Times New Roman pt. 12 or equivalent font (excluding
references). Abstracts should be sent by 1 September 2007 to HYPERLINK
"mailto:transmission.diffusion at"transmission.diffusion at
l. Notification of acceptance can be expected by15 October 2007.
The conference is organised by the research programme Language in Time
and Space at the Centre for Language Studies CLS Radboud University
Nijmegen, Netherlands, (HYPERLINK
"" This group comprises
researchers in various departments in the Radboud Faculty of Arts and at
the Max Planck Institute, Nijmegen. Working on a variety of languages,
they share a common interest in the forces that shape various types of
language variation and change, with a strong methodological commitment.

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