The Department of French and Italian

FIGSO Lecture Series - Gillian Sankoff

Gillian Sankoff - University of Pennsylvania

Fri, April 27, 2012 | HRC Prothro Theatre

4:00 PM - 5:00 PM

FIGSO Lecture Series - Gillian Sankoff

Language and lifespan change in Montréal: the French of Francophones and Anglophones

Sociolinguistic research on Montréal French across three decades (1970s – 1990s) has identified a number of ongoing changes in this speech variety. Because the research has a panel component, in which a subsample of speakers has been recorded over a 24-year period, it has been possible to isolate three trajectories in speakers’ grammars during adult life. For some features we have found the stability expected of adults, but we have also identified some adults who have changed in the direction of innovations spearheaded by younger speakers in the community. Surprisingly, we have also discovered two cases of retrograde developments, in which speakers have retreated from an ongoing language change as they aged. 

To what extent are these findings applicable to second-dialect and second language acquisition? The existence of three distinct patterns in L1 lifespan change prompts a re-examination of the kinds and degrees of change that may occur “post-critical period” in general. Research carried out in the 1990s on Anglophone French in Montreal by Thibault, Sankoff and colleagues was designed to investigate how young adults from English-speaking L1 backgrounds adapted to local dialect features typically encountered post-childhood and outside of formal educational contexts. Findings on the L1 and L2 French of adolescents and adults from these two bodies of work are compared in an effort to shed light on the general question of how language change at the community level interacts with change in individual grammars across the lifespan.

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