Universiteit Leiden

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Lecture | Sociolinguistcs Series

The adoption of sound change by sociolinguistic migrants

Thursday 6 February 2020
Cleveringaplaats 1
2311 BD Leiden


This paper investigates the adoption of regional differences that are the result of on-going change in the vowel system of Dutch. Due to multiple interrelated changes, of which the most notorious is [1]’s ‘Polder Dutch’, the varieties of Dutch spoken in the Netherlands versus Flanders have grown wider apart. This has created new sociolinguistic variables, among them the realization of /e:,ø:,o:/, which in Flanders only have these realizations, but in the Netherlands alternate with diphthongs [ei,øy,ou]. This paper investigates whether, when, and how this variable is adopted by sociolinguistic migrants (‘SMs’): Flemish young adults who migrate to the Netherlands to start their university studies.

The SMs are compared to Netherlandic-Dutch controls over the course of nine months. Three perspectives are considered: production, perception, and processing. Previous research ([2]) has shown that sociolinguistic migrants eagerly adopt regional differences in vowel realization on a comparable time scale, by a process which [3,4] term ‘change by accommodation’. These results are not corroborated in the present experiments, but are replicated by a follow-up experiment with a different group of Flemish sociolinguistic migrants who have lived in the Netherlands for multiple years. This suggests that the adoption of variation does not take place via repeated instances of short-term accommodation, but rather via a separate process. Neurolinguistic experiments per [5], performed on the original group of sociolinguistic migrants, confirm this. While initially, the SMs are less sensitive to the novel [e:]~[ei] distinction, after nine months’ time they process this distinction in the same way as the Netherlandic controls.

Combining the three perspectives shows that regional variation is adopted, and that this visibly takes multiple years, but that the brain invisibly changes sooner. The different results suggest a major role for sociolinguistic salience, which has important implications for the study of language variation and change.


[1] Stroop, J. (1998). Poldernederlands: Waardoor het ABN verdwijnt. Amsterdam: Bert Bakker.
[2] Evans, B. G., & Iverson, P. (2007). Plasticity in vowel perception and production: A study of accent change in young adults. The Journal of the Acoustical Society of America, 121(6), 3814-3826.
[3] Auer, P, & Hinskens, F. (2005). The role of interpersonal accommodation in a theory of language change. Dialect change: Convergence and divergence in European languages, 335.
[4] Sonderegger, M. (2012). Phonetic and phonological dynamics on reality television
(Doctoral dissertation, Chicago).
[5] Lanwermeyer, M., Henrich, K., Rocholl, M. J., Schnell, H. T., Werth, A., Herrgen, J., & Schmidt, J. E. (2016). Dialect variation influences the phonological and lexical-semantic word processing in sentences. Electrophysiological evidence from a cross-dialectal comprehension study. Frontiers in Psychology, 7, 739.
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