This article argues that an enhanced understanding of the dynamics of language change can be gained by uniting two perspectives whose intimate relationship has not previously been subject to linguists’ attention: language change as a historical process, and language change as experienced by individual speakers. It makes the case that during language change in progress, there are three possible trajectory types that can be manifested across speakers’ lifespans. I review one example of each, as analyzed in a longitudinal corpus of Québécois French. First, people may acquire patterns of variation reflecting the stage of the change at the time of childhood language acquisition and retain that pattern thereafter. Second, older speakers, continuing to receive input from the younger generations that form an increasingly large proportion of their speech community, may also change in that direction. Third, aging speakers may become more conservative, showing retrograde lifespan change in the face of community change in the opposite direction. In conclusion, I examine the likely etiology of each trajectory type and evaluate its consequences for language change.


Additional Information

Print ISSN
pp. 197-229
Launched on MUSE
Open Access
Back To Top

This website uses cookies to ensure you get the best experience on our website. Without cookies your experience may not be seamless.