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An experimental study of the role of social factors in sound change

Lev-Ari, S., & Peperkamp, S. (2014). An experimental study of the role of social factors in sound change. Laboratory Phonology, 5(3), 379-401. doi:10.1515/lp-2014-0013.
There is great variation in whether foreign sounds in loanwords are adapted or retained. Importantly, the retention of foreign sounds can lead to a sound change in the language. We propose that social factors influence the likelihood of loanword sound adaptation, and use this case to introduce a novel experimental paradigm for studying language change that captures the role of social factors. Specifically, we show that the relative prestige of the donor language in the loanword's semantic domain influences the rate of sound adaptation. We further show that speakers adapt to the performance of their ‘community’, and that this adaptation leads to the creation of a norm. The results of this study are thus the first to show an effect of social factors on loanword sound adaptation in an experimental setting. Moreover, they open up a new domain of experimentally studying language change in a manner that integrates social factors
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The Max Planck Institute for Psycholinguistics is an institute of the German Max Planck Society. Our mission is to undertake basic research into the psychological,social and biological foundations of language. The goal is to understand how our minds and brains process language, how language interacts with other aspects of mind, and how we can learn languages of quite different types.

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