Wednesday, 7 October 2015, 13.00
Fulton 214, University of Sussex
What happens to our language as we grow older?
Justyna Robinson, University of Sussex
The study of linguistic usage across the lifespan has been increasingly attracting the attention of sociolinguists. Such a research perspective allows answering a number of intriguing questions including those which concern possible trajectories of language change at the level of an individual, together with questions concerning the interaction between an individual and a community. Most of the available insights into longitudinal change are based on studies of grammar or phonology. When it comes to the individual usage of lexis, linguists occasionally refer to anecdotal evidence, such as that older speakers keep on using older expressions, but without providing empirical insights. In this context, I provide new insights into lifespan change by focussing on the usage of words. More specifically I trace the use of fifteen polysemous adjectives, such as awesome, skinny, and gay between 2005 and 2015. The analysis of individual words is supplemented with insights of the histories of individual speakers. A number of observations based on this study allow me to conclude by mapping out the most fruitful lines of enquiry for future investigations of lifespan change.