Linguists have long been reluctant to posit a link between the structure of the grammar of a language and the structure of the population that speaks the language, and recent studies that reveal such links (e.g. Lupyan & Dale 2010, Bentz & Winter 2013) have been met with scepticism by traditional linguists. By the same token, external factors like demography, do not features prominently in explaining the trajectory of morphosyntactic change (Aitchison 1991:106, Woods 2001). In this talk, I will adduce converging evidence from corpus data, grammars, and computer simulations (see Pijpops et al. 2015 for what these simulations look like) to determine the effect of historical demography on linguistic change. It is shown that demographic upheaval in the form of high population turnover accelerates language change. Rather than looking at differences between widely different languages, as is customary in typologically inspired studies, I will focus on the history of cognate languages, more specifically West-Germanic.
Aitchison, J. 1991. Language change: progress or decay. 2nd edn. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Bentz, C. & B. Winter. 2013. ‘Languages with more second language learners tend to lose nominal case’. Language Dynamics and Change 3: 1-27.
Lupyan, G. & R. Dale. 2010. ‘Language structure is partly determined by social structure’. PLoS ONE 5(1).
Pijpops, D, K. Beuls & F. Van de Velde. 2015. ‘The rise of the verbal weak inflection in Germanic. An agent-based model’. Computational Linguistics in the Netherlands Journal 5: 81-102.
Woods, N. 2001. ‘Internal and external dimensions of language change: the great divide? Evidence from New Zealand English’. Linguistics 39(5): 973-1007.