Linguistic Adaptation

Linguistic Adaptation: Typological and Sociolinguistic Perspectives to Language Variation

Funded by the European Research Council 2019-2013

PI: Kaius Sinnemäki (University of Helsinki)

This project researches linguistic adaptation by developing a synthesis of typological and sociolinguistic approaches to language variation. This novel framework enables combining typological data with rich sociolinguistic data into the same model and evaluating their relationship statistically. The main research question of the project is: do language structures adapt to sociolinguistic context across the languages of the world?

The project has 4 objectives:

  • to develop a methodological approach that makes it possible to combine typological and sociolinguistic data into the same model and to statistically research their relationship,
  • to understand the degree and nature of linguistic adaptation in the world’s languages and whether it is independent of language-internal structural tendencies,
  • to analyze 3-4 sociolinguistic factors that are likely to drive changes in linguistic structures (language contact vs. isolation, multilingualism, community size, and prestige) via a sample of 150 languages,
  • to analyze 3-4 broad linguistic categories that are prone to respond to changes in sociolinguistic environment (case, gender, and number) in the same set of 150 languages to support assessing linguistic adaptations.

The project will create three key methodological innovations:

  1. language structures will be analyzed typologically from the perspective of how difficult they are for adult second language learners
  2. sociolinguistic environments will be analyzed across societies via using the idea of comparative concepts from typology
  3. a new sampling strategy will be developed to draw conclusions from both large families and language isolates.

This framework enables researching linguistic adaptations typologically in a principled way and it has the potential to forge a deeper relationship between typology and sociolinguistics and thus open new domains of inquiry. The results will create a strong argument for treating language as part of the general adaptive human behavior.