The Future of Language Change

Arts Building, Main Lecture Theatre
Monday 10 December 2018 (17:30-19:00)

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Inaugural lecture of Professor Jack Grieve, Professorial Fellow in Corpus Linguistics.


Understanding language change has always been central to linguistics. For example, historical linguists have long examined the historical record, while sociolinguists have conducted surveys and interviews, using the age of informants as a proxy for time. Despite this research, there is still much we do not know about language change, largely because these traditions focus on tracking variation in the use of a small number of common linguistic forms over very long periods of time. In this lecture, I introduce an alternative approach to the study of language change based on the analysis of extremely large corpora of natural language collected online over very short periods of time – an approach that has only recently become possible with the rise of social media. To exemplify this type of research, I present a series of studies I have conducted that map the emergence of new words in American English based on multi-billion-word Twitter corpora. I then look forward, arguing that this approach will revolutionise linguistics over the next decade, allowing us to finally ask and answer a wide range of basic questions about the causes and the directions of language change.