New speakers of minority languages:

Proficiency, variation, and change

All languages are constantly changing and evolving. Some languages evolve very slowly with little noticeable change in structures from one generation of speakers to the next. This is particularly true of languages with a homogeneous population and strong institutional support, such as schools and governing bodies that can effectively maintain a standard variety. Other languages with more heterogeneous speaker populations and less institutional support tend to change more rapidly – especially when many of the language’s speakers have another language as their first language. This would seem to indicate that the process of language learning has a role in the way that languages evolve.

Linguists have long hypothesized that second-language learning is one of the processes that drives language change, but have yet to provide sufficient empirical evidence to illustrate exactly how it works. Part of the problem is that language change typically happens at such a slow rate that it usually has to be understood through a post-hoc analysis. Another issue is the assumption that a second-language learner’s target is the variety spoken by proficient, native speakers; this means that structural variation produced by learners that does not meet the assumed target are considered “learner errors” and the possibility that such variants will affect long term change in the language is often dismissed. However, like languages themselves, the target variety for language learners as well as proficient users is in a constant state of flux.

The working hypotheses of this project are that Linguistic Entrenchment (i.e. functional fluency) is the target of second language learning, and that entrenchment is measurable. Measuring entrenchment will allow us to understand whether variation in an individual’s linguistic structures, which do not match pedagogical or native speaker-like assumed targets, are fluid (i.e. due to an ongoing learning process) or whether they are stable characteristics of that individual’s idiolect.

Read more at the about page.


This project is funded by NCN, under the POLS call, agreement number 2020/37/K/HS2/02779

It is hosted at the Institute of Slavic Studies, Polish Academy of Sciences in Warsaw.