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Prof. Jane Stuart-Smith (University of Glasgow)

As in many disciplines, in linguistics too, perspective matters. Structured variability in language occurs at all linguistic levels and is governed by a large range of diverse factors. Viewed through a synchronic lens, such variation informs our understanding of linguistic and social-cognitive constraints on language at particular points in time; a diachronic lens expands the focus across time. And as Weinreich et al (1968) pointed out, structured variability is integral to linguistic description and explanation as a whole, by being at once both the stuff of the present, the reflexes of the past, and the potential for changes in the future. There is a further dimension which is often not explicit, the role of analytical perspective on linguistic phenomena.

In this paper, I will focus on a particular area of linguistics, how to account for sound change, and specifically the extent to which this is affected by two key aspects of analytical perspective:

  1. How the analyst’s observational lenses on phonetic and phonological variation itself can shape, inform, and guide interpretation
  2. How relative depth in terms of time and place can influence our interpretation

The basis and examples for my discussion will be drawn from a series of empirical phonetic and phonological studies carried out which chart variation and change across the 20th century in the social diversity of Scotland’s largest city, Glasgow. My observational lenses on sound variation include methods from auditory phonetics, articulatory phonetics (ultrasound tongue imaging), and acoustic phonetics. My chronological scope on sound change covers the recorded history of Glasgow vernacular, especially through the Sounds of the City project. Its social scope is expanded from macro- to micro-social and ethnographic studies encompassing the social and ethnic linguistic diversities of the city, including Glasgow Asian (‘Glaswasian’) and Glasgow Gaelic.

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