Following the Leaders of Linguistic Change: Factors Influencing Advancement in the Northern Cities Shift

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Many studies have shown that women lead sound change (cf. Eckert, 1989, Labov 1990, Wolfram & Schilling-Estes 1998), though occasionally men play this role (e.g. Conn 2005). In many of these studies, however, gender has been examined as a binary variable, which conflicts directly with current theories of socially constructed gender, leaving a need for studies that investigate the interaction between sex and gender. An additional problem arises while trying to quantitatively examine differences within sex groupings to account for situations in which some women are leaders of linguistic changes, while others lag behind or pattern more similarly to men. This study aims at a quantitative means of explaining linguistic variation both within a sex group and between sex groups in order to see what factors influence a person to be a leader of linguistic change. The Northern Cities Shift, an female-led urban sound change occurring in larger cities in the Great Lakes area of the United States, is used as a background in an attempt to explain why women tend to lead these changes and why some men pattern like women and vice versa. Specifically, it investigates the correlation between how speakers from Southeastern Michigan self-evaluate on 20 personality traits based on Bem's (1974) Sex Role Inventory and their progress (or lack thereof) in the Northern Cities Shift. Results indicate that regardless of sex, individuals who self-identify as cheerful, warm, and affectionate among other traits, in general traits that have been traditionally viewed as more desirable for women to possess, are those who are the most progressed in the Northern Cities Shift. This study shows how a more comprehensive incorporation of gender theory in sociolinguistic research can help shed light on the role of sex and gender identity in ongoing linguistic change.


Keywords: Linguistics, Gender, Identity
Stream: Research Methodologies, Quantitative and Qualitative Methods, Interdisciplinary Perspectives on Gender
Presentation Type: Paper Presentation in English
Paper: A paper has not yet been submitted.


Steve Johnson

PhD Candidate, Linguistics and Languages, Michigan State University
East Lansing, Michigan, USA

Steve Johnson is a PhD candidate at Michigan State University specializing in sociolinguistics. His dissertation, chaired by Dr. Dennis Preston, examines leaders of linguistic change, using the Northern Cities shift as a background to shed light on the role of sex and gender identity in ongoing linguistic change. His research interests include gender and language, sociophonetics, dialectology, and language contact. He has also worked on dialect contact in Southeastern Michigan, the syntax of Bantu applicatives, and the structure of serial verb constructions. He received his B.A. in Linguistics from the University of Florida (2003).

Ref: I08P0013