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Accelerated language evolution : a proposed experiment

From:Peter Bleackley <peter.bleackley@...>
Date:Tuesday, October 18, 2005, 15:55
I know that some people on the list are professional linguists, so I
thought that they might be interested in the proposed methodology for
studying the evolution of languages in real time. The idea is that language
evolves due to the errors that speakers make during language acquisition.
People normally spend quite a long time on language acquisition, in
constant contact with fluent speakers, and so are able to correct most of
these errors. If people have to learn a language in a limited time, with
limited access to fluent speakers, the rate of change will be
correspondingly higher.

At the start of the experiment, a group of volunteers (Generation 0) is
given information about a conlang, consisting of a core vocabulary (common
to all volunteers), an extended vocabulary (50% of the remaining lexicon,
selected at random, different for each volunteer), a basic grammar, and a
set of example sentences based on the core vocabulary. Each volunteer is
told that he is a field linguist, visiting the native speakers of the
language, which at the end of two years he must document. The native
speakers are monolingual.
The volunteers meet in a room around 3 time a week for two hours at a time
and try to communicate in the language. There are various props in the room
that they can use to try to illustrate what they are saying.

At the end of the first year, Generation 1 joins the experiment. They are
also told that they are field linguists, and that their task is to learn
the language from its native speakers and produce a report at the end of
two years. They, however, are given no initial information about the
language - they only have Generation 0 to learn it from, and both
generations are under strict instructions to use no English and maintain
the fiction that the native speakers are monolingual. At the end of each
year N, a new Generation N of volunteers joins the experiment.

 From the end of year 2 onwards, Generation N-2 leaves the experiment and
writes their field reports. This has the effect of removing the most fluent
speakers from the pool, and thus ensuring that a number of the errors that
the younger speakers have made become permanently incorporated into the
language. The field reports are studied to see how the language has changed
- what sound changes are occurring, what new grammatical features are
emerging, what changes the lexicon is undergoing.