The social nature of language

Language evolution acts on variation – variation enacted by social agents. Speakers create variation to give form to socially contingent categories.

Members of the Centre will investigate language microevolution by detailing the development of new languages, such as for Australia's Aboriginal communities and the surrounding region, and the linguistic consequences of the language contact situation of Australia's growing immigrant communities.

We will examine the processes of language change through the study of variation in Australian English as spoken across diverse social, ethnic and linguistic communities. This strand will show how new language varieties arise, and detail the role of social networks in this process, dovetailing with Prof Nicholas Evans' Laureate project on microvariation in small multilingual communities.

By charting such change and variation, we will gain insight into how language use changes as speakers move through different stages in the lifespan. A better understanding of the role played by social interactions and the creative expression of identity in the construction of language variation and the propagation of change is crucial for an understanding of macroevolution.

  • Australian Government
  • The University of Queensland
  • Australian National University
  • The University of Melbourne
  • Western Sydney University