One of the great mysteries of linguistics is the so-called actuation problem, that is, what causes the inception of language change, if the linguistic conditions favoring particular changes are always present? This problem of language change was first articulated by Weinreich, Labov, and Herzog in 1968 and is still largely unanswered to this day.

This workshop will focus on the role of the individuals in the actuation of sound change. Previous studies on sound change have mainly focused on group-normative effects, that is, effects that are representative of the population as a whole. Recent work has drawn on interspeaker variation as a solution to the actuation puzzle. Understanding the source(s) of the individual linguistic differences is seen as crucial for understanding sound change propagation, particularly for the purpose of identifying the characteristics of the linguistic innovators and early adopters of change.

The workshop will consist of four theme panels targeting the perceptual, articulatory, socio-indexical and computation aspects of the actuation problem in sound change. The invited speakers and discussants are:

Panels (Speaker; Discussant):

  • Perceptual factors in sound change actuation: Cynthia Clopper (Ohio State); Pam Beddor (Michigan)
  • Articulatory factors in sound change actuation: Bryan Gick (British Columbia); Jeff Mielke (Ottawa/NCSU)
  • Socio-indexical factors in sound change actuation: Rob Podesva (Stanford); Jane Stuart-Smith (Glasgow)
  • Computational modeling of sound change actuation: Janet Pierrehumbert (Northwestern); Morgan Sonderegger (McGill)/James Kirby(Edinburgh)