Investigating the effects of prestige on the diffusion of linguistic variants


Language, arguably the cognitive capacity that distinguishes humans, is a dynamic complex adaptive system whose structure and evolution is influenced by a host of factors. This paper takes a population dynamics approach to investigate the diffusion of linguistic variants in populations, focusing on the effect of differential prestige of linguistic variants and of speakers. A novel method that combines computer simulation with mathematical modeling is applied to the specific aim of identifying factors that formally constitute selective pressures on variant diffusion. Of the factors studied, only the intrinsic prestige of variants is found to pose selective pressure, while speakers’ prestige merely modulates variant spread.

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