Studies in language variation and change normally conduct quantitative analyses of (relatively) large samples. In this article we demonstrate how even meagre tokens can provide key information about the characteristics of change in conditions of loss. As a case study, we study double demonstrative constructions (DDEMO_NPs) in Ontario, Canada. We show that DDEMO_NPs are obsolescent, restricted to older male speakers doing blue collar jobs. Building on theories of dialect recession (Schilling-Estes and Wolfram, 1999), we argue that on their way to moribund status, DDEMO_NPs undergo a process of ‘concentration’ of the kind postulated by Jankowski and Tagliamonte (2017). Specifically, we demonstrate that from among the potential range of forms and functions of demonstratives, speakers relatively frequently use DDEMO_NPs as ‘indefinite this’ (Prince, 1981a), a fairly recent usage of this to introduce a new referent into discourse. This finding suggests that loss of a form is not a simple matter of decreasing frequency. Rather, qualitative scrutiny of the data is essential to expose more nuanced trajectories of decline. Additionally, studying obsolescent dialect features may reveal the origins of new uses; we will advance the idea that DDEMO_NPs provide an alternative perspective on the emergence of indefinite this via discourse-pragmatic innovation.
Bibliographical noteFunding Information:
The second author gratefully acknowledges the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada (SSHRC) for research grants 2001-present and the Canada Research Chairs program (CRC) in Language Variation and Change. The funding sources were not involved in research design, fieldwork or implementation. We are indebted to Bridget Jankowski for her expert assistance with wrangling the Ontario data as well as the many fieldworkers and employees of the UofT Variationist Sociolinguistics Lab, @VariationNation. We also thank John MacFie, local historian and Nadine Hammond, Curator of the Museum on Tower Hill for their collaboration on the Parry Sound branch of the Ontario Dialects Project.
© 2021 The Author(s)
- Discourse-pragmatic innovation
- Double demonstratives
- Indefinite this
- Ontario dialects