An important problem in historical sociolinguistics is the actuation problem
(Weinreich et al., 1968): why does a certain instance of language change take place in a specific language, in a specific social group, and not elsewhere? To investigate this type of question, several types of methods could be used, including corpus studies (Raumolin-Brunberg & Nevalainen, 2007; Rutten & Van der Wal, 2014), quantitative cross-linguistic studies (Ladd et al., 2015) and laboratory experiments. In this workshop, we propose agent-based models, computer simulations of interactions between speakers, as a method to study the conditions under which language change takes place. Agent-based models allow for testing of hypotheses which involve factors that are not easy to manipulate in the real world. Relatively abstract agent-based models have been used to study language evolution (e.g. Dale & Lupyan, 2012), but for the questions addressed by historical sociolinguistics, the strength of agent-based models is to combine them with real data and use them for real-world case studies. Usually, no large amounts of data are needed for agent-based models: the data often serve to initialise the model and/or to evaluate the model outcomes. This makes agent-based models suitable to study hypotheses about language change from below
(Elspaß et al., 2007; Auer et al., 2015), using historical material of informal language use, which may be less widely available. All in all, agent-based models allow to study how supposedly universal mechanisms behind language change have different outcomes in different languages and social settings.
Auer, A., Peersman, C., Pickl, S., Rutten, G., & Vosters, R. (2015). Historical sociolinguistics: The field and its future. Journal of Historical Sociolinguistics, 1(1), 1–12. https://doi.org/10.1515/jhsl-2015-0001
Dale, R., & Lupyan, G. (2012). Understanding the origins of morphological diversity: The linguistic niche hypothesis. Advances in Complex Systems, 15(03n04), 1150017. https://doi.org/10.1142/S0219525911500172
Elspaß, S., Langer, N., Scharloth, J., & Vandenbussche, W. (Eds.). (2007). Germanic Language Histories ‘from Below’ (1700-2000) (Studia Linguistica Germanica 86). Walter de Gruyter, Berlin/New York.
Raumolin-Brunberg, H., & Nevalainen, T. (2007). Historical sociolinguistics: The corpus of early english correspondence. In J. C. Beal, K. P. Corrigan, & H. L. Moisl (Eds.), Creating and digitizing language corpora: Volume 2: Diachronic Databases (pp. 148–171). Palgrave Macmillan UK. https://doi.org/10.1057/9780230223202_7
Rutten, G., & Van der Wal, M. J. (2014). Letters as loot: A sociolinguistic approach to seventeenth-and eighteenth-century Dutch (Vol. 2). John Benjamins Publishing Company.
Ladd, D. R., Roberts, S. G., & Dediu, D. (2015). Correlational Studies in Typological and Historical Linguistics. Annual Review of Linguistics, 1(1), 221–241. https://doi.org/10.1146/annurev-linguist-030514-124819
Weinreich, U., Labov, W., & Herzog, M. I. (1968). Empirical foundations for a theory of language change. WP Lehmann-Y. Malkiel (Hrsgg.), Directions for Historical Linguistics, Austin/London.