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The Role of Population Structure in Language Change
University of Chicago, United States of America
Population structure is a cluster of ecological factors that I have invoked to account for differential language evolution, especially regarding the emergence of creoles and of World Englishes (relative to other modern language varieties with which they share their lexifiers), as well as language endangerment and loss (LEL). It includes the socioeconomic structure of a population, including whether the latter is segregated and/or stratified by ethnicity, race, or socioeconomic class, which group(s) experience(s) the most pressure to accommodate which other group, and what are the associated patterns of social interactions, notwithstanding other traditional factors such as gender, age, level of education, etc. From a uniformitarian perspective, I want to show how population structure can also help us explain some changes in the distant past, for instance, how Latin evolved into the Romance languages from several local or regionalneo-Latin varieties spoken in provinces of part of the Western Roman Empire to modern varieties now called French, Italian, Portuguese, and Spanish, among others. I want to show how the evolution was multilateral and quite diverse (rather than unilateral), as well as why Classical Latin lost while Vulgar Latin prevailed. Focusing on France and Spain, I also wish to show how this evolution had to be gradual, depending largely on the success of Roman-style economy and urbanization, and on changing power relations between Christians and Muslims in Iberia in the Middle Ages, rather than on factors such as prestige and language policy. The same factors bearing today on language shift applied then.