Rabbits Riding Elephants | Annual Review of Linguistics, Volume 3

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li3-rabbits-and-elephantsIn the course of proofing articles for a volume, there is sometimes a figure or a phrase that just jumps off the screen and grabs my attention. That was the case with the rabbits riding elephants photo from Crain’s “Acquisition of Quantifiers.” I spent my lunch break reading about the differences between how adults and children respond to sentences with quantifiers because I am endlessly fascinated by child development and language acquisition. In this case, when asked to look at the four rabbits riding elephants (with one extra elephant without a rider) the subjects were asked “Is every rabbit riding an elephant?” children ages 4-6 sometimes answer no, while adults answer yes. The article goes beyond rabbits and elephants to give a historical overview of the research on quantifiers, and I was surprised by how long ago that research had started (more than 50 years ago!) as well as how complicated the subject proved to be:

Structural principles on anaphoric dependencies were expected to be in place from the earliest stages of acquisition. Linguists subsequently proposed that the difficulties children experience in assigning noncoreference in sentences with referential NPs are not due to their lack of syntactic knowledge, but rather reflect problems in executing certain pragmatic principles that govern the assignment of noncoreference to pronouns.

Sixteen years ago I moved from rural Virginia to urban California. Among the many shocks (where did the weather go?), I was dismayed to find my soft southern accent flattening out. It’s certainly not gone, as you can tell if you happen to encounter me after I have a phone call with my mother or when I’m especially tired, but you might understand my curiosity regarding Dodsworth’s article “Migration and Dialect Contact.” My attention was particularly drawn to the short section about this type of rural to urban migration:

When speakers of rural dialects migrate to a well-established urban area, the features of their rural dialects often do not survive in their children’s speech; in other words, rural features do not survive the leveling process resulting from dialect contact, as described above. By contrast, when a city’s population grows substantially as the result of rapid migration from a variety of places, including other cities, the local dialect itself may be attenuated in favor of either a national standard or a mixed variety….

As you can see, the article is more about groups of people than about individuals—although it doesn’t address my case specifically, I still found it interesting. If you’re interested in dialects specifically there’s an article by Schreier you should investigate: “Dialect Formation in Isolated Communities.” This one is about a different type of population movement that results in the formation of a new community. Here I found it interesting that the new dialect doesn’t necessarily need an isolated group: “isolation is of course not a prerequisite for NDF, and that new dialects (or koinés) may in fact emerge in urban high-contact scenarios as well. These processes have been documented in suburban overspills….”

If you have a recommendation for a good Introduction to Linguistics textbook, or a story of accent shift, please leave me a comment below!

Suzanne K. Moses is Annual Reviews’ Senior Electronic Content Coordinator. For 15+ years, she has played a central role in the publication of Annual Reviews’ online articles. Not a single page is posted online without first being proofed and quality checked by Suzanne.