Dialect Contact and the Sociolinguistic History of Acadian French

This programme of research addresses central questions concerning how language changes over time. We focus on the effects of population movements which bring speakers of different dialects together, which may in turn lead to the formation of new dialects. When groups of speakers whose language use differs from one another come together (e.g., through colonization or through urbanization), the immediate result is increased linguistic heterogeneity. Over time, though, sustained contact results in adult speakers' language use becoming more alike and their children and subsequent generations acquiring a more focussed (i.e., less heterogeneous) variety. In this programme of research, we ask the following questions: What are the effects of different proportions of speakers of different dialects brought into the mix? What kinds of linguistic processes work on the heterogeneous linguistic data brought together? How do factors like the salience (i.e., social psychological prominence) of particular linguistic usages figure in the adoption of new linguistic norms? Overall, what factors determine the results of dialect contact, and by extension, language change?

The effects of dialect contact on language change is often approached in a post-hoc way. That is, confronted with a linguistic feature by which particular dialects differ from one another, the researcher may then look back and search for sociohistorical or linguistic explanations for the observed pattern. In contrast, the present research systematically compares language use at two points in time for five closely-related varieties of Acadian French. Though they have a common source, these dialects differ dramatically in their settlement histories: one community has remained quite isolated over the course of several centuries, three others have closely-intertwined settlement histories, and a fifth has had an even more mixed settlement history. The dialects are all spoken in minority francophone communities located in eastern Canada: Grosses Coques, Nova Scotia; Chéticamp, Nova Scotia; the Îles de la Madeleine, Québec; Stephenville, Newfoundland and Labrador; and L'Anse-à-Canards, Newfoundland and Labrador.

The overall theoretical goals of the research are to a) locate variation within and across varieties as it relates to dialect contact; b) increase our knowledge of similarities and differences among these varieties; and c) contribute to our understanding of motivations and mechanisms of change in the history of these varieties and in dialect-contact situations more generally. The programme of research also has considerable benefits outside of the academic community. The data on which we base our analyses - oral language corpora based on archival recordings of speakers born in the late 19th century and sociolinguistic interviews conducted with speakers born early in the 20th century - provide an important social record which enriches our knowledge of the way of life of Acadians in the 19th and 20th centuries. Much of the data has been made available to us through partnerships with museums, archives and cultural centres, and through the cooperation of elderly speakers who have participated in sociolinguistic interviews: in return, collaborative activities with institutions and community stakeholders will provide local access to the historical record of disappearing ways of life and to other aspects of the communities' intangible culture, including their traditional dialects.

This programme of research is funded by a SSHRC Insight Grant, 2013-2019.
Principal Investigator: Ruth King. Co-Investigators: Philip Comeau and Carmen LeBlanc. Collaborator: Gary R. Butler.