Linguistic Tool Predicts Dialect Characteristics A new linguistic model may make it possible to more accurately predict people’s dialects based on their demographics. In an article published in Language, Martijn Wieling of the University of Groningen and his colleagues used statistical modeling techniques to predict whether speakers in Tuscany use words from standard Italian or ... Research in Brief
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Research in Brief  |   December 01, 2014
Linguistic Tool Predicts Dialect Characteristics
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Cultural & Linguistic Diversity / Research in Brief
Research in Brief   |   December 01, 2014
Linguistic Tool Predicts Dialect Characteristics
The ASHA Leader, December 2014, Vol. 19, online only. doi:10.1044/leader.RIB3.19122014.np
The ASHA Leader, December 2014, Vol. 19, online only. doi:10.1044/leader.RIB3.19122014.np
A new linguistic model may make it possible to more accurately predict people’s dialects based on their demographics. In an article published in Language, Martijn Wieling of the University of Groningen and his colleagues used statistical modeling techniques to predict whether speakers in Tuscany use words from standard Italian or words unique to local dialects. The study’s modeling methods could one day be applied to speakers of other languages, such as American English.
The researchers studied how more than 2,000 speakers of Italian and Tuscan dialects referred to 170 different concepts. (The Italian word for “cheese,” for example, is “formaggio”; a Tuscan speaker may instead refer to “cacio.”) Using a technique known as generalized additive mixed modeling, they examined how a speaker’s location and demographic information—such as age, gender and education level—are likely to affect whether the speaker will use the standard (Italian) or dialectal (Tuscan) form for a given concept. Though many linguists have previously studied the effects of geography and social factors on language use, the current study considers them together in a single and more mathematically sophisticated model.
Their findings reflect many previously studied dialect variation trends: For example, men, farmers and speakers farther from the city of Florence were more likely to use dialectal, Tuscan-specific words than women, while speakers with higher levels of education were more likely to use standard, Italian words.
But the authors’ model also provided new insight into dialect patterns. For example, older speakers were more likely than younger speakers to use their local dialect’s terms for frequently used concepts, but both young and old speakers showed similar patterns of usage for less frequently used words. There also was great variability in the usage patterns across concepts. For some concepts, the standard Italian form was more likely to be used in smaller villages than larger villages; for other concepts this pattern was reversed, with a greater likelihood of a dialect-specific form in smaller villages.
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December 2014
Volume 19, Issue 12