Network Structure and Linguistic Change
[T]he Belfast research design here depends on the idea of norm maintenance, which we have operationalized in terms of social network, and within this model we have distinguished between relatively weak and strong network links. In any real community individuals and groups will vary in the relative intensity of ties, and this is what makes it possible to compare them in these terms. But behind this there lies an idealization which predicts that in a community bound by maximally dense and multiplex network ties linguistic change would not take place at all. No such community can actually exist, but the idealization is important, because it also implies that to the extent that relatively weak ties exist in communities (as in fact they do), the conditions will be present for linguistic change to take place. This perception was partly borne out even in the inner-city research. We noted that very few individuals had markedly low network strength scores, and furthermore that these individuals tended to use language much less close to the core Belfast vernacular, with a much lower use of the ‘close-tie’ variants (such as [A] in words of the (pull) class). The idea that relative strength of network tie is a powerful predictor of language use is thus implicit in the interpretative model we have used throughout: it predicts, amongst other things, that to the extent that ties are strong, linguistic change will be prevented or impeded, whereas to the extent that they are weak, they will be more open to external influences, and so linguistic change will be facilitated.
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