Frequency effects over the lifespan: A case study of attenborough’s r’s

Laurel MacKenzie

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


    This paper uses a small-scale case study of the speech of a single speaker at two points in time to investigate the question of whether and how speakers’ mental representations change over their lives. Specifically, I test two predictions of usage-based models of phonological representation: that individuals surrounded by a changing community will show the community change in their own production, and that this individual-level change will show an effect of item frequency. The community change under study is the loss in English Received Pronunciation of [] as a realization of //; the speaker studied is Sir David Attenborough, a well-known British nature documentary narrator. I find that Attenborough’s narrations do not show evidence of him participating in the community change away from [] over time; however, he does show a different sort of change, by which he increases his rate of [] in high-frequency collocations in later life. I propose that this result may be attributable to Attenborough’s mental representation of high-frequency collocations becoming more word-like over time. The results speak to questions about the malleability of mental representations and the role of the individual language user in cases of community change.

    Original languageEnglish (US)
    Article number20170005
    JournalLinguistics Vanguard
    Issue number1
    StatePublished - Dec 2017


    • Language change across the lifespan
    • Phonological representations
    • Received pronunciation
    • Sound change
    • Usage-based models

    ASJC Scopus subject areas

    • Language and Linguistics
    • Linguistics and Language


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