The University of Sussex

The intersection of internal and external factors in a sound change in New Zealand English

Nicola Jane Woods

In examining and attempting to describe the phenomena of language change, we have traditionally been faced with an enforced choice between internal and external explanations (see, for example, Labov 1972, Ross 1996). Recent research has begun to cast doubt upon this dichotomy to the extent that some now believe that the position that an external cause excludes an internal one (or vice versa) is untenable (Thomason and Kaufman 1988, Romaine 1995, Ross 1996). However, while research has now questioned the divide and has suggested that both internal and external factors may play a part in any single linguistic shift, we are still a long way from understanding how these dimensions interact in the mechanism of language change. This paper begins by providing a critical discussion of the internal versus external dichotomy and proceeds to present a case study of a sound change which reveals the intersection of system-internal and language-external forces. Specifically, the paper presents an inter-generational analysis of the shift in the MOUTH dipthong in New Zealand English.


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