Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Graduate Group


First Advisor

David Embick

Second Advisor

William Labov


This dissertation, which is situated in broad debates over the delineation of abstract grammatical knowledge from the use of language in context, argues for distinct but interacting contributions from grammatical, psychological, and social factors in the production of intraspeaker linguistic variability. The phenomenon under investigation is the tendency of speakers to repeat recently-used linguistic options in conversational speech, which I refer to as persistence.

I take up three major themes: the use of persistence as evidence on the mental-representational unity of variable linguistic processes; the interaction of different loci of variation with different cognitively-rooted facilitatory effects; and the contextual sensitivity of persistence to both social and grammatical expectations.

The core results of this dissertation are based on data from 122 interviews drawn from the Philadelphia Neighborhood Corpus (Labov & Rosenfelder 2011). I argue for distinct phonological and morphological processes in the production of the common morphophonological variables ING (working/workin'), TD (old/ol'), and DH (them/dem/'em), with morphological variation showing generalized persistence while phonological variation is persistent only under conditions of lexical repetition. Specifically, I propose that verbal and nominal ING constitute distinct variables, as do past tense and monomorphemic TD, and that the alternation between stop and continuant consonants in DH is morphological in nature. The quantitative decay profiles of these variables, I suggest, tie their phonological versus morphological loci to their representation in episodic versus abstract memory systems.

Although the driving force behind persistence, in this view, is the operation of various general cognitive processes, I further argue that these processes reflect speakers' sociolinguistic awareness in a way that supports a holistic expectation-based view of persistence asymmetries. The quantitative results and new questions in this dissertation set the stage for continued progress toward an integrated model of how social, grammatical, and psychological forces contribute to the production of linguistic variation.

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