Date of Award

Fall 2009

Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Graduate Group


First Advisor

Gillian Sankoff

Second Advisor

David Embick

Third Advisor

William Labov


Language shift is the process by which a speech community in a contact situation (i.e. consisting of bilingual speakers) gradually stops using one of its two languages in favor of the other. The causal factors of language shift are generally considered to be social, and researchers have focused on speakers’ attitudes (both explicit and unstated) toward a language and domains of language use in the community, as well as other macro social factors. Additional research has focused on the effects of language shift, generally on the (changing) structure of the language itself. The goal of this thesis is to examine the relationship between social and linguistic factors in considering the causes and effects of language shift, focusing on age-based variation in the speech community. This dissertation examines the linguistic and social correlates of early language shift in a Garifuna community in Belize. An apparent time analysis shows an externally-motivated change in the status of the sociolinguistic variable (ch) that is evidence for a shift in the dominant language in the community. A second change in progress, variable deletion of intervocalic r, is described for the first time as an internally-motivated change, albeit progressing alongside contact-induced changes. Evidence is also presented to propose that the behavior of the transitional generation (speakers aged 30-49) shows interesting characteristics with regard to these two variables as a result of shifting language ideologies in the village. These ideological shifts are examined along with changing attitudes in the community toward English, Belizean Creole, and Garifuna.