Tofa language change and terminal generation speakers

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Small and moribund languages seem to behave in some ways as if they were going to continue living forever. Their speakers – including those in the very terminal generation – may continue to introduce changes and innovations, including changes resulting in both simplification and in greater complexity. It is often difficult to disentangle whether a particular change is driven by internal restructuring, contact induced change, obsolescence effects, or some combination of these. We also find in moribund languages an unusually high incidence of variation both across and within speakers, variation that cannot be correlated to social or demographic factors given the very small size of the speech community. We present new data from a salvage documentation of Tofa, an endangered Turkic language of Siberia, to argue that moribund languages may provide an ideal laboratory to study the interaction of domains in language change.


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