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Socio-cultural impact on language change (SILC)

Can democratization explain recent language change?

Since around 1960, numerous changes have occurred in Western societies: More rights for women, flatter hierarchies in the workplace, more attention paid to the inclusion of minorities, to name just a few. These changes have in common that they pay greater attention to equal rights and flatter power structures, a development also known as democratization. What does this mean for language use, however? For instance, are people nowadays less likely to emphasize their position of power when speaking to a subordinate than they were 30 or 50 years ago? And if so, is this related to the ongoing process of democratization in our society?

These are some of the question the SILC project wants to answer. Although a lot of previous research, for example on the use of address terms and modal verbs, has uncovered changes during the past decades, no study has systematically linked these recent changes with sociocultural processes such as democratization and individualization. We want to close this research gap by not only gathering language data from corpora and discourse completion tasks (DCTs), but also by finding out more about people's attitudes towards social hierarchies and concepts such as authority in questionnaires and interviews. We then want to search for correlations between the attitudinal and the language data.

The project focuses on recent language change in different varieties of English and German, namely British and American English as well as German spoken in Germany and Austria. This allows us to compare the developments in different countries and cultures, and see which impact the language we speak has compared to the influence of the culture we come from. Data will be collected from informants belonging to various age groups, representing different generations, so as to uncover change with the help of synchronic data. This approach has been called ‚apparent time studies’ and has been widely used in sociolinguistics, but never – to our mind – with the aim to uncover recent change with the help of a combination of discourse completion tasks, attitude questionnaires and interviews.

The project Socio-Cultural Impact on Language Change is a part of the interdisciplinary project Demokratisierung und Machtstrukturen.


Project members:

People currently working in the Project:

Prof. Dr Svenja Kranich

Hanna Bruns, M.A.

Former project members:

Elisabeth Hampel, M.A.

Sarah Lapacz, M.A.



Bruns, H., & Kranich, S. (2021). Terms of address: A contrastive investigation of ongoing changes in British, American and Indian English and in German. Journal of Contrastive Pragmatics, 3(1), 112-143.

Kranich, S., Bruns, H., & Hampel, E. (2021). Requests across varieties and cultures: Norms are changing (but not everywhere in the same way). Anglistik: International Journal of English Studies, 32(1), 91-114.

Kranich, S., Hampel, E., & Bruns, H. (2020). Changes in the modal domain in different varieties of English as potential effects of democratization. Language Sciences, 79, 1–15.


Kranich, S., & Bruns, H. (2022). "Excuse me, sir or Hey guys. Changes in the use of generic nominal address terms in the 20th and 21st century". Talk presented at the 9th Biennial International Conference on the Linguistics of Contemporary English (BICLCE), University of Ljubljana, Slovenia, 15-17 September 2022. (PDF)

Kranich, S., & Bruns, H. (2019). “Asking politely? Changing norms concerning directness levels in requests”. Talk presented at the 12th International Conference on (Im)politeness (SymPol 12), Anglia Ruskin University, Cambridge, England, 17-19 July 2019. (PDF).

Kranich, S. (2018). "We may say that… Do we still say that?”. Talk presented at the International Society for the Linguistics of English (ISLE 5), University of London, England, 17.-20. July 2018. (PDF)

Kranich, S., Bruns, H., & Hampel, E. (2018). “Effects of democratization on language use”. Talk presented at the English as a Global Language Symposium, University of Bonn, Germany, 10 December 2018. (PDF)

Kranich, S., Hampel, E., & Bruns, H. (2018b). “Requests across varieties and cultures: Norms are changing (but not everywhere in the same way)”. Talk presented at the Anglistentag 2018, University of Bonn, Germany, 23 – 26 September 2018. (PDF)

Kranich, S., Hampel, E., & Bruns, H. (2018a). “Changes in the modal domain in different varieties of English: Effects of democratization?” Talk presented at the 39th Annual Conference of the International Computer Archive for Modern and Medieval English (ICAME), University of Tampere, Finland, 30 May – 3 June 2018. (PDF)

Kranich, S. & Neuhäuser, W. (2017). "Some effects of democraticization on the performance of facethreatening acts in expert-layman communication”. Talk presented at the 15th International Pragmatics Conference (IPrA), Ulster University, Belfast, Northern Ireland, 16.-21. July 2017. (PDF)

Kranich, S. & Schramm, S. (2015). "Changes in communicative style in recent German: More interactional, less direct”. Talk presented at the 14th International Pragmatics Conference (IPrA), University of Antwerp, Belgium, 26.-31. July 2015. (PDF)

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