Dissertations, Theses, and Capstone Projects

Date of Degree


Document Type


Degree Name





Juliette Blevins

Committee Members

William Haddican

Kyle Gorman

John McWhorter

Nikolaus Ritt

Subject Categories

Anthropological Linguistics and Sociolinguistics | Comparative and Historical Linguistics | Morphology | Other International and Area Studies | Phonetics and Phonology | Syntax | Typological Linguistics and Linguistic Diversity


contact linguistics, historical linguistics, Europe, phonology, morphology, syntax


The goal of this dissertation is to introduce a powerful new method for demonstrating the role of contact in potential cases of linguistic contact spread, Memetic Epidemiology, that can facilitate extensive future research. This dissertation introduces and demonstrates the use of this method on examples from Western and Central Europe.

Part I begins by providing theoretical background for Memetic Epidemiology using understandings, including Memetics, and Evolutionary Phonology and its extensions. Part I proceeds to lay out the objective of Memetic Epidemiology: to provide a new means of demonstrating that contact influenced the rise of linguistic features in certain languages during the course of history. Part I concludes by explaining the details of how Memetic Epidemiology works, including the philosophical understandings and mathematical models upon which the method is built.

Part II presents three examples of Memetic Epidemiology in use. In accordance with the principles of Memetic Epidemiology, each of the three studies tracks the apparent spread of a specific linguistic pattern through time and across Western and Central Europe in order to accomplish the fundamental goal of the method: to establish that the apparent spread was, in fact, a contact-influenced spread phenomenon (the theoretical considerations in Part I and the mathematical calculations in the Appendix support the pursuit of this objective). The linguistic patterns tracked are contrastive front rounded vowels, the productive plural “-s” suffix, and (as an attempt at testing the limits of the method) the use of a sentence construction that contains an overt referential subject pronoun that offers no sense of contrastiveness.

Part III begins by assessing the method of Memetic Epidemiology and discussing how it can be used, based on the information in Parts I and II. It is found that Memetic Epidemiology offers a means of demonstrating that contact influenced linguistic changes in history and that Memetic Epidemiology is compatible with both the Comparative Method and existing contact models. Part III concludes with a brief discussion of the potential future of Memetic Epidemiology.

An Appendix presents precise mathematical calculations that support the studies in Part II. These calculations follow a model presented in Part I.

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