Insertion and deletion in Northern English (ng): Interacting innovations in the life cycle of phonological processes

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


In north western varieties of British English the historical process of ng-coalescence that simplified nasal+stop clusters in words like wrong and singer never ran to completion, with surface variation between [ŋ] and [ŋɡ] remaining to this day. This paper presents an empirical study of this synchronic variation, specifically to test predictions made by the life cycle of phonological processes; a diachronic account of /ɡ/-deletion has been proposed under this framework, but crucially the life cycle makes hitherto-untested predictions regarding the synchronic behaviour of (ng) in North West England. Data from 30 sociolinguistic interviews indicate that these predictions are largely met: internal constraints on the variable are almost entirely accounted for by assuming cyclic application of /ɡ/-deletion across a stratified phonology. There is also evidence of apparent-time change in the pre-pausal environment, which is becoming increasingly [ɡ]-favouring contrary to the life cycle’s predictions. It is argued that this reflects a separate innovation in the life cycle of (ng), with synchronic variation reflecting two processes: the original deletion overlaid with a prosodically-conditioned insertion process. These results have implications for theories of language change and the architecture of grammar, and add to a growing body of evidence suggesting that the effect of pause on probabilistic phenomena can be synchronically variable and diachronically unstable.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1
Number of pages33
JournalJournal of Linguistics
Early online date15 Dec 2020
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 15 Dec 2020


  • life cycle of phonological processes
  • variation
  • sound change
  • phonology
  • velar nasal
  • dialects of English

Cite this