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Q33103 2015/16 LJ

Q33103 Sociolinguistics
Lecture 2: Social variables


A speech community comprises people who are in habitual contact with each
other by means of speech which involves either a shared language variety or
shared ways of interpreting the different language varieties commonly used in
the area (Mesthrie et al. 2000: 38)

Who in society uses the most non-standard English?

Investigating specific variants of variables which are sociolinguistically
Generalising between groups of similar speakers in order to find
statistical significance/averages

Social class

The divide between those who produce capital or resources and those who
control the production of capital (MARX)

Social status is a function of social actions, life style and life chances (WEBER)

Perhaps a more sensitive and accurate measure of social class or social status
would combine a number of objective factors (like personal wealth [] and
subjective factors (aspirations and networks) (Meyerhoff 2006: 159)

Class as a sociolinguistic variable

Generally, all speakers will use both variants some of the time regardless of
their social class (Meyerhoff 2006: 160)

Stable variation: Variants which co-exist without usage of one increasing at the
expense of the other at any
point in time

Trudgill (1974):

As you move up the social hierarchy dialect differences diminish. The speech of
the disadvantaged or underclass is more pronouncedly regional than that of
middle-class speakers. (Coulmas 2005: 29)
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BUT: We must relate our findings to the

particular speech community under
investigation (e.g. Kerswill 2007: 56)

Class as a category is fuzzy and we often

rely on [our] intuitions in assigning social
classes to individuals (Chambers 2003: 44)

Wardaugh (2006: 151) social space is

multi-dimensional () at any particular
moment, an individual locates himself or
herself in social space according to the
factors that are relevant to him or her at that moment


[Women] make choices in the contexts of particular social networks rather than
as some generalized response to the universal conditions of women Nichols
(1983: 54)

FINDING 1: Women use standard forms more than men do

Women () are said to be more expressive than men or use expressive symbols
more than men or rely more on such symbols to assert their position
Women are said to rely more on symbolic capital than men because they
possess less material power (Labov 1990: 214)

The social position of women in our society is less secure than that of menit is
more necessary for women to secure and signal their social status linguistically
(Trudgill 1972: 91)

WC men stick to a non-standard variety: Covert prestige

for men, non-standard variants fulfil the function of solidarity markers which
highlight certain group values like masculinity. (Wodak and Benke 1997: 135)

Beyond the speech community: Social networks

Milroy (1980) in Belfast

Ballymacarrett, Hammer & Clonard
Dense/loose networks

Social network studies reveal:

The more a part of our community we are, the more we are likely to use
local, non-standard, vernacular forms
Demographic categories are relevant only inasmuch as they reveal
something about the local set-up of a community

Three waves of sociolinguistics

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Beyond the speech community: Communities of practice

The social meaning of variables

Eckert and McConnell-Ginet (1992)
Mutual engagement
Jointly negotiated enterprise
Shared repertoire

FINDING 2: Women introduce new variants to their communities

Eckert (2000) Detroit study Jocks and Burnouts

Girls in the Jocks and the Burnouts used more of the variants associated
with their CoP than the boys did

Gender as a sociolinguistic variable

Men use more stable non-standard forms than women do

Women are linguistically insecure
In changes from above, women use incoming prestige forms more than men
Women are more conservative
In changes from below, women use more incoming non-standard forms than
men Women are more innovative

= Women seem to be more concerned by changes to the language

BUT: Are all men motivated by gaining prestige through work? Are all women
always inherently nurturing?

Or are these simply the most prevalent norms that we have, based on our social

Recommended reading (in addition to Wardhaugh)

Chambers (2003) Sociolinguistic Theory (2nd ed.) Oxford: Blackwell Publishing.

Eckert, P (1989) The whole woman: Sex and gender differences in variation Language
Variation and Change 1: 245-267
Kerswill, P (2007) Social Class in Llamas et al (Eds.) Routledge Companion to
Sociolinguistics Routledge
Labov, W. (1972) Sociolinguistic Patterns. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania
Labov, W (1990) The intersection of sex and social class in the course of linguistic
change Language Variation and Change 2: 205-254
Meyerhoff, M. (2006) Introduction to Sociolinguistics. London & New York: Routledge.
Savage, M. et al (2013) A New Model of Social Class. Sociology
Trudgill, P (1972) Sex, covert prestige and linguistic change in the urban British English
of Norwich Language in Society 1, 179-195
Wardhaugh (2010) ch. 5; Wardhaugh & Fuller (2015) ch. 3
Wodak, R and Benke, G (1997) Gender as a Sociolinguistic Variable: New Perspectives
on Variation Studies In Coulmas, F (Ed.) The handbook of sociolinguistics Oxford:
Blackwell, 127-150