Chapter 10: Language Variation and Change
Why do some Canadian English speakers say eh at the end of their sentences while others opt for right? In what contexts is one person more likely to say eh or more likely to say right? What kinds of information about someone can we glean if we hear them say eh? Or right? Or even innit? Have these patterns changed over time? These are variationist sociolinguistic questions. Variationist sociolinguistics is a methodological and analytical approach to understanding the relationship between language and its context of use. We call it sociolinguistics because both social and linguistic (e.g., grammatical, structural, articulatory) factors, are equally important; sociolinguistics, unlike many formal approaches to language, does not focus on an idealized grammar (sometimes called ‘competence’) but rather analyzes language in use (sometimes called ‘performance’). We call it variationist sociolinguistics because it’s concerned with the variable nature of language in use. In this chapter we will see how variationist sociolinguistics has analyzed the interplay between language variation, the development of linguistic systems, and the social meaning of language. In Chapter 2, sociolinguistic issues are explored more broadly.