Chapter 10: Language Variation and Change

10.11 Summary

Variationist sociolinguistics is a subfield of linguistics that investigates the link between language and society by way of examining linguistic variation.  Linguistic variables, or two or more ways of doing the same thing, are the primary object of study. Linguistic variables exist in all varieties and all domains of language (from phonetic to pragmatic). Variationist sociolinguistics has uncovered facts about linguistic structure, social structure and the process of language change by examining the patterns of variation between the two (or more) variants of variables and the sociocultural context. Variationist sociolinguistics has roots in dialectology but became a distinct field in terms of its data (using sociolinguistic interviews and corpora), its analytic methods (applying quantitative and statistical techniques) and its focus (expanding to consider language in use by the entire social range of the language community, not just ‘NORMS’). This chapter considered several sociocultural factors – style, place, social status, gender, and ethnicity – but there is a wide array of factors that have been found to be important to understanding linguistic variation.  While early variationist sociolinguistic research sought to explain variation by finding correlations between these kinds of social factors and patterns of variation, modern approaches to sociolinguistic variation focus on how people agentively use language and linguistic variation for identity work, to both align and disalign from others, and to shape and reshape the social context.


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Essentials of Linguistics, 2nd edition Copyright © 2022 by Catherine Anderson; Bronwyn Bjorkman; Derek Denis; Julianne Doner; Margaret Grant; Nathan Sanders; and Ai Taniguchi is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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