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Sociolinguistics

Sociolinguistics

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Sociolinguistics

Until this point, we have essentially been considering language as a formal system that can be profitably studied independently from the people who use it. This type of approach is often referred to in the field as the are of "formal" linguistics. People use the term "formal" because such investigation revolves around constructing formal models that allow us to understand how various subparts or modules of the linguistic grammar function. These subparts or modules consist of the areas that we have been studying all semester, such as phonetics, phonology, morphology, syntax, and semantics. There is, however, a lot more to understanding language than focusing on these core theoretical areas. If we can gain insight into how language works by studying its formal grammatical properties, we must also realize that language as a "thing" to be studied is necessarily a kind of simplification, because language isn't a "thing" external to human beings, but rather, something that makes up a part of who we are. What I want to stress here is that language must also be profitably studied in its social context. In so doing, we learn both about language and about ourselves, the people who use it, live with it, and live in it. Sociolinguistics, then, as the name implies, is the study of language in human society. We'll focus here on a major aspect of sociolinguistic research in the past decades, an area generally referred to as language variation. As its own name implies, language variation focuses on how language varies in different contexts, where context refers to things like ethnicity, social class, sex, geography, age, and a number of other factors.

Language Variation
Before we review various aspects of language variation in more detail, I want to make sure we've got some basic terms and concepts down. So, here goes... SOME IMPORTANT TERMINOLOGY Internal Variation: the property of languages having different ways of expressing the same meaning. Importantly, this refers to within language, not across language, differences. An example of internal variation in English is "ask" vs. "aks". Language variety: This is a general term that may be used at a number of levels. So, we can use the term to distinguish between English and French, but we can also use the term to distinguish between two varieties of English, such as New York City English vs. Appalachian English. Dialect: This is a complex and often misunderstood concept. For linguists, a dialect is the collection of attributes (phonetic, phonological, syntactic, morphological, semantic) that make one group of speakers noticeably different from another group of speakers of the same language. COMMON SOURCES OF MISUNDERSTANDING

say English. Accent is only a part of dialectal variation. on the edge of your seat. and semantic properties as well. usually to say something bad about the non-standard variety (and thus about the people who speak it). we all speak a dialect of our native language. Often times. by definition. what is "accent"? 3) ACCENT: This term refers to phonological variation. That is. Just as there is variation among groups of speakers of a language. variation in pronunciation Thus. Linguists use a particular criterion to address the issue of how to determine whether two dialects are varieties of the same language or not. Some Issues that complicate the "Big Picture" a bit While the big picture is relatively simple. Since we all have a dialect. "What's an idiolect?" you ask. Accent refers to the phonology of a given dialect. is really a collection of dialects. No two speakers of a language speak identically. How do we know where one dialect begins and another ends? How do we even know if two language varieties are dialects of the same language or are dialects of different languages altogether? Let's set aside the first question for a moment. A final note on accent. What we use is the criterion of mutual intelligibility. and we all have a dialect. and address the second. if we talk about a Southern Accent. Dialects themselves are collections of idiolects (and thus so are languages). we all have an accent. although they recognize themselves to be speaking different varieties of the language. But. Each speaks her or his own particular variety of that language. while dialect is a broader term encompassing syntactic. . Each thus speaks her or his own idiolect. This happened quite a bit during last year's ebonics controversy. An idiolect is simply the technical term we use to refer to the variety of language spoken by each individual speaker of the language. This is not an exercise in political correctness. . A Snapshot of "The Big Picture":    A language. WE ALL HAVE ONE! There is no such thing as a person who speaks without an accent. Southern dialects have more than particular phonological properties.1) DIALECT is NOT a negative term for linguists. then we are looking at two dialects of the same language. the world is a fuzzy and complex place. Also. the term dialect refers to ANY variety of a language. In sum. for example. It is a fact. if speakers of the two dialects can converse fluently with one another. Idiolect: Another term that we must be familiar with is idiolect. Non-linguists often think accents define a dialect (or that accents alone identify people as non-native or foreign language speakers). a dialect is a particular variety of a language.e. But. Accent is thus about pronunciation. there is variation from speaker to speaker. 2) DIALECT is NOT synonymous with accent. by the way. we hear people refer to non-standard varieties of English as "dialects". A dialect is a particular variety of a language that differs noticeably from the variety or varieties of the same language spoken by another group or groups of people. So. morphological. i. non-linguists tend to think that it's always the "other" people that have "an accent". we're talking about a generalized property of English pronunciation in the Southern part of the US. Thus.

is this a variety of English or is it something else?" But. Regarding the issue of different languages. and by the time we get to 8. except that all the Mixtecs obviously aren't all lined up in a row. clearly there are cases where no one is going to wonder whether two speakers are speaking dialects of one language or whether they are speakers of different languages. imagine that each dialect is highly similar to its immediately adjacent neighbors. even less similar to 4.) Anyway. I do not have many of the linguistic properties in my dialect that are usually associated with that region. But. primarily spread out in the state of Oaxaca. By the criterion of mutual intelligibility. which may be mutually intelligible with both 1 and 10? Which language does 5 belong to? How many different languages are we talking about here? An example of the dialect continuum problem An interesting example that I have first hand experience with is the case of the Mixtec languages in Mexico. are incredibly hearty walkers in general!) This is a clear case of a dialect continuum similar to our case of 1-10 above. 1 is no longer mutually intelligible with these. 9 or 10. you can understand me in lecture. there are many situations where the dividing line is far less clear. What's a dialect continuum? To simplify somewhat. Mixtec is an indigenous language that is a member of a larger family called the Otomanguean language family. Imagine we've got ten dialects (1-10) in a row: 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 Now. but a fairly trustworthy study puts the number at 22. to belabor the obvious. (Though I grew up in the New York City metropolitan area. There are roughly 300. Perhaps more meaningful than the number 22. (Mixtecs. if I come in and lecture to you in Spanish. So. A major linguistic complication comes in the form of what we call a dialect continuum.Many of you are speakers of "Southern" English (I use quotes because it is actually a BIG oversimplification to treat "Southern English" as a monolithic dialect). Specifically. Estimates of how many such dialects there are vary. is that such communication is possible because although we may speak different dialects of English. we'd want to thus say that 1 and 10 belong to different languages. Mixtec itself is actually composed of a number of mutually unintelligible dialects. There are a number of reasons why things get tricky. the differences are not so great as to prevent us from understanding one another. less similar to 3. But what do we do about 5. as I've told you. I doubt that you'll scratch your heads and say. 1 is very similar to 2. This is a situation in which there are a number of contiguous dialects that are closely related but that are not all mutually intelligible. "Gee. So. it has been reported that the geographical extension of mutual intelligibility is roughly the equivalent of two days walking from any given Mixtec village. while I speak something akin to so-called standard English. think of it this way. and I can understand you when you ask questions or come to talk to me in office hour. . both linguistic and non-linguistic.000 Mixtec speakers in Mexico. The point. That's fine. however. but that as we move farther away the similarities become fewer and fewer. is the observation that mutual intelligibility among Mixtecs is best measured in terms of walking distance.

From the point of view of the linguist. of course. and Provencal dialects of a single language.In fact. but from the point of view of the linguist. the animosity between Serbs and Croats makes them refuse to admit that they are speaking the same language (even though they know they are and can. A good. due to the fact that there is a political border between Croatia and Serbia. A famous linguists once said. and German are all dialects of a single German language. for example. The majority language in the former Yugoslavia was called Serbo-Croatian. they are still a single language. example of this can be found in the former Yugoslavia. if not downright impossible. what more sophisticated studies of mutual intelligibility try to do is quantify in some fashion over the issue of intelligibility. language issue Non-linguistic factors also often complicate matters further. Yet the Chinese refer to them as dialects of a single language as a means of enforcing a vision of cultural and political unity. These are now officially two completely different languages. French. As a case in point. the language of Croatia is officially Croatian. of course. and has been reported to only have a 25% intelligibility level with the closest dialect to it. Cantonese is spoken in part of Southern China (it's spoken in Shanghai). Catalan. say. New York vs. Romance. so Serbo-Croatian wasn't the only language. understand one another!). Nonlinguistic Factors and the dialect vs. and the differences between them are examples of dialectal variation on a par with. Imagine if the Europeans decided that they were all going to call Spanish.) Anyway. Italian. though very depressing. and the language now spoken in what is still called Yugoslavia is officially called Serbian. but the Chinese government refers to them all as dialects of Chinese. Or imagine that we decide that English. dialects often form a continuum which makes finding an exact dividing point between languages quite difficult. now that Croatia has broken off into its own independent state. their non-mutual intelligibility makes them different languages. What you should take away from this discussion is that while the criterion of mutual intelligibility is a good and useful criterion for determining whether two varieties of a language are dialects of the same language or not. these languages ARE historically related. This language was spoken throughout the country (Albanian and Macedonian. and you start to get the picture. But. not dialects of a single present day language. Portuguese. they are NOT mutually intelligible. Yes. Two of these so-called dialects are Cantonese and Mandarin. were also spoken in parts of Yugoslavia. "A language is a dialect with an army and a navy. That is. Boston English. the particular variety of Mixtec that I have worked on is among the most isolated. rather than take mutual intelligibility to be an all or nothing issue. Though these two languages are both historically related. while Mandarin is spoken in the north (it's the language spoken in Beijing). Speech Communities . Romanian. they try to break the issue down into percentages so that we might be able to distinguish between degrees of intelligibility. Dutch." What he was calling attention to were the political factors involved in how people determine just what a language is. There are quite a few languages spoken in China. An example of politics working in the other direction is the case of China.

(double modal) 2) I ain't no girl now. though. To cite another simple example. morphology. is that the speaker is a native of Southern Ohio. ethnicity. What do I mean by this? Simply. not actually a native of Appalachia. and semantics of that dialect. then the idea of a speech community is fairly straightforward. however. sex. Kinds of Variation Now we're ready to get down to particular aspects of language variation. (lexical substitution--upside of for against the side of) What they point out. For example. if we've got a pretty clear idea of what a dialect is.e. Phonetic Variation . So.  A speech community is a group of people who speak a common dialect. While this can be useful and can shed light on the hows and whys of dialect variation. as well as an understanding of who speaks it. It does happen to be true. your book Language Files gives you an example of speech from an older man with many well known characteristics of Appalachian English: 1) I used to could read. here we'll cover grammatical aspects of language variation. (sody instead of soda) 5) I fell upside of the building. phonology. and geographical location. And his speech is affected by factors such as age. it is important to note that the linguists who do this KNOW that there is really no such thing as a pure dialect spoken only by a particular ethnic group or by people from just one perfectly definable region. and socioeconomic status. (multiple negation) 3) He has a broken back ____ was never set. i. So. In large part.Okay. A speech community is the group of people who speak the dialect. Nor is there an assumption that this dialect is limited to African Americans only. people are in contact with one another and with many varieties of a language. ("that" deletion) 4) Put some bakin' sody on it. our understanding of how that dialect works requires an understanding of the phonetics. big picture again. sex. along ethnic or geographical lines. syntax. linguists study African American English (most recently called ebonics). A dialect is a variety of a language. that most speakers of this dialect are African Americans. that if we identify a particular dialect. Linguists working on language variation often characterize speech communities in terms of extra-linguistic factors. Returning to our grammatical modules. but there is no assumption here that ALL African Americans speak this dialect. we can see that carefully examining language variation requires both attention to grammar and attention to society. These include socio-economic status. What makes a particular group of people speak a particular dialect has to do with a number of factors which may play a more or less significant role in any particular case.

Here's the case of New York alveolar consonants. Standard English speakers only do this sometimes. people who speak these dialects pronounce the vowel in "caught" as an [a]: [kat]. For me. Why is this a case of phonological and not phonetic variation? Because. mid. these are a minimal pair. The first. How so? The book gives a few useful examples. the [t] word "two" is produced with contact between the tongue tip and the teeth. So. these two different phonemes have merged.Your textbook. there is really no difference between NY English and standard English. At the phonemic level. while the latter is the low. why is this a case of phonetic variation? The answer is basically this. back vowel (its phonetic symbol is a backwards "c"). thus rendering the two words "caught" and "cot" homophonous. the alveolars are not dental. This situation is a little different. Though it doesn't come out and say so specifically. In the case of NY alveolars above. back. the dialects that don't have this difference have lost a contrast. has one less vowel phoneme than my dialect has. is actually a bit unclear regarding the difference between phonological and phonetic variation. as in words like [tenth]. Both have the exact same set of alveolar consonant PHONEMES. What's different is that the place of articulation differs ever so slightly between the two dialects. In a few dialects of American English. What's most important here is that we understand that the difference is relevant at the level of the phoneme. "caught" has a lax. Two examples are provided. Another way of putting this is to say that the dialect that has lost the backwards "c" vowel that I still have in my dialect. in New York English. the allophones of the alveolar consonant . Phonological Variation Now let's turn to the case of phonological variation. the difference is not found at the phoneme level but rather at the allophone level. In some New York City dialects. Whereas in my dialect these vowels are allophones of two different phonemes. That is. This is what your book is referring to by this example of phonetic variation between NY English and standard American English. Here's one:  I have a difference in my dialect between the vowel in the word "caught" and the vowel in the word "cot". unrounded vowel [a]. So. this difference has been neutralized. rounded. Here. your book treats phonetic variation as variation in pronunciation that don't affect the phonemic level of the grammar. aka lost. the variation in pronunciation represents variation at the level of the phoneme or at the level of phonotactic constraints on things like syllable shape. Language Files. So. they are dento-alveolar). alveolar consonants are systematically produced with contact between the tongue tip and the upper teeth (i.e. In so-called standard English. NY English speakers always produce their alveolar consonants with contact between the tongue tip and the upper front teeth. this isn't the case. the result of this kind of variation is the loss of a phonological contrast. Specifically. In short. while in socalled standard dialects. This is what your book classifies as an example of phonological variation. the big picture is that the variation means that the phoneme system is different in the two varieties. Alveolar consonants are not always realized as dentals.

many times people who want to imitate Southern American English speech often pick up on this rather salient property. AAE doesn't allow Cl and Cr clusters. as in "she done already told you" or "I done finished a while ago. the word professor has an /r/ as the second phoneme of the word. but in AAE. We walks all the time. These are all examples of morphological variation. That's a fancy way of saying that we are studying variation in the meanings of words. what people studying variation talk about when they discuss semantic variation is the different meanings that particular words have from dialect to dialect. Here's another interesting example:  In some African American dialects. it is common in many Southern dialects to find the word "done" used as an auxiliary. while SAE does. Double modals (combinations of auxiliaries) are also common across parts of the South. or the different words that are used for the same thing in different dialects." Semantic Variation Often times. as in "I didn't see nobody. . We might more accurately refer to this as the study of lexical semantic variation. Morphological Variation Examples of morphological variation should be fairly easy for you to identify. Another example comes from Appalachian English. So. the inventory of possible syllable types differs from one to the other. Syntactic Variation As the name suggests. This literally means that there is a significant difference in the phonological rules of the two dialects Specifically." In SAE. In many other dialects of English. but both dialects still have the same alveolar phonemes in the same words. This is a case of phonological variation because we are able to identify a particular difference in phonotactics between AAE and SAE. Keeping close to home. Examples are: "I might could do it" or "They useta could do it" or "He might would if you asked him nice enough." These are examples of syntactic variation. /r/ is simply not allowed to appear in this position. Your book notes the case of northern England and Southern Wales. And. This is a case of phonological variation because in SAE. which has a number of past tense forms that are non-standard. -s is reserved for marking the present tense in third person singular forms only. syntactic variation involves syntactic differences among dialects. in fact. "hEt" for "heated". Another famous example is the use of so-called double negatives. this isn't the case. the sequences Cr and Cl (C stands for consonant) are prohibited in unstressed syllables. "Et" for "ate". I likes him. where the -s suffix is used as a general present tense marker.phonemes are different. "professor" is "pofessor".

For me. I know. but my dialect is clearly NOT the same as Clinton's. (I know. and the RIGHT view. There are actually a range of varieties that people consider to be standard. while for me. Here in the States it means "to make pregnant". it's a bag. But when I lived in Montana. let's make sure the big picture is clear. this is a general term for soft drink. a non-linguistic factor. nonstandard varieties of a language. Examples of different words being used for the same thing also abound. In some of these dialects. I quickly learned that you get your groceries there in a sack. what do you get your groceries in? A bag or a sack? In my dialect.  The non-standard language is more complex. I'm being absolutist here.So. Before I discuss this problem in a bit more detail. In England it means 'rouse from sleep'. So. But the point is important to make. .) THE WRONG VIEW  A language is composed of a "standard" dialect from which all of the other nonstandard dialects emerge.  The standard dialect is the "correct" way to speak the language. let's break the problem down into two categories: the WRONG view. I literally had no idea what he was talking about. an example of a single word meaning different things is the compound "knocked up". THE RIGHT VIEW     Languages have various dialects. more logical. From a linguistic standpoint. when you go to the store. what is considered standard has NOTHING to do with correctness or superiority. By the way. Specifically. and this issue is important to address. Language and Socioeconomic Status One of the most persistent and pernicious misunderstandings of the concept dialect revolves around the problem of standard vs. For speakers of other dialects. Obviously. What is considered standard is associated with prestige. more expressive than the non-standard dialects. Other examples are words like "soda". "coke" refers to only a specific brand of cola. so why not be direct about it. Bill Clinton speaks the "standard" and so do I. In yet other dialects.  Non-standard dialects are a product of "lazy" speech. the general term is "coke". It turns out that frappe is a common term for "milk shake" in New England. I remember when I first went to college that someone asked me if I liked frappes.  The other dialects represent erroneous or inferior ways of speaking the language. the general term for soft drink is "pop". "soda" may mean seltzer water or club soda only. it wasn't a common term in the New York area that I was from.

because when we compare non-standard and standard dialects people tend to think that the properties of the non-standard have evolved out of the standard. We saw an example of this in the video that we watched in class. by pointing out that in Chaucer's time. don't think of non-standard dialects simply as daughters of some standard variety. let's be pedantic ourselves. But. since this is an even number of negations. equally complex. then we predict that through time the standard will be unchanging with respect to this "right" way of doing things. the term non-standard dialect means just that. "no". Rather. because I don't want you to believe these things simply because I say so. there is often an attempt to demean speakers who use double or other multiple negative constructions. we KNOW that it . some particularly pedantic types argue that two negatives actually cancel each other out logically. equally logical and so forth. That is. multiple negation structures are non-standard and people who use them are often ridiculed. Non-standard and standard dialects taken together simply make up the range of dialects that constitute a language. I suppose a paraphrase should have them all canceling each other out. Non-standard dialects are not simply offshoots from the standard. I want you to understand why the evidence overwhelmingly supports what I've told you. This is important. ALL DIALECTS are equally correct. Of course.g. they suggest that anyone who says "I don't want no help" is actually requesting aid. But this isn't sufficient. we see that this is simply not the case. e. In fact. That is. equally expressive. just for fun. not the standard dialect. Language Files provides a simple example regarding multiple negation. multiple negation WAS the norm. so the passage should mean something like: "He always said bad things to all creatures". This is not the case. Language Files quotes a passage from the General Prologue to the Canterbury Tales: He never yet no villany not said In all his life to no kind of creature By my count. As a consequence. and that correct way is reflected in the standard. and "no". Evidence for the RIGHT VIEW What kinds of evidence might we look for to support these claims? Here are some ideas:  If there is a correct way to speak a language. In current standard American English. It DOES NOT MEAN inferior or substandard. "not".  From a linguistic standpoint. Clearly. there are FOUR (count 'em) negations in this sentence: "never" . I've given you the wrong and the right views. According to the rules of logic. Okay. An upper class Southern woman ridiculed what she referred to as uneducated speech by imitating one speaker's use of multiple negation (something about "not running into no stump and not wanting to make no hole in the bottom of a boat"). Well. time and time again. "I don't want no help".

Note that I put quotes around "misuse" to point out that both involve uses that depart from the traditional prescriptive standard. your intonation is not that of a normal declarative. "I didn't say I saw nobody" to suggest that I did see somebody. As an aside. Here is an example of each:   John and me went bowling last Friday night. But. All that stuff about multiple negations canceling each other out is basically bunk. is should not be used as a subject. What other kinds of things should be true if the views above are correct?  Well. the bottom line here is that there is nothing inherently more or less correct about multiple negation. should not be used as the object of the verb "gave". but intonation plays a big role when we do so. but tend not to say the first one as often. we might expect to find cases of language change in progress that show how arbitrary the notions of standard are.doesn't mean that. we have a couple of changes that are presently taking place. Interestingly. Both involve "misuse" of pronouns. Even with its four negations. while the other is considered "incorrect". our objections to multiple negation tell us more about our attitudes towards the people who use it than about the adequacy or inadequacy of multiple negation itself. multiple negation is non-standard. whether it is standard or not in contemporary English has nothing to do with correctness or logical purity. you put extra emphasis on the word "nobody" so as to call the listener's attention to the fact that you are playing with the double negative. Each involves a misuse of a pronoun. why does the second one not sound as wrong as the first (if this is the case for you)? One explanation is that highly educated people say the second one all the time. we have a clear sense that it means that "He never said anything bad to anyone". both are equally wrong. The pronoun system is a relic of a case system that has been lost in the rest of the language. Here's another example of the arbitrariness of what constitutes the standard. Here is a nice example that shows just this point. as a subject pronoun. Specifically. you are being coy. They both reflect ongoing changes in how we use pronouns in English. My intuition. In fact. So. as an object pronoun. we can use multiple negation to this effect. it is perhaps not surprising that such changes should happen. If both are equally wrong. "Me". In fact. I can say. in our time. it was standard. is that our judgments about which of the two sentences sounds better or more standard may have more to do with the speakers than what's actually said. Thus. It has to do with factors that are nonlinguistic. In contemporary American English. if we're right. so losing the old case driven uses of the pronouns isn't shocking. according to old time grammar rules. what is important here. is that the first one sounds worse than the second one. multiple negation is highly common across languages the world over. "I". In Chaucer's time. . Essentially. Sure. Big deal. Mary gave the books to John and I. It's not the case that either one is actually better (or worse). In the second case. at least. Does one of these seem somehow "worse" to you. So. one of these is generally accepted. Anyway. In fact. But note that if you do this.

Stereotypical New Yorkese also has "r" dropping as a feature and "r" dropping is often taken as a sign of lack of education and social status. this difference has been lost. all interdental fricatives and [s] are realized as [th]. In another.  If we are right above then we should expect to see the very same linguistic features be standard in one place but non-standard in another. only /s/. What gives? People. So. it's not what is said. All over the Americas. I've already discussed above the example of multiple negation in Middle English. the people who speak the "unacceptable" dialect are largely poor and uneducated. In this dialect. Think about all the "r" dropping you saw in the video of the non-prestige dialect speakers from Boston. Let's provide another argument along these lines. The southern dialect is considered "unacceptable" by the royal academy and is frequently ridiculed. and both words are pronounced the same. in standard British English. In this case. differences. In so-called standard peninsular Spanish. And this happens all the time. has an American Standard and a British standard. It should come as no surprise to someone who thinks that the linguistic differences between standard and non-standard dialects are simply that. I hope you can see that essentially the same process has occurred from a phonological point of view. the message. Big Picture Time Again . In one dialect (or set of dialects). both are pronounced as [katha]. only one of the dialects is accepted as falling into the standard. What is standard is not a matter of "better" from a linguistic point of view. rather than all cases of [th] in the standard being realized as [s]. here you have "r" dropping as a marker of non-standard American English but standard British English. only the interdental /th/. it marks the opposite. simple to show. In parts of Spain. but closer to home. with an [s] and not a [th]. it's who says it! There is NOTHING inherently better about either dialect.An even more glaring example can be found in the Spanish spoken in Spain. Now. in fact. then we should expect that today's standard might be tomorrow's non-standard. This is. By contrast. however. Both varieties are considered "standard" or "acceptable" by the Spanish Royal Academy. "r" dropping is a prestige feature. Why? Well. In American English. What is standard is dictated by attitudes in the society towards particular groups of people who speak in particular ways. One more point here:  If we are correct in our RIGHT VIEW /WRONG VIEW statements above. English. Again. there is no /s/ phoneme. however. "r" dropping is considered non-standard. In fact. it is only attitudes towards speakers that result in one falling into the sphere of acceptable varieties while the other remains outside. This should be surprising to anyone who thinks that what is found in the standard is inherently better. so we find pairs of words like: casa (pronounced kasa) and caza (pronounced katha). Imitate a Brit saying "bird" or the word "car" and you'll see that the [r] is dropped. there is no /th/ phoneme. there is another dialect spoken in the southern part of the country in which both words are also pronounced the same. there's a phonemic difference between the voiceless interdental ("th") sound and [s]. as we all know. it is useful to remember that "r" drop in New York English was a marker of prestige around the turn of the last century. BUT.

do you want to be told by someone else that the way you speak is "wrong" or inadequate and that YOU should change? Dialects are intimately wound up with identity and with a sense of community. Basically. In fact. learning the speech patterns of another dialect may even require a lot of training. what is the difference? Of course. But. it is simply impossible to maintain that any dialect is "superior" to any other. the reality of the situation is that the situation is VERY complex.Once we recognize the arbitrary nature of what constitutes a standard variety of a language. Different? Yes. As the case of NY "r" dropping might suggest. she or he may gain prestige within her or his dialect community by using the non-standard variety. But an overwhelming number do. And. If the standard confers prestige on its speakers. if we know anything about dialects at this point. Covert Prestige: This refers to speakers who choose not to adopt a standard dialect. involved in non-standard dialects. We use the term Overt Prestige to indicate that the speaker is seeking to associate her or himself with the general prestigious dialect within a society. within group prestige factors. It is not realistic to pretend that this is not the case and that people can simply shrug off one dialect and adopt another with no cost. we should know that people's attitudes towards dialects tells us more about their attitudes towards the speakers of those dialects. the standard dialect is the dialect that is associated with prestige in the society at large. Does this mean that all prestigious people MUST speak the standard? No. Even though a speaker may speak a non-standard variety of a language. what looks simple isn't always so simple. That's why we have no trouble associating the standard with prestige. Also. why doesn't everyone just learn the standard? Well. once you are an adult. Even if you speak a non-standard variety. think about how you feel about your own dialect. This thus brings us to two concepts:  Overt Prestige: This refers to speakers of non-standard varieties who adopt (to some degree) the standard variety. the prestige group put their "r's" back in. There are many factors that come into play. it is important to note that dialects are intimately related to the notion of prestige within a society. One thing is this. Prestige If what makes a language standard or non-standard is not a linguistic issue. (Just what constitutes prestige is bundled up in a number of issues that are beyond the scope of this review sheet!) This raises an apparently simple question. The question assumes that everyone is WELCOME to speak the standard. Better? Worse? Never. It is important to realize that there are prestige factors. We use the term Covert Prestige because the prestige associated with this choice is that gained from within group social identification. when lots of people in NY starting dropping their r's.  .

or the far West.So. we mean that these dialects are not stigmatized in the society in which they are spoken. while covert prestige is about not choosing to assimilate to the standard. to mark the regions where people say bucket instead of pail. Geography A major factor in dialect diversity is geography. Many speakers of non-standard dialects are bidialectal. Your book provides a nice general sketch of AAVE in File 10. or soda instead of pop. ethnicity. or monopthonize their diphthongs. It is important to note that classifying regional variation proceeds similarly to work in historical linguistics. for example. Ethnicity Another factor driving language variation is ethnicity. but in broad strokes. that they control both their own non-standard dialect and are fluent (to a greater or lesser extent) in a standard variety. which are in broad strokes broken down into the dialectologist view and . One controversy surrounding AAVE is its origins. so I won't regurgitate this here. A final note on the prestige question. Other times.4 of Language Files there is a nice discussion of regional dialect variation in the US. This isn't surprising and is an obvious and logical strategy for pursuing the rewards of adopting the standard without losing the sense of group identity that is intimately related to the non-standard dialect. so we've seen that there are standard and non-standard dialects.5. By prestige. overt prestige is about seeking prestige by assimilating to the standard. Linguists have long noted that there are many shared characteristics in African American English. about sociological factors. I cited you the examples of isoglosses for Balto-Slavic. either choice has a distinct set of costs and benefits. the Northeast. What are these? They are geographical areas that exhibit shared dialectal features. we can get a nice sense of how dialect varies with geography. which in historical terms is only yesterday. The study of regional dialects is called dialectology. I'll review here the three major sources of language variation that we mentioned in class. or drop their r's. Ways of classifying dialects Okay. ethnicity is a factor despite geographical dispersion. linguists conduct their research along a number of lines. Often. as is the case with the so-called Pennsylvania Dutch that we saw on the video in class. regardless of whether speakers live in the South. What does this mean? Basically. Germanic. and Indo-Iranian. This is most likely due to the recent migration of many African Americans from the South in the early part of the 20th Century. I've tried to argue that this distinction isn't about the linguistic properties of the dialects in question. This results in general shared dialect properties that run along certain geographical lines. These are: geography. People use isoglosses in dialect research. as is the case of African American Vernacular English (AAVE or Ebonics). In a society. Your book mentions things called isoglosses. Clearly. When attempting to characterize more precisely particular dialects. in simple terms. and social class. In File 10. ethnicity is also closely tied to a particular geographical area. In the review notes for historical linguistics. Of course. the lines are never perfectly clear. but rather. standard dialects can also be called prestige dialects.

What your book does a nice job of is presenting a sketch of the structural features of AAVE (pp. . and on tv last year during the ebonics controversy. education. I'm much more interested in making sure that we recognize that no matter what its historical origins. What did Labov's experiment show? Well. This may seem obvious given what I've said above. especially William Labov's study of Rlessness in New York City. From my point of view. The more unguarded. we also need to factor in such things as age and sex. in both careful and casual speech. Often times. In guarded moments. exhibit a large difference between whether they drop r's or produce them. So. though. By contrast.7. they produce r's as a way of seeking the prestige of the r-ful dialect spoken by the upper class in NY. The more guarded. rule governed nature. the more r's they produced. when we are looking at variation. I'm not convinced that either answer much matters at this point. it's useful enough to get the job done here). their class aspirations were visible. which also play important roles in understanding language variation. we have to constantly bear all of these factors in mind as potential extra-linguistic factors. Review these. they don't produce as many r's because they are not trying to put on more prestigious airs. AAVE is a dialect of English that is every bit as "complete" as any other dialect of the language. especially middle class people. but it certainly didn't seem obvious to the people screaming in the newspapers. heck. depending on how unguarded their speech is. In unguarded moments. In fact. Many people have argued (loudly) on both sides of the debate. All spoke dialects identifiable as Boston English (a regional classification). the upper class group produced its r's regularly. Here's my two cents. of their speech. on the radio. and they clearly were differentiated along class (economic. Let me start by saying that I am not an expert in this area. they represented different ethnic sub-groups with distinct speech patterns within Boston English. Regarding class. That is. he showed that people. The video we saw in class did a very nice job of illustrating this by filling the screen with a range of speakers from Boston. I can't really judge which is the better account. the more they drop r's. it is important to bear in mind that class plays a role in dialects. or the reference by an upper class Southern woman to the "poor white trash" dialect also spoken in the South. So. 322-324). The Creolist view maintains that AAVE emerged as a Creole from pidgins used by slaves who spoke different African languages and that this Creole underwent a process of decreolization after increased contact with English. Remember the case from the video of the Boston Brahmin dialect. you should all review File 10.the Creolist view.) lines. An Important Point It's important to bear in mind that these factors are intermingled. etc. (HINT) Class A third major factor in language variation is social class (the term class almost feels quaint in these post-Marxist times! But. simply to highlight its highly regular. Labov concluded that they were more comfortable with their class status as reflected in this aspect. Why? Labov concluded that class consciousness played a big role. at least. The former maintains that AAVE is essentially originally a regional variety of English spoken by a particular ethnic group that for obvious historical reasons was originally concentrated in the South and which underwent a great migration from the South.

Think about how you talk to a) your friends. But. In fact. you'll generally be successful. "you love me. we are supposed to use "there are + plural noun" and "there is + singular noun". Again. There are a number of dimensions along which we exhibit variation in speech style. This happens for example with people who erroneously think "rap" is synonymous with African American English. I suspect. There are simply more and less appropriate times to use them. In the prescriptive standard. syntax. many contractions are necessary even in careful speech if we don't want our speech to sound ridiculously stupid. Not real effective. people often say "there's three problems with your analysis".). Note how the first of the following sentences sounds more formal because it is in the passive:   The use of antibiotics to treat bacterial infection is generally successful. do you not?". These involve pronunciation. Do you use the same style with all three. and so forth. This is a case of syntactic style shifting. prescriptivists argue that this is evidence of laziness and so forth. If you are like me. Frequently. Sometimes passive constructions elevate your prose or speech to a necessarily more formal level. b) your parents. This is called style shifting. It's actually often evidence of efficiency and economy of speech gestures--like building a more fuel efficient car!!! Seriously. regardless of what dialect they speak. we use different styles of speech. there's nothing wrong with such contractions. and most formal (sometimes you even feel stiff) with your professors (by the way. in more casual speech registers. such as "watcha" for "what do you" and so forth.. Another interesting example of syntactic style shifting is this. This example also shows that the general prescriptive rule that we should never use passive constructions where active ones are possible is simply a lot of bunk. speech style is confused with dialect. maybe you are casual with your friends. Syntax Style shifting also occurs in syntax. Specifically. Depending on who we are talking to. People often use more passive constructions when they want to sound more formal.Speech Style One more aspect of language variation that merits discussion is the notion of speech style. Imagine saying to your partner. If you use antibiotics to treat bacterial infections. we see that in "casual" speech. you don't need to be so formal. My point: there is nothing inherently sloppy about fast speech pronunciation features. I hope we are not fooled by such things. At this point in the semester. . and vocabulary. We see that we contract things. c) your professors. Here's a case in point. I suspect not. we often "drop" endings in words such as "hunting" which we might pronounce as something like "huntin". control a range of speech styles. and where we are.. All people. more formal but still familiar with your parents. Pronunciation One obvious area where speaking style shifts is how "carefully" we pronounce things.

though not all do. if someone comes up to you and says.Vocabulary A major area of style shifting involves choice of vocabulary. Many slang words are markers of membership in a particular group that is outside of the "mainstream" adult society. "divine" or "godly"? My intuition is that "divine" sounds more learned. Slang terms actually seem to fall along a continuum of slanginess. We also know which words are high-brow words that we use to impress people. We all know. for example. There are examples like "cram" (particularly relevant here) that mean "study intensely over a short period of time" that have been around for a long time. we know that some words are SLANG. Slang words are almost inevitably used in very informal contexts. how and when we use them and how we feel about them as words. So. See how "multiple" makes the phrase sound fancier? We also have words that we know constitute the technical jargon of a particular field and we know how and when to use them (if we participate in that field). In English. Slang is actually a tricky thing to define. but that doesn't stop us from having a clear sense that there are words that are clearly slang words. In fact. It feels dated. What sounds more impressive. I don't think that "groovy" has really had much staying power. Maybe "groovy" is one such example. "Tight" here (as well as the word "dude" is an example of slang). the word "tight" is being used to express the speaker's admiration of the way the car looks. as if its productive use really didn't extend beyond the sixties. Think about the following three examples: unaware. Finally. Slang terms are scalar. They are just words and are formed by the same morphological processes as other words and are subject to the phonotactic constraints and so forth of the language that they are a part of. dude. "yo. dense. I read you a passage from a linguistics book that was filled with what most likely sounded like impenetrable jargon to you and which is pretty straightforward for a phonologist familiar with the technical language of the field. but one of you all (who will remain nameless) taught me. clueless. Instead. Short life span. From a linguistic point of view. Other slang terms appear and then disappear from the language fairly quickly. What's special about them is what we might call their sociopsychological role--i. of course. Many ethnic groups have specific slang terms that identify people who use them as clued in members. I'm older than the group that knows and uses that word. Think about when you'd use clueless as opposed to unaware. I didn't know the slang use of the word "tight" above. you see that tight car?" I bet you don't think that the speaker is talking about a car that doesn't have a lot of leg room. membership works both ways. I'd say that "unaware" is . which words are "dirty" words in our language and when they are acceptable and when they are not acceptable to use. Slang terms often have a short life span. Think about differences like "there are many factors" as opposed to "there are multiple factors". there is nothing particularly unique about slang words as words. People who use the term "dude" to refer to a person are generally younger (though "dude" has been around for quite some time now). If you don't know the slang terms.e. it is the case that we often use more Latinate words when we want to sound formal and impressive and intelligent. Here are a couple of properties that slang words have: Informality. Group identification. you are also clearly identifying yourself as a non-member of a particular group. for example.

An example might be the verb "rip off" meaning "steal". Often times.e. there is a middle ground where items feel like they somehow aren't clearly slang but they don't feel very formal either. i. but they don't feel like slang anymore. In most cases. a continuum. they lose their slanginess and become more accepted as a part of the standard use of the language. Such words are what linguists sometimes refer to as COLLOQUIAL terms. Basically. while "dense" feels marginally slangy.not slangy at all. the idea is that if slanginess is a scale. but they do not feel like slang. A final note. They are informal. they still feel informal to some degree. and finally "clueless" feels the slangiest of the three. when slang terms hang around for a long enough time in a language. .

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