LINGUIST List 15.712

Fri Feb 27 2004

FYI: The North West Centre for Ling Lecture

Editor for this issue: Anne Clarke <>


  1. Kevin Watson, NWCL Annual Lecture 2004 by Penelope Eckert on Socioling Variation

Message 1: NWCL Annual Lecture 2004 by Penelope Eckert on Socioling Variation

Date: Wed, 25 Feb 2004 04:40:47 -0500 (EST)
From: Kevin Watson <>
Subject: NWCL Annual Lecture 2004 by Penelope Eckert on Socioling Variation

The North West Centre for Linguistics is delighted to announce

The 2004 Annual Lecture
Arts Building, University of Manchester, UK. 
Monday 29 March 2004, 5.30pm

Professor Penelope Eckert, Stanford University, CA.
''The Stylistic Turn: Getting serious about the social meaning of variation''



Sociolinguistic variation is a central means by which the social is
embedded in language. And while traditional approaches to variation
acknowledge social meaning, they give precedence to the grammatical
system at the expense of the system of social meaning. This talk will
explore an alternate approach to variation, which focuses on personal
styles as the interpretive basis for individual variables.

Analytic practice in the study of sociolinguistic variation has grown
primarily out of a concern with the linguistic and social constraints
on linguistic change. Variables have been selected for study by virtue
of their integration into grammar and change - e.g. in the case of
phonological variables, their status as components of regional vowel
shifts. The focus on large-scale correlations of variables with
abstract categories such as age, gender and class has uncovered
critical patterns in the spread of change through large populations,
but has led linguists to treat variables as direct markers of these

Meanwhile, studies of variation in small communities (Labov 1972;
Holmquist 1985; Wolfram and Schilling-Estes 1995; Mendoza-Denton 1999;
Eckert 2000) have called upon ethnographic methods to uncover the
local dynamics of variable use in day-to-day social practice. Out of
this work has come a focus on the finer, more local, meanings that
come to be associated with variables. In these studies, it has become
clear that linguistic variables generally index social categories
indirectly, and that correlations with gender, class, etc. result from
the patterned evocation of social meanings such as toughness,
gentility, conciseness, anger, childishness, casualness, etc.

Social meaning, then, is not to be found in a particular component of
the grammar, or in changes in progress, but in a semiotic system that
calls on resources from various parts of the linguistic system (and
beyond). Social meaning resides not in individual variables but in
styles. Speakers combine semiotic resources to construct personae, and
individual variables contribute to this construction. A focused study
of social meaning, therefore, must take as its point of departure not
individual variables but styles.

The Lecture will be followed by a wine party, hosted by the NWCL.

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