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LINGUIST List 20.709

Thu Mar 05 2009

Diss: Ling Theories/Phonology/Socioling: Clark: 'Variation, Change ...'

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        1.    Lynn Clark, Variation, Change and the Usage-Based Approach

Message 1: Variation, Change and the Usage-Based Approach
Date: 04-Mar-2009
From: Lynn Clark <lynnling.ed.ac.uk>
Subject: Variation, Change and the Usage-Based Approach
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Institution: University of Edinburgh
Program: Linguistics and English Language
Dissertation Status: Completed
Degree Date: 2009

Author: Lynn Clark

Dissertation Title: Variation, Change and the Usage-Based Approach

Linguistic Field(s): Linguistic Theories

Subject Language(s): English (eng)
                            Scots (sco)

Dissertation Director:
Miriam Meyerhoff
Graeme Trousdale

Dissertation Abstract:

The potential for synthesis between variationist sociolinguistics and
theoretical linguistics has been recognised by researchers in both
sub-disciplines (e.g. Henry 1995; Adger and Smith 2005) but it has been
difficult to move beyond a description of this unified approach towards an
account of variation that can explain both 'social' and 'linguistic'
phenomena in the same theoretical framework. Chambers (2005: 217) suggests
that such a synthesis is currently 'well beyond our reach and hardly even
foreseeable'. I argue that this is partly because most of the theories on
which attempts to address this issue are modelled are fundamentally asocial
in their design and in order to improve the synthesis between
sociolinguistics and theoretical linguistics, it is necessary to first
begin with a theory in which social and linguistic knowledge are inherently
and inextricably linked in cognition. The aim of this thesis is therefore
to consider to what extent it is possible to synthesise variationist
sociolinguistic methods of data collection and analysis with usage-based
models of interpretation.

Using the ethnographic technique of participant observation, the data for
this thesis were collected over a 2 year period from a group of 54 speakers
who play together in West Fife High Pipe Band (WFHPB). These data form a
corpus of 38 hours of conversation (roughly 360,000 words).

Two different phonological variables are discussed in this thesis:
th-fronting, which is a consonantal change in progress in this community,
and variation in the BIT vowel, which is reported to be a stable variable
in this variety. Using quantitative methods that are typically considered
appropriate in variationist sociolinguistics (i.e. varbrul and multiple
regression), this thesis correlates variation in both of these variables
with a number of different 'social', 'linguistic' and 'cognitive' factors
and shows that this is one way to explore the potential for synthesis.

However, it is vital not only to incorporate these factors into a
quantitative analysis of variation; it is also necessary to be able to
explain the outcome of the quantitative analysis by invoking principles of
the theoretical framework. By adding the theoretical assumptions of the
usage-based approach to an analysis of variation that is already grounded
in current sociolinguistic practices of data collection and interpretation,
I suggest that it is possible to reach a more unified and insightful
explanation of linguistic variation and change in this community and a more
unified and insightful approach to linguistic theory; one in which
'everything fits, and everything fits together' (Langacker 1987: 32).

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