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LINGUIST List 25.351

Tue Jan 21 2014

Review: Morphology; Phonetics; Phonology; Sociolinguistics; Syntax: Auer, Caro Reina & Kaufmann (2013)

Editor for this issue: Rajiv Rao <rajivlinguistlist.org>

Date: 01-Oct-2013
From: Annis Shepherd <als306soton.ac.uk>
Subject: Language Variation - European Perspectives IV
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Book announced at http://linguistlist.org/issues/24/24-2469.html

EDITOR: Peter Auer
EDITOR: Javier Caro Reina
EDITOR: Göz Kaufmann
TITLE: Language Variation - European Perspectives IV
SUBTITLE: Selected papers from the Sixth International Conference on Language Variation in Europe (ICLaVE 6), Freiburg, June 2011
SERIES TITLE: Studies in Language Variation 14
PUBLISHER: John Benjamins
YEAR: 2013

REVIEWER: Annis Shepherd, University of Southampton


This edited volume is a collection of selected papers presented at the 6th International Conference on Language Variation in Europe (ICLaVE 6) in 2011. The papers cover a range of theoretical areas from phonetic and phonological variation to code-switching, and describe languages as diverse as Belarusian and Cypriot Greek.

Working from the recent developments in syntactic variation research and the Minimalist framework (Chomsky 1995, 2005), Sjef Barbiers’ paper, “Where is syntactic variation?”, demonstrates the potential benefits of undertaking syntactic variation research within Minimalism through a study of syntactic doubling, showing how syntactic variation arises in different areas of the language variation model that he proposes (i.e., Syntax, Mental Grammar, Cognition, Body and Society). He concludes that many properties of the variation seen in syntactic doubling can be explained by variation in the Syntax or the Mental Grammar, or by constraints produced by cognition, body and society.

Javier Caro Reiner’s paper, “Phonological variation in Catalan and Alemannic from a typological perspective”, investigates whether recent work on morphological and syntactic cross-linguistic variation in non-standard language varieties can be extended to account for phonological variation as well. The author applies the word-language/syllable-language typological classification system to Catalan and Alemmanic to show that phonological variation can be explained using typological features, concluding that dialectal differences that had been observed but could not previously be explained can be accounted for in this way.

In “Language ideologies and language attitudes: A linguistic anthropological perspective”, Jillian R. Cavanaugh provides an overview of how studies of language attitudes from a language ideology perspective can allow us to gain a well-formed understanding of how speakers use and understand language. Cavanaugh uses a case study of Bergamasco to demonstrate this, showing that the range of attitudes towards language found in this region is the result of language shift, the socioeconomic climate and political pressures. She concludes that the study of language ideology has much to contribute to our understanding of language use in multiple areas of linguistics.

In “Late language acquisition and identity construction: Variation in use of the Dutch determiners ‘de’ and ‘het’”, Leonie Cornips and Aafke Hulk argue that one possible cause for language variation is linked to language acquisition, e.g., when a grammatical phenomenon takes too long to acquire, it becomes vulnerable to interference by both language-external and language-internal factors, resulting in the potential for variation. The authors defend this argument through an investigation into the acquisition of two Dutch definite determiners and also propose that one of the perpetuating roots of the variation may be that it has acquired a use of social identification among young people from an ethnic minority.

Silvia Dal Negro’s paper, “The variation of gender agreement on numerals in the Alpine space”, hypothesises that an investigation of the morphological variation seen in the gender agreement of cardinal numbers in German and Romance dialects can facilitate a more detailed typological analysis of these dialects. The author provides data drawn from the trans-national Alpine region to show that ‘2’ always displays more gender distinctions than ‘3’, as predicted by cross-linguistic studies, and concludes that information can be drawn from this type of study that could not be seen in studies of European languages that did not take dialectal data into account.

In “’Standard usage’: towards a realistic conception of spoken standard German”, Arnulf Deppermann, Stefan Kleiner and Ralf Knöbl discuss a large-scale project aimed at reviewing the concept of standard spoken German, and argue that the language form that is traditionally viewed as being ‘standard’ is not representative of the language as it is habitually spoken in everyday contexts. After a discussion of the criteria that a language form has to meet in order to be considered as a ‘standard’ variant, the authors show that the traditional concept of standard German does not meet these criteria and thus should not continue to be considered as such. The paper moves on to cover the methodology adopted in creating a corpus to investigate this issue, and summarises some of the authors’ key findings, concluding that a ‘standard language’ does indeed exist, but that it is not the same language as that considered initially.

“Code alternation patterns in bilingual family conversations: Implications for an integrated model of analysis”, by Marianthi Georgalidou, Hasan Kaili and Aytac Celtek, uses a Conversation Analysis framework to investigate code alternation patterns and issues of identity during conversations between bilingual speakers of different ages and social groups in Rhodes, Greece. The authors conclude that their participants use several different language alternation devices that are dependent on the context, other participants in the speech act, etc., and identify the possibility that different age groups may use different techniques to reach the same conversational goals. They also suggest, in agreement with existing research, that more analysis of long informal conversations could lead to a better understanding of the code-switching/code-alternation continuum.

David Hȧkansson’s paper, “A variationist approach to syntactic change: The case of subordinate clause word order in the history of Swedish”, uses sociolinguistic variationist techniques to argue that two different language systems need to be taken into account when investigating changes in word order in Swedish subordinate clauses: one where the variation is the result of microvariation within a single grammar, and another where it is representative of competition between two competing grammars. Hȧkansson suggests, as a conclusion, that this may be due to changes in the sociolinguistic environment that occurred at the same period as when the evidence of language change can be observed.

“Children’s switching/shifting competence in role-playing”, by Matthias Katerbow, investigates whether children vary their language by switching between registers (one close in nature to the local variant and the other bearing similarities to the national standard) in a role-play environment. Katerbow uses data drawn from a study of children aged between 3;11 and 6;10 in Wittlich, Germany to show that the children do indeed switch registers during role-play, that they have the ability to consciously influence which register they adopt depending on their interpretation of the role they are playing, and that this ability is based on their observations of and reflections upon their socio-communicative environment.

In “The Present Perfect in Cypriot Greek revisited”, Dimitra Melissaropoulou, Charalambos Themistocleous, Stavroula Tsiplakou and Simeon Tsolakidis study the emergence of innovative present perfect structures in Cypriot Greek and show that the Cypriot Greek system of past tense marking may be in the process of changing. They suggest that this is potentially not the result of conscious choice of register, as initially seemed likely, but rather of competition between two forms of the present perfect. They conclude that more data from a wider range of speakers, and on both present perfect structures is needed in order to verify whether these observations are justifiable.

Sylvia Moosmüller and Hannes Scheutz’s paper, “Chain shifts revisited: The case of monophthongisation and E-merger in the city dialects of Salzburg and Vienna”, discusses two sound changes in Salzburg and Vienna and shows that E-merger in Salzburg does not appear to be caused by monophthongisation, unlike what is believed to have been the case in Vienna. The authors conclude that the concept of chain shifts needs to be reviewed, as one instance of multiple sound changes that was believed to be a case of a chain shift can be shown to be the result of processes that are independent of each other.

In her paper “And the beat goes on: Verb Raising and Verb Projection Raising at the syntax-phonology interface”, Antonia Rothmayr argues that syntactic microvariation in Germanic Verb Raising and Verb Projection Raising can be explained through prosodic differences between the relevant dialects. She provides an empirical overview of the structure of the phonological phrase in Alemmanic before presenting an analysis of syntactic variation based on the properties of the PF (Phonological Form) interface and concludes that the seemingly syntactic variation is, in fact, the result of variation in the prosodic systems of the dialects in question.

“Migrant teenagers’ acquisition of sociolinguistic variation: The variables (ing) and (t)”, by Erik Schleef, investigates how non-native teenagers of Polish background in London and Edinburgh acquire the constraints placed on two variables, (ing) and (t). Schleef shows that the adolescents acquire some of the variables completely, some partially, some not at all, and re-interpret others, which results in innovative constraints. He concludes with a discussion of some potential reasons behind this acquisition process.

In “The sociophonology and sociophonetics of Scottish Standard English (r)”, Ole Schützler investigates inter-speaker phonetic and phonological variation of (r) among a group of middle-class Scottish Standard English speakers. He provides data to suggest that gender and level of contact with Standard Southern British English have an impact on the vocalisation of (r), whilst the phonetic choice between an alveolar flap and an alveolar approximant is affected by the age of the speaker. Schützler concludes that phonetic and phonological variation are not constrained by the same sociolinguistic factors, and thus should not be expected to be predictable in the same way as each other.

In “Stance and code-switching: Gaelic-English bilinguals on the Isles of Skye and Harris”, Cassie Smith-Christmas discusses the role of stance (how speakers position themselves in terms of the discourse, etc.) when examining code switching through a case study of one generation of bilingual Gaelic-English speakers. She shows that speakers switch languages when modifying their stance through a discussion of numerous examples and concludes that code switching is therefore a valuable tool when examining stance.

Helen Faye West’s paper, “A town between dialects: Accent levelling, psycho-social orientation and identity in Merseyside, UK”, examines whether an understanding of the psycho-social orientation of speakers can influence our ability to explain language change. The author focuses on dialect levelling in the English region of Southport, where predictions can be made arguing both in favour and against the probability that the Southport dialect will become similar to that of Liverpool. West identifies several phonological features of the Liverpool accent and uses a corpus of Southport speech to determine whether or not these features are increasingly present in Southport speech. She concludes that Southport speech may well be diverging away from that of Liverpool, but that further investigation is required into the link between attitudes and linguistic constraint.

In his paper “Variation of sibilants in Belarusian-Russian mixed speech”, Jan Patrick Zeller investigates 27 speakers’ use of three sibilant variables in Belarusian-Russian mixed speech. The author shows that there is a difference between older and younger speakers, the latter of which use a more Russian variant of the first two sibilants than the former, presumably due to their earlier exposure to Russian. The same distinction between the place of articulation for the final sibilant cannot be seen, however.

“The case of [nǝn]: A current change in colloquial standard German”, by Evelyn Ziegler, investigates the development of the indefinite article ‘nen’ in colloquial German. The author shows that the use of ‘nen’ has increased over time, and is now used not only by young people, but also by adults. She suggests that there has been a large change in norm awareness since the 1960s, with speakers moving away from the use of codified forms and towards short forms such as ‘nen’, and concludes that this change may be an indicator of destandardisation.


As an edited volume of conference papers, this book covers a diverse range of topics, all focussed around the theme of language variation in Europe. The papers range from those giving an overview of the field as it currently stands (e.g. Barbiers) to those proposing areas for future research (e.g. West). It would be a good resource for those wanting to gain an overview of the current state of dialectal variation research.

The focus of the book (intentionally or otherwise) seems to be on dialectal variation, with a lesser focus on diachronic language change. “Standard” language varieties are considered only when compared to non-standard varieties (primarily regional dialects) and typological comparisons are made between different dialects, rarely between language groups. This focus makes the book more cohesive, and of greater interest to linguists interested in non-standard language varieties, but is not made particularly clear in the blurb on the back cover.

It appears to be aimed at those who are either specialists in the field of dialectal variation or those with an interest in, and a well-developed understanding of, relevant theoretical background. Some papers (e.g. those by Cavanaugh and Katerbow) are more accessible to those with a less-developed theoretical understanding, but the majority of the papers will be challenging for anyone without this detailed knowledge of the field.

It would have been nice to have a greater degree of coherence between the different papers, for example by grouping papers dealing with phonetic/phonological change separately from those discussing sociolinguistic variation and change. It may well be that the editors had good reason not to do this, but it does mean that there is no obvious flow between the different papers.

Overall, this volume contains many interesting papers on the topic of dialectal variation in many areas of linguistics (especially phonetic and phonological variation) and would be a valuable resource for those wishing to gain information about current research being undertaken in this field.


Chomsky, N. (1995). “The Minimalist Program.” Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.

Chomsky, N. (2005). “Three factors in language design”. “Linguistic Inquiry” 36: 1-22.


Annis Shepherd is a Ph.D. student at the University of Southampton. Her research interests include the syntax-morphology interface, intra-speaker variation and non-standard varieties of English. Her thesis focuses on case variation in English conjoined phrases.

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