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Review of  Social Dialectology

Reviewer: Don Edward Walicek
Book Title: Social Dialectology
Book Author: David Britain Jenny Cheshire
Publisher: John Benjamins
Linguistic Field(s): Sociolinguistics
Issue Number: 15.2057

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Date: Mon, 12 Jul 2004 05:55:54 -0700 (PDT)
From: Don Walicek
Subject: Social Dialectology: In Honour of Peter Trudgill

Britain, David and Jenny Cheshire, ed. (2003)
Social Dialectology: In Honour of Peter Trudgill,
John Benjamins Publishing Company,
Impact: Studies in Language and Society.

Don E. Walicek, University of Puerto Rico at Rio Piedras

This book was designed to honor Trudgill's contributions to social
dialectology, a field which he helped to found. It consists of an
introduction by its editors, twenty articles, and an extensive
bibliography (219 entries) of Peter Trudgill's publications. The
secondary aim of the volume, according to the editors, is to describe
some of the main trends and issues in the field following the
publication of The Social Stratification of English in New York City
(Labov 1966). The volume focuses on language variation and change. It
will be appreciated most by readers interested in sociolinguistics,
social dialectology, perceptual dialectology, and linguistic variation.

The first chapter is by William Labov. He reviews Trudgill's
application of the gravity model of diffusion and then concentrates on
the distribution of names for the 'sub' sandwich. Labov raises
questions about the cascade model of diffusion and suggests that more
attention be given to the speech of adults and shifts in their
linguistic practices.

In the next paper, Juan Manuel Hernandez-Campoy describes different
approaches to assessing the impact of Castillian Spanish on language
use in Murcia. The author reviews the methodologies and major findings
of two projects: a real-time study based on radio recordings and an
apparent-time study based on gravity models and quantitative
sociolinguistics. He finds that the use of local linguistic features
is declining in Murcia City and holds that orthography is encouraging
the erosion of ''non-standard'' features.

The following chapter, 'Systemic accommodation' by Dennis R. Preston,
will be appreciated by readers interested in the Northern Cities Chain
Shift (NCCS), an extensive rotation of vowels documented in the
northern US. Preston examines. His analysis of the vowel systems of
three groups generally confirms Trudgill's (1986) claim that speakers
using similar systems follow similar pathways to the same outcome.
However, the African Americans studied, despite similarities between
their systems and those of the other two groups, do not follow the
NCCS. Commenting on this finding, Preston, suggests that race plays a
stronger role than recognized by Trudgill.

The fifth contribution, by Enam Al-Wer, focuses on new dialect
formation in Amman, a city with three generations of native inhabitants
at the most. His focus is the 2nd person plural pronominal suffix -
kum, a clitic form which can be attached to nouns, verbs, and
prepositions in various NP and VP constructions. While this suffix is
not found in the dialects influencing Amman, a similar feature does
exist in the southwest of Syria. For Al-Wer this latter evidence
supports the claim that similar input in geographically distinct places
can result in similar output.

Also describing language formation, in the next chapter Margaret
Maclagan and Elizabeth Gordon explore 'individual internal variation,'
linguistic variation at the individual level which cannot be explained
by style-shifting and factors such as age, gender, and socio-economic
class. They argue that this phenomenon arises in dramatic periods of
dialect formation. Their data come from New Zealand English.

The next contributor, Daniel Schreier, describes the English language
of Tristan de Cunha. Schreier describes present tense marking in this
variety and recognizes the 'same' feature in Trudgill's work on Norwich
English (1974, 1998). Comparing these two varieties leads him to
conclude that a different set internal constraints operates in each

In the article that follows, J. K. Chambers discusses five empirical
issues that have emerged in his sociolinguistic research on
immigration: interlanguage, literacy, social integration, assimilation,
and social typology. Chambers shows that recognizing immigration as an
independent variable sheds light on linguistic variation. He hopes
that the study of immigration will become a recognized sub-field of

Richard J. Watts discusses the actuation problem in the next chapter.
Watts is particularly interested in borrowings from English into
dialects of Swiss German from the mid-1960s to the present. Focusing
on the language of urban youth, Watts argues convincingly that indirect
contact and the symbolic value that certain varieties carry (i.e., not
only face-to-face interaction) can influence linguistic innovation.
These observations lead him to identify Gassensprache (roughly, 'the
language of the streets') as a subversive anti-language.

Next, Walt Wolfram and Natalie Schilling-Estes compare ongoing
restructuring of 'was' / 'were' variation in four communities of the
Mid-Atlantic Southern US. These data are then compared to variation in
the British Fens. Their findings suggest that a certain set of social
circumstances ensure leveling to 'weren't' in transplant dialect
situations. Among these are a 'dense' social network structures and a
distinct community identity.

Taking a broader approach, Lesley Milroy dedicates chapter ten to
bringing together different frameworks to better understand
phonological change. She reviews 'classic' variationist literature
(Labov 1972), the dialect contact perspective (Trudgill 1986, Kerswill
2002), and anthropological work on language ideology (e.g., Kroskrity
2000). Milroy reconsiders the traditional dichotomy between internally
and socially motivated change. Comparing data from three speech
communities (the island of Martha's Vineyard, the town of Corby,
Northamptonshire, and inner-city Detroit, Michigan), Milroy suggests
that local social factors embody constraints on global change.

In the study that follows, Miklos Kontra examines the use of place
names among Hungarians in Solvakia, Ukraine, Romania, Yugoslavia,
Slovenia, and Austria. Kontra's particular focus is variation between
the superessive case-ending -Vn and the inessive ending -bVn and the
role of the semantic feature 'foreign' in suffix choice. His
insightful analysis shows that frequent border changes in this region
of the world have led to changes in the way that speakers of Hungarian
perceive localities and to a redefinition of their ''us-group.''

David Britain shifts the focus to individuals in the next contribution.
Emphasizing the significance of the outlier in explaining language
change, he offers an analysis of certain phonological and grammatical
variables in the speech of two such speakers from the Fens. Britain
positions these individuals as ''linguistic historians'' (Labov 1989) and
demonstrates how their speech can shed light on local dialect norms.

In the next article Jim Milroy examines (th)-fronting in the Derby area
of the English Highlands. Milroy charges that decisions made by
linguists determine how this and similar phenomena are explained. He
points out that the historical linguist tends to see change as taking
place in the language as a whole, with long-term spread constituting a
pattern. In contrast, the variationist prefers to see sound change
emerging in 'a community,' rather than as something initiated in 'a
language.' Milroy directs his attention to external triggers that he
believes are decisive in explaining how and why particular linguistic
changes take place.

Next, Paul Kerswill discusses two mechanisms that may motivate regional
dialect levelling in British English. The first is geographical
diffusion, the spread of a feature outward from an economically and
culturally dominant center (Trudgill 1982, Britain, 2002). The second
mechanism is levelling, the reduction or attrition of marked variants
(Trudgill 1986). Kerswill is of the opinion that both of these
processed make regional dialect levelling widespread in contemporary

In chapter fifteen, entitled 'Social Dimensions of Syntactic
Variation,' Jenny Cheshire offers a provocative examination of 'when'
clauses. The main theoretical question she explores is whether
syntactic variation distinguishes social groups in the same manner as
phonological and morphological variants do. Explaining why she
believes it does not, Cheshire underscores the importance the
distinction that Trudgill (1982) makes between language use and
dialect/accent difference.

The contribution by Maria Sifianou that follows will interest readers
seeking an introduction to language issues in Greece. As the author
points out, Greek is one of the classic examples of diglossia (Ferguson
1959). She provides an overview of dialect research in Greece and
comments on the impact that political changes in the twentieth century
had on linguistic research.

Written by Hakon Jahr, the next chapter is one of the first published
accounts of Smoi, a language game or secret code. As the author
explains, Smoi began among fishermen and traders in a small town in
southern Norway. Jahr describes its features, origin, development,
spread, and its use as a secret language during the period in which
Norway was occupied by Nazi Germany.

The following article examines children's notions of linguistic
normativity. Presenting qualitative data from a metalinguistic
awareness project done among Danish schoolchildren, Sharon Millar
contends that early evaluative concepts and notions of correctness are
not necessarily linked to young people's ideas of a standard language.
Millar calls for future work that combines social and cognitive
perspectives in its approach to linguistic norms and awareness. The
two remaining papers relate to language planning and debates about
national languages.

Henry Widdowson and Barbara Seidlhofer's 'The virtue of the vernacular'
examines attempts to intervene in language affairs. Most of the
discussion describes literary pieces in which writers such as George
Orwell, Jonathan Swift, and Thomas Sprat propose that English will
degenerate if ''left alone.'' The views these authors express is compared
to opinions voiced in Trudgill (2002). Unfortunately, information
about the texts cited in this chapter is incomplete and several items
are altogether absent from the bibliography.

The volume's final paper, written by Jant Terje discusses Norway's two
standard languages, both of which speakers of English often call
'Norwegian.' These are Nynorsk and Bokmal. The chapter challenges two
assumptions frequently made about Nynorsk, the variety used in the
western Norway. First, the author argues against the idea that Nynorsk
represents a western variety by showing that eastern forms are well
represented in the language. Second, Faarlund responds to critics'
claims orthographic changes proposed by the Norwegian Language Council
favor features of Nynorsk. The author does so by presenting evidence
which suggests that the changes themselves actually fall short of
making the official standard more ''western.''

As the overview above suggests, this volume is filled with chapters
covering a wide array of topics. These contributions, which average
approximately twelve pages each, are generally insightful, interesting,
and well-written. Several chapters stand out for their provocative
discussion of general theoretical and methodological concerns. These
include Labov's 'Pursuing the Cascade Model,' Chambers'
'Sociolinguistics of Immigration,' L. Milroy's 'Social and Linguistic
Dimensions of Phonological Change,' and J. Milroy's 'When Is a Sound

A number of others do an excellent job of addressing specific topics in
a way which illuminates connections between their own research and that
of Trudgill. These include Enam Al-Wer's 'New Dialect Formation,'
Daniel Schreier's 'An East Anglian in the South Atlantic?' and Natalie
Schilling-Estes and Walt Wolfram's 'Parallel Development and
Alternative Restructuring.'

On the other hand, all of my negative remarks are minor. What I
consider glaringly absent from the text is a definition of social
dialectology. To their credit, the editors do include a short list of
relevant ''issues that no scholar of language can afford to ignore'' (1).
Some of these are: the nature of sociolinguistic variation, the
processes of language change, the influence of standard varieties and
standardization. What remains unclear is how and why these areas of
interest come together under the rubric of social dialectology. Even a
brief discussion of what this sub-field of linguistics is / is not
could help illuminate crucial links among the chapters and the sorts of
questions the contributors are raising. I recommend that a definition
be included in the introduction if a second edition is produced.
Additionally, I suggest that the chapters be organized into sections,
as highlighting connections among chapters and their relationship to
Trudgill's decades of work would strengthen the volume as a whole.

This Festschrift will undoubtedly make a significant contribution to
the development of future research in the area of dialectology.

Britain, D. 2002. Space and Spatial Diffusion. In J.K. Chambers, P.
Trudgill, and N. Schilling-Estes (Eds.), Handbook of Language Variation
and Change (pp. 603-637) Oxford: Blackwell.

Ferguson, C. 1959. 'Diglossia.' Word, 15, 325-340.

Kerswill, P. 2002. 'Koineization and accommodation.' In J.K. Chambers,
P. Trudgill, and N. Schilling-Estes (Eds.), Handbook of Language
Variation and Change (pp. 669-702) Oxford: Blackwell.

Kroskrity, P. (Ed.) 2000. Regimes of Language. Santa Fe: School of
American Research Press.

Labov, W. 1966. The Social Stratification of English in New York City.
Washington, DC: Center for Applied Linguistics.

Labov, W. 1972. Sociolinguistic Patterns. Philadelphia: University of
Philadelphia Press.

Labov, W. 1989. The child as linguistic historian. Language Variation
and Change, 1, 85-98.

Trudgill, P. 1974. The Social Differentiation of English in Norwich.
London: Cambridge University Press.

Trudgill, P. 1982. On Dialect: Social and Geographic Perspectives.
Oxford: Blackwell.

Trudgill, P. 1986. Dialects in Contact. Oxford: Blackwell.

Trudgill, P. 1998. Third-person singular zero: African American
Vernacular English, East Anglian dialects and Spanish persecution in
the Low Countries. Folia Linguistica Historica, 18 (1/2), 139-148.

Trudgill, P. 2002. Sociolinguistic Variation and Change. Edinburgh
University Press.
Don E. Walicek is a doctoral student in the Department of English at the University of Puerto Rico, Rio Piedras. He is interested in sociolinguistics, dialectology, language contact, and Creole Studies. He is currently involved in a project to document several languages
spoken in the Anglophone Caribbean.