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Review of  Advances in Cognitive Sociolinguistics

Reviewer: Bryan James Gordon
Book Title: Advances in Cognitive Sociolinguistics
Book Author: Dirk Geeraerts Gitte Kristiansen Yves Peirsman
Publisher: De Gruyter Mouton
Linguistic Field(s): Applied Linguistics
Linguistic Theories
Cognitive Science
Issue Number: 21.4706

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EDITORS: Geeraerts, Dirk; Kristiansen, Gitte; Peirsman, Yves
TITLE: Advances in Cognitive Sociolinguistics
SERIES TITLE: Cognitive Linguistics Research [CLR] 45
PUBLISHER: De Gruyter Mouton
YEAR: 2010

Bryan James Gordon, Department of Linguistics and School of Anthropology,
University of Arizona


''Advances in Cognitive Sociolinguistics'' contributes to the establishment of a
young subfield, launched 16 years ago by Geeraerts, Grondelaers & Bakema (1994),
by expanding the Cognitive Sociolinguistic (CS) approach to new fields of data
and new methodologies and promoting common scholarly cause with Variationist
Sociolinguistics (VS). Contributors successfully explore new theoretical and
empirical ground, link up to important sociolinguistic themes from a Cognitive
Linguistic (CL) perspective, and make convincing cases for the usefulness of CS
for Variationist Sociolinguistics (VS); but fall short in surveying relevant VS

''Advances'' is targeted at readers with background in socio- or cognitive
linguistics. Navigating the two fields -- and the complex statistics both use --
may prove uninteresting and impenetrable to outside readers. Even for
''insiders'', reading is dense compared to similar sets of articles, because every
argument has programmatic importance, and cross-disciplinary jargon is often
underdefined and poorly situated with respect to its field. One ought not to
skip the introduction if one hopes to make sense of the volume. In it, the
editors situate the work within the CL tradition, and launch a
cross-fertilisation between CL and VS.

The volume is divided into three parts: Variation in lexeme-concept
relationships is treated in ''Lexical and lexical-semantic variation''; variation
in the contextual grammaticality and meaning of syntactic constructions is
treated in ''Constructional variation''; and ''Variation of lectal awareness and
attitudes'' concerns recognition, conceptualisation and choice of variants and


Dirk Geeraerts & Dirk Speelman, in ''Heterodox concept features and
onomasiological heterogeneity in dialects'' (pp. 23-39), find that the salience,
vagueness and negative affect of concepts influence the heterogeneity of their
formal expression and geographical distribution in the Limburgish dialect area.
Using multiple linear regression of data from an existing dialect survey and
supplementary surveys, they argue against explaining lexical variation only by
''societal and material factors'' (p. 23) and ascribe explanatory force to concept

Using comparative corpus analysis in the domains of clothing and football
(soccer), Augusto Soares da Silva in ''Measuring and parameterizing lexical
convergence and divergence between European and Brazilian Portuguese'' (pp.
41-83) shows that Brazilian Portuguese (BP) and European Portuguese (EP) are
converging in football vocabulary but diverging in general; that their direction
of change is irrespective of one another's influence; and that BP both adopts
more loanwords and resignifies more existing terms than EP. He also shows that
the gulf between ''standard'' (newspaper) and ''substandard'' (chat) Portuguese is
narrower for football than for clothing, and wider in BP than in EP.

Justyna Robinson's '''Awesome' insights into semantic variation'' (pp. 85-109)
applies variationist methods and apparent-time analysis to semantic change and
the flexibility of polysemous forms. She finds that three senses of ''awesome'' --
TERRIBLE, IMPRESSIVE and GREAT -- behave like other linguistic structures,
exhibiting age-grading with innovation driven disproportionately by females and
the middle class.

Yves Peirsman, Kris Heylen and Dirk Geeraerts' chapter ''Applying word space
models to sociolinguistics: Religion names before and after 9/11'' (pp. 111-37)
applies corpus methods to register variation and semantic change in Dutch
newspapers' use of the concepts ''Christendom'' and ''Islam'' -- a quantitative
boost to qualitative analyses of power and language like Critical Discourse
Analysis. They find that target audience education correlates to cultural and
religious discussion of Islam, and that newspapers in general increasingly
associate Islam with terrorism and politics, while Christianity remains largely
positive and cultural in its associations.

Part II opens with ''The English genitive alternation in a cognitive
sociolinguistics perspective'', by Benedikt Szmrecsanyi (pp. 141-66), a
multivariate logistic regression over traditional (animacy, thematicity, final
sibilants, weight, persistence and economy) and ''external'' (style, dialect,
genre, change) factors in genitive choice. Szmrecsanyi confirms that traditional
factors always influence genitive choice, but the magnitude of their influence
varies as a function of external factors, and further documents distinct
patterns of drift in different dialects and registers (British and American
editorial writing and reportage).

Gunther de Vogelaer's ''(Not) acquiring grammatical gender in two varieties of
Dutch'' (pp. 167-89) examines change in the standard Dutch gender systems of
Overijssel and East Flanders using acquisition data. Although de Vogelaer finds
that both varieties are drifting towards semantic agreement, East Flemish
children eventually acquire the three-gender system favoured by adult Flemings
and only marginally favour innovative gender systems. Children from Overijssel,
whose environment lacks feminine agreement in inanimates, do not acquire the
full three-gender system but show some of its influence.

In ''Lectal variation in constructional semantics: 'Benefactive' ditransitives in
Dutch'' (pp. 191-221), Timothy Colleman explains difference in contextual
grammaticality of benefactive ditransitives between Netherlandic Dutch and
Flemish as a function of a Netherlandic ''contiguity constraint'' satisfied when
the action and the benefit of a verb occur (nearly) at the same time. He shows
how formal and archaic registers may violate this constraint, preserving
constructions from a time in which the contiguity constraint was weaker.

Gitte Kristiansen opens Part III with ''Lectal acquisition and linguistic
stereotype formation: An empirical study'' (pp. 225-63). She chronicles Madrileño
6-13-year-olds' increasingly accurate identification of decreasingly familiar
L1- and L2-source accents, finding the number of people the child knows to have
an accent predicts identification behaviour most strongly. Kristiansen's
rejection of the influence of the accents' linguistic properties is weaker: she
does not select a comprehensive sample of linguistic features, and focuses on
features that distinguish accents rather than on shared features that cause

Raphael Berthele reports on ''Investigations into the folk's mental models of
linguistic varieties'' (pp. 265-90), using a visual/lexical survey. Berthele
demonstrates links between high vowels and angular, spiky gestalts (and
associated descriptive adjectives) in the perception of Swiss German dialects.
He argues for including inherent values of linguistic types alongside
ideologically and connotationally mediated values, and problematises the
standard ''prestige'' approach to language attitudes.

''A cognitive approach to quantitative sociolinguistic variation: Evidence from
'th'-fronting in Central Scotland'', by Lynn Clark and Graeme Trousdale (pp.
291-321), is the most VS contribution. Throwing linguistic and social factors
into Varbrul, the authors identify the factor groups most predictive of
θ-fronting as friendship-group membership (based on ethnographic fieldwork),
preceding [f] in the word, syllable structure, and type and frequency of lexical
item. They thus argue that VS should include cognitive factors in its models,
and that the cognitive representation of a concept or form includes information
about its social distribution and stylistic value. This representation differs
across and within groups: two groups may use different variants simply because
they learned those variants, while another stylises its choice creatively; each
of the three has different concepts of the same variants, yet all three
participate in the same social structure.


''Advances in Cognitive Sociolinguistics'' is a resounding call for the bridging
of unproductive disciplinary boundaries, casting light on neglected empirical
and methodological areas. However, the effort originates clearly in CL more than
in VS. The editors ''envisage a mutually beneficial interaction of both
approaches,'' but, ''in describing that bidirectionality, we will start from the
Cognitive Linguistics end.'' (p. 2) This asymmetry produces a dated image of
sociolinguistic method and theory that pervades most of the contributions, which
miss entire bodies of literature that address the deficiencies the authors find
in VS. At times, the tone of the volume tends towards justifying rather than
supporting its programme. In the end, it is made clumsy by the very boundaries
it seeks to transcend. CL and VS remain distinct fields, with distinctive
interests, skills and prejudices. This reviewer hopes the convergence advocated
by this volume is successful, and will evaluate the work as a contribution to
this convergence.

Complicating the task of engaging with another subfield, VS is broader than
would appear from the contributors' invocations of ''sociovariationist research''
(p. 8), the ''traditional sociolinguistic perspective'' (p. 87), ''Variationist
Sociolinguistics'' (p. 104), ''standard sociolinguistics'' (p. 286) or simply
''sociolinguistics'' (p. 86). Invariably these refer metonymically to a particular
strand of VS, which Eckert (in prep.) has called the first of three ''waves''. The
oldest and best-established ''wave'', whose most prominent figure remains Labov,
uses sociolinguistic interviews and charts variation over broad geographic and
social swaths, using the macro-linguistic and demographic categories.

The second and third waves work at local scales, supplementing interviews with
ethnography. The third breaks away theoretically. Based more on social theory
and linguistic anthropology than modular, competence-base linguistics, its
local, emic focus might have richer conceptual implications for CS than the
macro-sociolinguistics of the first wave. The contributions from Colleman,
Szmrecsanyi, Soares da Silva and Peirsman et al. concern monodimensional
macro-registers, whose cognitive dimension might be enriched with reference to
third-wave, embodiment- and experience-based developments in the concepts
''register'' and ''style'' (Agha, 2007; Coupland, 2007).

Far from outside ''theoretical linguistics'' (cf. p. 293), third-wavers are
working in exemplar and social-network theories (Pierrehumbert, 2006; Milroy,
1987), structure-formation and -propagation (Agha, 2007), and semiotic theories
of form and meaning (Silverstein, 1976; Eckert, 2008). It would be more
productive to supplement and critique these developments with the sophisticated
conceptual, cognitive-network and practical-representational apparatus of CL
than to orient to CS as a theoretisation of sociolinguistics.

Far from ''surprisingly uninventive in explaining the puzzling fact that speakers
continue using certain varieties despite their obvious and openly admitted lack
of prestige'' (p. 266), sociolinguists address this first-wave problem in their
contributions to stance theory (DuBois, 2007; Bucholtz & Hall, 2005), voicing
and persona (Hill, 1995; Agha, 2007), change in varieties (Greene, 2010),
crossing (Rampton, 1995), language ideology, choice and revitalisation (Woolard,
1989; Santa Ana, 2004; Barrett, 2008). Berthele's synaesthesia hypothesis makes
a welcome contribution to this literature.

A surprising elephant in the room is the issue of attention and consciousness.
Although contributors profit from CL's openness towards cognitive processes like
emotion and salience, they do not consider relationships between these processes
and attention. Geeraerts & Speelman's ''salience'' is in large part frequency, an
index of both subconsciously habituated and (some) metapragmatically prominent
categories, whose sociolinguistic behaviour is quite different (cf. Labov,
1964:102). Stylistic variation responding to context and identity, or creating
context and identity (cf. Clark & Trousdale's chapter); and ''archaic'' registers
preserving conservative forms, or ''formal'' registers signalling conservatism
(cf. Colleman's chapter) are questions of attention too.

Another invisible elephant is inter- vs. intraspeaker variation. First-wave VS
focusses on variables which vary between communities, third-wavers on variables
which vary within communities. Missing from both is a map of the distribution of
these two situations -- the carving up of social/geographic space into regions
with more or less intraspeaker variation, more or less internal homogeneity.
Part III contains three well-executed pieces of what such a model will need to
include, but CS is not immune from this problematic dichotomy. Geeraerts &
Speelman's definition of ''heterogeneity'' is an interspeaker-variation measure in
fact negatively impacted by internal heterogeneity (since it views overlapping
variants as less heterogeneous than variants separated by space). A richer
definition, taking into account how many variants a community is actively or
passively familiar with -- including neighbouring lects and standard varieties
-- would surely capture additional cognitive implications.

The editors seek to make their volume, largely CL in impetus, useful to VS. They
succeed. Their classification of word-choice variation into ''formal
onomasiological'', ''conceptual onomasiological'' and ''speaker/situation-related
variation'' (pp. 7-9) is a fascinating alternative analysis of variation
extensible beyond sociolexicology.

Readers naïve to CL can find ready-made CS implementations of ''meaning as
categorization'' (p. 10), vagueness (p. 24), multiple inheritance (p. 294),
schematicity and sanction (p. 295), and cognitive/cultural models (pp. 267-9).

As most of the contributors suggest, the concept focus of CL is indeed a
strength and has much to offer to VS. CL has not shied away from reticulation
and featural calculation as VS has (cf. Sag, 2010), and CS may portend more
investigation of the variation of quite complicated structures. Equally useful
is CL's embrace of links between language and other cognitive phenomena,
including emotion, perception, prototypes, salience, entrenchment, and the life
of competence. Such an approach is eminently compatible with embodied,
practice-based sociolinguistics. The CL approach to ''folk mental models'' breaks
away from the dominant propositional form of ideology research and allows the
linking of senses, emotions and structures in single models.

CL's preferred tool for usage/category relationships is the prototype, while VS
has used the exemplar. Both are opposite sides of the same coin, of course, and
CS may manage to forge a new synthesis in this region, and also in linguistic
relativity. Taboo for many social scientists, the inherence and universality of
concepts are empirical questions in CL. This volume refers to tests of proposed
universals like ''anger=heat'' metaphors (p. 3), linguistic factors in accent
identifiability (pp. 248-61) and links between varieties and visual gestalts
(pp. 265-90); the outcome of CS investigations of universality may be a more
sophisticated constructivism.

Similarly, CL and VS both have something to say about ''meaning''. Cognitive
Sociolinguistics cannot help but address issues of denotations and connotations,
semiotics, scales and implicatures, speech acts and contextual frames, relevance
and givenness, per- and illocution, and the like, if it takes all of their
social sides seriously. Similarly, VS is receiving new attention from laboratory
linguists investigating the precise cognitive effects of social meanings (Smith
et al., 2010).

As a programmatic salvo, promoting social cognition in CL and VS, ''Advances in
Cognitive Sociolinguistics'' is successful in linking up with some dominant
strands and concerns of sociolinguistic research, but remiss in linking up
obvious and relevant sites for cross-fertilisation with sociolinguists who share
their concerns. Still, it is refreshing to read increasingly variationist
contributions from CL, motivated by the same concerns which precipitated the
emergence of third-wave VS. There is reason to expect sympathetic readings and
fruitful collaborations.

Of concern to cross-disciplinary readers are matters of jargon. The jargon and
statistics used throughout will prove inaccessible to readers with background
from neither VS nor CL. Although contributors define certain concepts
painstakingly, others remain underexplained and undersituated; nor are the items
of jargon as a whole intended as a coherent, representative sample of their home
fields. Readers from one of the two fields will have much further reading to do.

The CS of the future will want to expand its typological span beyond the
Germanic and Romance languages of this volume. It will profit from links with
more different types of socio-, psycho- and traditional linguistic research, and
may even be able to bridge divides, not only like the one between cognitive and
social approaches to language, but like the one that has grown in VS.


Agha, Asif (2007) Language and social relations. Cambridge: Cambridge University

Barrett, Rusty (2008) Linguistic differentiation and Mayan language
revitalization in Guatemala. Journal of Sociolinguistics 12:275-305.

Bucholtz, Mary, & Kira Hall (2005) Identity and interaction. Discourse Studies

Coupland, Nikolas (2007) Style . Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

DuBois, John W. (2007) The stance triangle. In Robert Englebretson (Ed.)
Stancetaking in discourse, pp. 137-82. Amsterdam: John Benjamins.

Eckert, Penelope (2008) Variation and the indexical field. Journal of
Sociolinguistics 12:453-76.

Eckert, Penelope (in prep.) Three waves of variation study. Available at

Geeraerts, Dirk, Stefan Grondelaers & Peter Bakema (1994) The structure of
lexical variation. Berlin: Mouton de Gruyter.

Greene, Rebecca Dayle (2010) Eastern Kentucky English and ideology. Stanford diss.

Hill, Jane H. (1995) The voices of Don Gabriel. In Bruce Mannheim & Dennis
Tedlock (Eds) The dialogic emergence of culture, pp. 97-147. Urbana: University
of Illinois Press.

Labov, William (1964) The social stratification of English in New York City.
Columbia diss.

Milroy, Lesley (1987) Language and social networks, 2nd ed. Oxford: Blackwell.

Pierrehumbert, Janet (2006) The next toolkit. Journal of Phonetics 34: 516-30.

Rampton, Ben (1995) Crossing. London: Longman.

Sag, Ivan A. (2010) Sign-based construction grammar. In Hans C. Boas & Ivan A.
Sag (Eds) Sign-based construction grammar, pp. 39-160. Palo Alto: CSLI.

Santa Ana, Otto (2004) Tongue-tied. Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield.

Silverstein, Michael (1976) Shifters, linguistic categories and cultural
description. In Keith H. Basso & Henry A. Selby (Eds) Meaning in anthropology,
pp. 11-55. Albuquerque: School of American Research.

Smith, E. Allyn, Kathleen Currie Hall & Benjamin Munson (2010) Bringing
semantics to sociophonetics. Journal of Laboratory Phonology 1:121-55.

Woolard, Kathryn A. (1989) Double talk. Stanford: Stanford University Press.

Bryan James Gordon's research asks what social meaning and linguistic structure can tell us about the (social-)cognitive life of language and culture, drawing on pragmatic, sociolinguistic and ethnographic methods. His primary interests are gender and sexuality, language revitalisation, and sociopolitical change and intervention; and he currently works with the NSF-funded Wounaan Oral History project (Panama) and the Umóⁿhoⁿ Language and Culture Center (Nebraska), alongside his studies in the Joint PhD programme in Linguistics and Anthropology at the University of Arizona.