LINGUIST List 23.2333

Wed May 16 2012

Review: Sociolinguistics; Applied Linguistics: Tagliamonte (2011)

Editor for this issue: Joseph Salmons <>

Date: 16-May-2012
From: Elizabeth Latimer <>
Subject: Variationist Sociolinguistics
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AUTHOR: Sali. A. TagliamonteTITLE: Variationist SociolinguisticsSUBTITLE: Change, Observation, InterpretationSERIES TITLE: Language in SocietyYEAR: 2011PUBLISHER: Wiley-Blackwell

Elizabeth Latimer, College of Humanities, Department of Modern Languages,University of Exeter

SUMMARYThe preface explains the focus of the book, specifically language variation andchange (LVC), and situates this subfield within the larger field ofsociolinguistics.

Chapter 1 gives a background of the field of sociolinguistics, which is helpfulin contextualising the subject area of the book, and the reasons why language isstudied in a variationist fashion. A useful overview of the essential theoriesand paradigms used in variationist sociolinguistics is also included, combinedwith practical examples that enable the student to see the study of linguisticvariables in action. It also demonstrates how sociolinguistics lacks certainfactors and explains why these can be accomplished by variationistsociolinguistic studies, such as the interpretive component of LVC. The subjectof the linguistic variable, delimiting its study and its evolution, are areaswell addressed in this chapter and numerous examples are given to the reader toenable an interactive approach to understanding the central elements of avariationist study.

The subject of the second chapter is the social patterns that affect linguisticvariation and change. This is approached in a systematic fashion and lays outthe fundamental considerations taken into account when looking at linguisticvariables, i.e. sex, age, style, register, and mobility in space and time.Linguistic change and its importance to variationist sociolinguistics along withthe factors that influence it are also briefly covered here. Additionallyimportant topics such as the principle of accountability and its importance areboth clarified albeit separately, which is perplexing.

Chapter 3 sets out how linguistic patterns are treated in the study of languagevariation and change. The identification of these patterns and their connectionto the social structure of the community is shown to be key to understanding andinterpreting language data, which gives the researcher the tools to determinewhere and how language change is taking place. The product of these processesi.e. language variation is kept relevant to this chapter by the inclusion ofsummarized presentations of language variation work from Labov (1963, 1969) andsubsequent studies of the same variables by Pope et al. (2007) and Blake andJosy (2003). By including more recent work the author is showing how the fieldof variationist sociolinguistics is ever evolving. This has the added advantageof giving students a more inclusive view of studies conducted on specific variables.

Quantitative analysis methods used in LVC are tackled in chapter 5 and this partof the book is solely devoted to the use of logistic regression as a tool forlanguage variation research. This type of analysis, although seen by somesociolinguists to be indispensable, is not the only type of statistical analysisthat can be conducted. This chapter's subject matter is daunting for theinexperienced researcher, and could be considered too technical for a studenttextbook, yet, the inclusion of the possibility to conduct a working analysis ofdata which is made available via the author's website is a motivating additionthat goes some way to dispelling concerns. Space is devoted to discussing therecent debates of the appropriateness of these programs (Varbrul, Goldvarb);however the overall impression is that they are still an important part of thevariationist domain. This subject is vast but the author is able to give abalanced view of the advantages and disadvantages of using such tools.

Chapter 6 builds closely on the previous chapter devoted to statistical modelsby describing how and when the information that is obtained from statisticalanalysis is compared and contrasted. Comparative linguistics (CL) is explainedas having its origins and foundations in three divisions of linguistics,dialectology, sociolinguistics and historical linguistics. This definition of CLhelps the reader understand the origins of this subfield. The author covers theimportance and use of comparative methods in historical linguistics research andsets out some of the theories developed directly from this work such as thenotion of 'structured heterogeneity' introduced by Weinreich et al. (1968) thatwas later developed by Labov which established the underpinnings for thequantitative variationist approach. Many aspects of comparative linguistics arepresented here including the usefulness of its framework to the study oflanguage in contact and the standards for comparison (Montgomery 1989).

The foundations of variationist sociolinguistics are rooted in the study ofphonological variables and this is discussed in chapter 7. In this chapter thereader is made aware of the vast domain of phonological variation, briefedsuccinctly on pioneering studies (Labov 1963) and the author's work on (t, d)variation in York English (Tagliamonte 2005) is described in more empiricaldetail. This hands-on exposition of a phonological study is undeniably useful toany students envisaging empirical work themselves because the procedures are allgiven in detail with the addition of tips for doing such work and exercises tocheck understanding and methods.

In chapter 8 morphosyntactic variation or grammatical variation is set out indirect contrast to phonological variation and situated as being an importantelement of LVC investigations.This contrast is explained by exposing their dissimilarities and the addedelement in the study of morphosyntactic variation of the form/functiondichotomy. The author covers this division of LVC work comprehensibly andincludes many examples. Work on variable(s) in the study of African AmericanVernacular English (AAVE), the Ex-Slave recordings (Bailey et al 1991a) andSamanà English studies (Poplack and Sankoff 1987) and others all offer thereader a good overview of the type of study that can be conducted in thisdomain. This chapter also describes additional elements that can be juxtaposedwith the more traditional social links, i.e. historical features that have beenpreserved in some sectors of the population or grammaticalization processes thatwere first discussed in chapter 3 and again in the previous chapter.

Discourse/Pragmatic features are the topic for chapter 9, which is exposed as a'thorny problem' (Tagliamonte 2012) for quantitative analysis. The statement"These features straddle the boundaries of syntax and pragmatics" p. 247 leavesthe reader with a whetted appetite that is not totally satiated with moreclarification, as no precise definition is given of what a discourse/pragmaticfeature is. Nevertheless, examples populate this chapter and very useful anddetailed accounts of important features such as the quotative (be like) thatbegan in North America in the early 80s and general extenders (GEs) such as 'andthings' or 'and stuff' are included. These prove to be particularly interestingphenomena. Aspects of these features for example -- the possibility ofaddressing the interface between apparent and real time analysis or determiningwhether age grading is involved -- present attractive discussions that lendthemselves to further investigation.

Chapter 10 is concerned with tense and aspect variables and notably thedifficulties that a researcher may encounter when studying them, for examplepossible ambiguities of variable context or the different methods available foranalysing them. Once again the subject of grammaticalization is brought intothis chapter as the author explains why tense and aspect variables present aprivileged site for this type of variation, which are incidentally the moststudied. In addition to the studies illustrating this form of variation astep-by-step summary of the methodology for working on tense and aspectvariation from a grammaticalization angle is included here, which helps thereader get a good idea of the considerations to be taken into account.

Out of all the chapters, chapter 11 regarding other variables that are difficultto classify under any of the previous headings will pique early researchers'interest the most. This is due to the description of a multitude of linguisticvariables that present emerging fields of study such as the new enthusiasm beinggenerated by the variation found in the use of intensifiers (adverbs used tointensify a phrase) for example, "really", "very" or "so". The author is carefulto highlight the necessity of dealing with these emerging forms of variationfrom various perspectives including the social, historical and synchronic anglesin order for studies to be truly effective. An ever-increasing realm of languagevariation that has been included in this chapter is 'language and the internet'.This is a section where the student will find examples of new forms of LVC knownas computer-mediated communication (CMC) that will undoubtedly become the basisfor many future studies e.g. instant messaging and teen language.

Chapter 12 serves as a concise summary of the overall premise ofsociolinguistics contextualising the questions and answers the author hasdiscussed and elaborated on in this volume. It asks the reader to reflect onwhat they have discovered from reading this book and then gives the fiveproblems in the study of linguistic change (Weinreich 1953/1968) as a frameworkfor finding the fundamental answers.

EVALUATIONIn the realm of sociolinguistics, the last few years have witnessed an increasein the number of publications concerned with methodological issues especiallytextbooks. These books treat many aspects of research in linguistics includinggeneral areas (Litosseliti 2010) or more specifically particular categories suchas gender research (Harrington et al, 2008). Variationist Sociolinguistics,Change, Observation, Interpretation fits into this literature as a referencevolume for all students wishing to familiarize themselves with the intricaciesof variationist sociolinguistics and has a pleasantly specific title andpedagogical approach. For instructors teaching final year undergraduate ormasters courses this textbook makes the idea of embarking on a variationiststudy much more accessible to students. The hands-on style in many of thechapters and its comprehensive and specific subject matter (with the added bonusof the abundance of extra tasks and material) are all characteristics thatrender this book very useful for teaching and contribute to making this volume avaluable tool. Examples of variationist work undertaken by scholars on otherlanguages other than English would have been appreciated, particularly when manystudents even in the English-speaking world combine linguistic studies withforeign language (FL) studies.

Variationist Sociolinguistics, Change, Observation, Interpretation is a welcomecontribution to the set of textbooks on LVC and includes many of theprerequisites for this subject matter and many more helpful additions. The wideranging collection of topics included give the impression of 'no stone leftunturned' and enable the reader to gain access to a unification of more than 40years of methodology and findings of this interesting sub-field ofSociolinguistics. With the addition of mini-quizzes, questionnaires and dataorientated tasks integrated throughout each chapter it is an up-to-date manualthat serves as a perfect springboard for students to broaden their knowledge anddiscover more about this field. The author's aims of introducing the field ofLVC to learners, discussing its principle goals and achievements, and opening updiscussion for advances in the field have been successfully achieved in this volume.

REFERENCESBailey, G., Wilke, T., Tillery, J., and Sand, L. (1991) The Emergence of BlackEnglish: Texts and Commentary. Amsterdam and Philadelphia: John Benjamins.

Blake, R. and Josey, M. (2003) The /ay/ diphthong in a Martha's Vineyardcommunity: What can we say 40 years later? Language in society 32 (4): 451-485.

Harrington, K., Litosseliti, L., Stauntson, H., and Sunderland, J. (2008) Genderand Language Research Methodologies. Basingstoke, UK: Palgrave Macmillan.

Labov, W. (1963) The social motivation of sound change. Word 19:273-309.

Labov, W. (1969) Contraction, deletion, and inherent variability of the Englishcopula. Language 45 (4): 715-762.

Litolessiti, L. (2010) Research Methods in Linguistics. Oxford: Blackwell.

Montgomery, M.B. (1989) Exploring the roots of Appalachian English. EnglishWorld-Wide 10(2): 227-278.

Pope, J., Meyerhoff, M., and Ladd, D.R. (2007) Forty years of language change onMartha's Vineyard. Language 83: 615-627.

Poplack, S. and Sankoff, D. (1987) The Philadelphia story in the SpanishCaribbean. American Speech 62(4): 291-314.

Tagliamonte, S.A. and Temple, R. (2005) New perspectives on an ol' variable:(t,d) in British English. Language Variation and Change 17(3): 281-302.

Weinreich, U. (1953/1968) Languages in Contact. The Hague: Mouton.

Weinreich, U., Labov, W., and Herzog, M. (1968) Empirical foundations for atheory of language change, in W.P. Lehmann and Y. Malkiel (eds), Directions forHistorical Linguistics. Austin: University of Texas Press, pp.95-188.

ABOUT THE REVIEWERElizabeth Latimer is a PhD student at the University of Exeter. Her thesisis a variationist sociolinguistic study of French prepositionsincorporating a cognitive sociolinguistic investigation. Her primaryinterests include grammatical variation, semantic variation and variationacross speech styles in both 'hexagonal' and Canadian French.

Page Updated: 16-May-2012