Language Evolution: The Windows Approach addresses the question: "How can we unravel the evolution of language, given that there is no direct evidence about it?"
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AUTHOR: Sali. A. Tagliamonte TITLE: Variationist Sociolinguistics SUBTITLE: Change, Observation, Interpretation SERIES TITLE: Language in Society YEAR: 2011 PUBLISHER: Wiley-Blackwell
Elizabeth Latimer, College of Humanities, Department of Modern Languages, University of Exeter
SUMMARY The preface explains the focus of the book, specifically language variation and change (LVC), and situates this subfield within the larger field of sociolinguistics.
Chapter 1 gives a background of the field of sociolinguistics, which is helpful in contextualising the subject area of the book, and the reasons why language is studied in a variationist fashion. A useful overview of the essential theories and paradigms used in variationist sociolinguistics is also included, combined with practical examples that enable the student to see the study of linguistic variables in action. It also demonstrates how sociolinguistics lacks certain factors and explains why these can be accomplished by variationist sociolinguistic studies, such as the interpretive component of LVC. The subject of the linguistic variable, delimiting its study and its evolution, are areas well addressed in this chapter and numerous examples are given to the reader to enable an interactive approach to understanding the central elements of a variationist study.
The subject of the second chapter is the social patterns that affect linguistic variation and change. This is approached in a systematic fashion and lays out the fundamental considerations taken into account when looking at linguistic variables, i.e. sex, age, style, register, and mobility in space and time. Linguistic change and its importance to variationist sociolinguistics along with the factors that influence it are also briefly covered here. Additionally important topics such as the principle of accountability and its importance are both clarified albeit separately, which is perplexing.
Chapter 3 sets out how linguistic patterns are treated in the study of language variation and change. The identification of these patterns and their connection to the social structure of the community is shown to be key to understanding and interpreting language data, which gives the researcher the tools to determine where and how language change is taking place. The product of these processes i.e. language variation is kept relevant to this chapter by the inclusion of summarized presentations of language variation work from Labov (1963, 1969) and subsequent studies of the same variables by Pope et al. (2007) and Blake and Josy (2003). By including more recent work the author is showing how the field of variationist sociolinguistics is ever evolving. This has the added advantage of 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 part of the book is solely devoted to the use of logistic regression as a tool for language variation research. This type of analysis, although seen by some sociolinguists to be indispensable, is not the only type of statistical analysis that can be conducted. This chapter’s subject matter is daunting for the inexperienced researcher, and could be considered too technical for a student textbook, yet, the inclusion of the possibility to conduct a working analysis of data which is made available via the author’s website is a motivating addition that goes some way to dispelling concerns. Space is devoted to discussing the recent debates of the appropriateness of these programs (Varbrul, Goldvarb); however the overall impression is that they are still an important part of the variationist domain. This subject is vast but the author is able to give a balanced view of the advantages and disadvantages of using such tools.
Chapter 6 builds closely on the previous chapter devoted to statistical models by describing how and when the information that is obtained from statistical analysis is compared and contrasted. Comparative linguistics (CL) is explained as having its origins and foundations in three divisions of linguistics, dialectology, sociolinguistics and historical linguistics. This definition of CL helps the reader understand the origins of this subfield. The author covers the importance and use of comparative methods in historical linguistics research and sets out some of the theories developed directly from this work such as the notion of ‘structured heterogeneity’ introduced by Weinreich et al. (1968) that was later developed by Labov which established the underpinnings for the quantitative variationist approach. Many aspects of comparative linguistics are presented here including the usefulness of its framework to the study of language in contact and the standards for comparison (Montgomery 1989).
The foundations of variationist sociolinguistics are rooted in the study of phonological variables and this is discussed in chapter 7. In this chapter the reader is made aware of the vast domain of phonological variation, briefed succinctly on pioneering studies (Labov 1963) and the author’s work on (t, d) variation in York English (Tagliamonte 2005) is described in more empirical detail. This hands-on exposition of a phonological study is undeniably useful to any students envisaging empirical work themselves because the procedures are all given in detail with the addition of tips for doing such work and exercises to check understanding and methods.
In chapter 8 morphosyntactic variation or grammatical variation is set out in direct contrast to phonological variation and situated as being an important element of LVC investigations. This contrast is explained by exposing their dissimilarities and the added element in the study of morphosyntactic variation of the form/function dichotomy. The author covers this division of LVC work comprehensibly and includes many examples. Work on variable(s) in the study of African American Vernacular English (AAVE), the Ex-Slave recordings (Bailey et al 1991a) and Samanà English studies (Poplack and Sankoff 1987) and others all offer the reader a good overview of the type of study that can be conducted in this domain. This chapter also describes additional elements that can be juxtaposed with the more traditional social links, i.e. historical features that have been preserved in some sectors of the population or grammaticalization processes that were 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 leaves the reader with a whetted appetite that is not totally satiated with more clarification, as no precise definition is given of what a discourse/pragmatic feature is. Nevertheless, examples populate this chapter and very useful and detailed accounts of important features such as the quotative (be like) that began in North America in the early 80s and general extenders (GEs) such as ‘and things’ or ‘and stuff’ are included. These prove to be particularly interesting phenomena. Aspects of these features for example -- the possibility of addressing the interface between apparent and real time analysis or determining whether age grading is involved -- present attractive discussions that lend themselves to further investigation.
Chapter 10 is concerned with tense and aspect variables and notably the difficulties that a researcher may encounter when studying them, for example possible ambiguities of variable context or the different methods available for analysing them. Once again the subject of grammaticalization is brought into this chapter as the author explains why tense and aspect variables present a privileged site for this type of variation, which are incidentally the most studied. In addition to the studies illustrating this form of variation a step-by-step summary of the methodology for working on tense and aspect variation from a grammaticalization angle is included here, which helps the reader get a good idea of the considerations to be taken into account.
Out of all the chapters, chapter 11 regarding other variables that are difficult to classify under any of the previous headings will pique early researchers’ interest the most. This is due to the description of a multitude of linguistic variables that present emerging fields of study such as the new enthusiasm being generated by the variation found in the use of intensifiers (adverbs used to intensify a phrase) for example, “really”, “very” or “so”. The author is careful to highlight the necessity of dealing with these emerging forms of variation from various perspectives including the social, historical and synchronic angles in order for studies to be truly effective. An ever-increasing realm of language variation 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 known as computer-mediated communication (CMC) that will undoubtedly become the basis for many future studies e.g. instant messaging and teen language.
Chapter 12 serves as a concise summary of the overall premise of sociolinguistics contextualising the questions and answers the author has discussed and elaborated on in this volume. It asks the reader to reflect on what they have discovered from reading this book and then gives the five problems in the study of linguistic change (Weinreich 1953/1968) as a framework for finding the fundamental answers.
EVALUATION In the realm of sociolinguistics, the last few years have witnessed an increase in the number of publications concerned with methodological issues especially textbooks. These books treat many aspects of research in linguistics including general areas (Litosseliti 2010) or more specifically particular categories such as gender research (Harrington et al, 2008). Variationist Sociolinguistics, Change, Observation, Interpretation fits into this literature as a reference volume for all students wishing to familiarize themselves with the intricacies of variationist sociolinguistics and has a pleasantly specific title and pedagogical approach. For instructors teaching final year undergraduate or masters courses this textbook makes the idea of embarking on a variationist study much more accessible to students. The hands-on style in many of the chapters and its comprehensive and specific subject matter (with the added bonus of the abundance of extra tasks and material) are all characteristics that render this book very useful for teaching and contribute to making this volume a valuable tool. Examples of variationist work undertaken by scholars on other languages other than English would have been appreciated, particularly when many students even in the English-speaking world combine linguistic studies with foreign language (FL) studies.
Variationist Sociolinguistics, Change, Observation, Interpretation is a welcome contribution to the set of textbooks on LVC and includes many of the prerequisites for this subject matter and many more helpful additions. The wide ranging collection of topics included give the impression of ‘no stone left unturned’ and enable the reader to gain access to a unification of more than 40 years of methodology and findings of this interesting sub-field of Sociolinguistics. With the addition of mini-quizzes, questionnaires and data orientated tasks integrated throughout each chapter it is an up-to-date manual that serves as a perfect springboard for students to broaden their knowledge and discover more about this field. The author’s aims of introducing the field of LVC to learners, discussing its principle goals and achievements, and opening up discussion for advances in the field have been successfully achieved in this volume.
REFERENCES Bailey, G., Wilke, T., Tillery, J., and Sand, L.(1991) The Emergence of Black English: Texts and Commentary. Amsterdam and Philadelphia: John Benjamins.
Blake, R. and Josey, M. (2003) The /ay/ diphthong in a Martha’s Vineyard community: What can we say 40 years later? Language in society 32 (4): 451-485.
Harrington, K., Litosseliti, L., Stauntson, H., and Sunderland, J.(2008) Gender and 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 English copula. Language 45 (4): 715-762.
Litolessiti, L. (2010) Research Methods in Linguistics. Oxford: Blackwell.
Montgomery, M.B. (1989) Exploring the roots of Appalachian English. English World-Wide 10(2): 227-278.
Pope, J., Meyerhoff, M., and Ladd, D.R. (2007) Forty years of language change on Martha’s Vineyard. Language 83: 615-627.
Poplack, S. and Sankoff, D. (1987) The Philadelphia story in the Spanish Caribbean. 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 a theory of language change, in W.P. Lehmann and Y. Malkiel (eds), Directions for Historical Linguistics. Austin: University of Texas Press, pp.95-188.
ABOUT THE REVIEWER
ABOUT THE REVIEWER:
Elizabeth Latimer is a PhD student at the University of Exeter. Her thesis
is a variationist sociolinguistic study of French prepositions
incorporating a cognitive sociolinguistic investigation. Her primary
interests include grammatical variation, semantic variation and variation
across speech styles in both 'hexagonal' and Canadian French.