Most people modify their ways of speaking, writing, texting, and e-mailing, and so on, according to the people with whom they are communicating. This fascinating book asks why we 'accommodate' to others in this way, and explores the various social consequences arising from it.
Eckert, Penelope, and John R. Rickford, ed. (2001) Style and Sociolinguistic Variation. Cambridge University Press, xvi+341pp, hardback ISBN 0-521-59191-0. Announced in http://linguistlist.org/issues/12/12-1984.html
Mary B. Shapiro, Truman State University
This volume is not an introduction to the topic of stylistic variation for lay people; on the contrary, it makes it clear how far we are from the possibility of such a unified account. Nor is it an introduction to the topic for general linguists, as familiarity with earlier seminal work is assumed throughout, particularly with Labov's (e.g., 1972) continuum of ''attention paid to speech,'' Bell's (1984) ''audience design,'' Speech Accommodation Theory (e.g., Giles, Coupland, and Coupland (1991)), and the multidimensional ''register'' analyses of Finegan & Biber (e.g.,1994) . For those who are already familiar with these different analytical frameworks, however, this volume is a long-awaited and very welcome contribution, allowing prominent scholars to confront one another's ideas more directly than previously, to offer more evidence for earlier hypotheses, and on occasion, to update their theories. This volume presents clear, cogent, and stimulating discussion of the ideas, making it clear where the major disagreements are, and I hope, prompting these researchers and others to continue with this very important area of study. One might be occasionally frustrated by continuing confusion on certain points, but overall, one comes away fascinated and heartened that so many talented researchers are pursuing these questions. Any minor quibbles that may be found in the following discussion should not be seen as serious challenges: these papers are very exciting and very welcome.
After a brief and useful introduction, showing many of the connections between the different approaches, the editors divide the book into four sections, each featuring a ''major paper'' or two, followed by responses and critiques. These divisions sometimes feel a bit artificial (with some ''responses'' barely touching upon the major paper to which they are ostensibly responding) but with everyone constantly referring to everyone else's work, it would be impossible to come up with any simple, linear arrangement that would make better sense. Section One, Anthropological Approaches, includes papers by Judith Irvine, Susan Ervin-Tripp, Richard Bauman, and Ronald Macaulay. These papers (aside from Macaulay, which is a theoretical response to Bauman) contain great data, featuring long texts from different speech communities around the world, where one intuitively feels that the given author's analysis make sense for this individual in this circumstance, but it is unclear what generalizations may be made on this basis. Section Two, Attention Paid to Speech, features William Labov, John Baugh, Penelope Eckert, and Elizabeth Closs Traugott; the papers here show clear continuity with earlier Labovian work. Section Three, Audience Design and Self-Identification, follows with Allan Bell, Malcah Yaeger-Dror, Nikolas Coupland, Howard Giles, and John Rickford. Bell comments on and expands his 1984 paper, Coupland presents an analysis focusing on individual style and identity, and the response papers raise issues about which variables should be pursued. Section Four, Functionally Motivated Situational Variation, ends the volume with papers by Edward Finegan & Douglas Biber, Lesley Milroy, and Dennis Preston. Although Finegan & Biber (hereafter F&B) easily generalize from analyses of massive corpora, one never gets the sense of real attention to individual choices made by individuals in real-life situations, and the response papers (as the papers earlier in the volume) argue against their approach.
There are no big surprises from the major players here, no reversals of earlier positions, but a number of the response/critique papers may make us think about the study of stylistic variation in new ways. At least half a dozen different definitions of ''style'' (or ''register'', or whatever you wish to call it) are advanced here, with extended competing discussions of what the ''primitives'' and variables should be in such an analysis. No one at the two-day 1996 workshop at which these papers were initially presented seems to have been much convinced by anyone else's data or arguments, although several researchers found common ground that was previously obscured by differing terminology.
In the anthropological section, Irvine discusses style as ''distinctiveness,'' focusing on the semiotic processes of iconization, recursivity, and erasure. Ervin-Tripp underlines the importance of these processes in her analysis of African-American rhetorical shifts. Bauman argues that genres should play a role in the discussion of style (distinct from the ''register'' distinction that F&B have relegated it to), but fails to show how this could fit into the different frameworks presented by the other researchers, and Macaulay continues this argument by problematizing the definition of genre.
In the second section, Labov makes explicit (p.87) that ''the organization of contextual styles along the axis of attention paid to speech was not intended as a general description of how style-shifting is produced and organized in every-day speech, but rather as a way of organizing and using the intra-speaker variation that occurs in the [sociolinguistic] interview.'' Then he cheerfully goes on to refine the ''decision tree'' that he and his students developed for that same end. One might wonder why he was even included in this volume, since he has never shown any interest in what seems to many here to be the more interesting issue of how style-shifting IS produced and organized in every-day speech. He still limits himself to a handful of diagnostic (mostly phonological) features (here, the alternation of stops, fricatives, and affricates in initial position; alternation of apical and velar nasal consonants in unstressed '-ing'; and percent of negative concord), with no expressed interest in what other features may co-occur with these or why. Eckert acknowledges, in her response paper (p.119), that ''the main connection between Labov's paper and the other papers in this volume is in the comparison between the constructed stylistic world of the interview and the larger stylistic world within which it is embedded and on which it draws,'' but as no one manages to exploit that comparison, the usefulness of it is unclear. Baugh problematizes Labov's methodology in interesting ways, recognizing that the central role played by literacy will backfire in some communities, and that the effect of the interviewer's own accommodations must be recognized and accounted for. (Labov has always seemed to assume that the interviewer's behavior is transparent and irrelevant.) Traugott's historical work seems an unlikely bedmate for the other papers in this volume. Although it may be true that the processes of grammaticalization are sensitive to stylistic variation, we know so little about this that the necessary connections cannot at this point be made.
In the third section, Bell concludes that he still agrees with most of his 1984 paper, except for the secondary role it assigned ''referee design,'' which he would now acknowledge (p. 165) as ''an ever-present part of individuals' use of language.'' After a discussion by Yaeger-Dror of what the ''primitives'' of the study of style ought to be, Bell is followed by Coupland and Giles, who seem a bit peeved that Bell gets all the attention for the theory of audience design, when it is clear that the earlier Speech Accommodation theory is essentially the same. Coupland's new focus here on style as a marker of identity (independent of the actual addressees) echoes Bell's insistence that speakers are addressing unseen referees who are members of their various identity groups. Giles brings in some much appreciated connections to social psychology and Rickford offers the vision of the study of style leading beyond autonomous sociolinguistics.
The most interesting theoretical debate, what Bell calls the ''fundamental divergence on the origin and basis of style'' (p.143), is in the final section. Bell and his followers (seconded by Labov and those working in the Labovian tradition, and presumably also by the Speech Accommodation theorists) believe that stylistic variation derives from and reflects more primary social variation. F&B believe that stylistic variation is primary. It is a pity that most of this discussion is relegated to the final section, both because it is by far the most interesting part of the volume, and because this order of presentation may tend to prejudice readers. Having read so many critiques of F&B before one gets to their own paper, one may not give them the fair hearing they deserve. Indeed, one must forgive them for sounding a bit defensive here (listing in bulleted points all the ways that they have been misinterpreted by their critics).
Simply put, the challenge launched by F&B is this: If stylistic variation derives from more primary social variation, what explains the association of particular linguistic variables with particular social groups in the first place? Not one of the researchers in the other sections ever takes up this challenge, or even acknowledges it as an issue. F&B dare to challenge orthodoxy (if such a thing can be said to exist in such a new and still fragmented field of study) by turning the assumed relationship between social and stylistic variation on its head: According to their theory, functional motivations explain the association of particular linguistic features with particular registers (both spoken and written); then differential access to registers causes different social groups to use those linguistic features to different degrees (such differences then, of course, getting exaggerated purely for identity purposes).
The greatest gap in this volume is that neither Bell nor Labov chose to address F&B's central concern. As it is, we can only assume that in their views the association of linguistic variables with social groups may in fact be happenstance, historical accident, nothing more than the perception that ''they'' say it that way so we should not. Preston comes closest to accepting F&B's challenge, arguing that internal linguistic variation is primary, social variation secondary, and stylistic tertiary. Presumably the existence of variants is ''explained'' by internal linguistic constraints, although those variants may then be arbitrarily attached to a given social group. The evidence he gives for this, however, is scant. Milroy queries ''whether a single model which is as wide as [F&B's] attempts to be is desirable or feasible'' (p. 268), and Preston says F&B's work (although ''not uninteresting'') is irrelevant to the discussion of style: ''it answers questions about the selection of linguistic resources in the realization of different linguistic tasks'' (p. 291) rather than describing stylistic choices an individual may makes within a given ''register.''
There are frequent challenges raised throughout the volume about the variables F&B work with, both theoretically (with Preston pointing out that F&B's variables are not ''classic'' sociolinguistic ones, as they do not imply a choice among semantically equivalent elements which could all occur in the given environment) and operationally (with Milroy wondering whether their analysis of relative clauses would recognize non-standard formulations). The fact that F&B compare written and spoken registers likewise causes both theoretical concerns and methodological problems, as F&B cannot, then, consider the phonological variation that is the backbone of the Labovian work. There is also a lot of counterevidence offered to their claims about economy and elaboration being reflected in social variation (with ease associated with those of lower status and clarity associated with those of higher status), although this seems to mostly stem from one of the misinterpretations F&B clarify here. (''Nothing in our model entails that each function motivating the distribution of a given feature in one speech community must also motivate its distribution in another.'' (p. 254)). Similarly, much of the knee-jerk reaction against F&B seems to be motivated by the impression that their theory implies linguistic deficits in some speakers due to restricted access to various registers, as in Bernstein (1971). F&B respond (p. 254): ''Nothing in our model should suggest that 'working class speakers are more 'limited' in their expressive resources that middle class speakers.'' Our model expressly assumes equivalent grammatical competencies among all social groups.''
One might be disheartened by the confusion still evident in this area of study, despite the optimistic assurances of the editors (p. 5) that ''[t]he models of style discussed above ... are not contradictory or mutually exclusive...''. A resolution between the views, however, may well lie in an examination of differences among variables, and also of the interaction among variants of a single variable, and of the situated use of variation.'' The nearest anyone comes to bringing together the different strands of research, however, is Bell's somewhat vague proposal (p. 168) of a ''three-layered approach'' to the study of style: featuring ''quantification of particular stylistic features'' [i.e. the ''classic'' Labovian approach], ''qualitative analysis of individual tokens'' [i.e. the anthropological approach], and ''analysis of co-occurrence of different features'' [i.e. incorporating some of F&B's methods]. Clearly, much more work needs to be done to bring together the different strands.
Although the breadth of the treatments of style in this volume is praise-worthy, some useful perspectives are missing: Ochs' distinction between planned and unplanned discourse receives only passing mention in Milroy (p. 271), and Le Page and Tabouret-Keller's influential 1985 work is mentioned only briefly by Rickford (p. 266).
One final quibble: the index is not very helpful, as it is inconsistent and misses quite a few references (including the two mentioned in the last paragraph). Despite this, and other quibbles raised above, this is a very important collection of papers and should be required reading for all those with any background in sociolinguistics.
REFERENCES Bell, Allan (1984) Style as Audience Design. Language in Society 13(2):145-204. Bernstein, Basil (1971) Class, Codes, and Control. London: Routledge. Finegan, Edward and Biber, Douglas (1994) Register and Social Dialect Variation: an Integrated Approach. In Douglas Biber and Edward Finegan(eds.), Sociolinguistic Perspectives on Register, pp. 315- 47. Oxford: Oxford University Press. Giles, Howard, Coupland, Justine, and Coupland, Nikolas (1991) Contexts of Accommodation: Developments in Applied Sociolinguistics. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. Labov, William (1972) Sociolinguistic Patterns. Philadelphia: The University of Pennsylvania Press. Le Page, Robert B. and Tabouret-Keller, Andree (1985) Acts of Identity: Creole-Based Approaches to Language and Ethnicity. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
ABOUT THE REVIEWER:
Mary Shapiro is an Assistant Professor of Linguistics at Truman State University in Kirksville, Missouri. She received her Ph.D. in sociolinguistics from the University of Texas at Austin in 1997. These days, she spends much time observing the language acquisition process in action in daughter Clara (14 months old and still won't say "Mama").