Language and Variation

Published: 2019-05-14 07:52:19
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Introducing Sociolinguistics is a book by Rajend Mesthrie, Joan Swann, Ana Duemert and William Leap. The book is aimed at educating those without previous knowledge in Linguistics. The chapter on focus is on language variation and change. It is focused on examining approaches to change in language and presents new analyses on language change by modifying the discussed approaches. The various approaches can be categorized into different models, namely Labovs model. Chens model, Trudgills model and Milroys model.

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Labovs model

William Labov was among the first people to discover the influence of social dialectology. According to Labov a community can be defined by its socialization norms more than its linguistic norms. This result came from his research on Marthas Vineyard Island after observing, interacting with, and interviewing both local inhabitants and holiday seekers of mixed race and age. He discovered that there was a change in dialect of the people living there that had more to do with their social class than their original habitat, race, or language.

From the text Duemert and Mesthrie suggest that sociolinguists should differentiate between changes from above and changes from below. On a social level changes from above are those that are introduced by the superior social class while changes from below are new sounds stemming from the vernacular but altered in order to make the pronunciation of words easier. Changes from below are related to the middle and working class group in the society.

Chens model

This approach is commonly referred to as the Lexical Diffusion. Chen suggests that the difference in sound or dialect occurs in a word to word basis. He further explains that this is an effect of the environment within which a language is contextualized. Some environments are more conducive to sound change than others. Chen also proposes that change in language can generally be captured by an S-curve. The graph from the excerpt suggests that change begins with one word and slowly spreads to other words. This progression eventually slows down and stops at the maintenance phase. This is whereby the words changed are still in use, but no new words are formed.

Trudgills model

According to Trudgill the linguistic influence of a location is determined by the areas population and size. This model can also be referred to as the Gravity Model. Trudgill proposed that this model borrowed its analogy from Physics to illustrate the influence that bigger cities have on smaller ones. The smaller centres are drawn to the bigger ones. This theory is, however, challenged by other linguists who believe it is challenged by social contact and geographical restrictions. Labov tried to disprove this by giving an example of how the impact can be created using advertising and trade. Flow of products from the larger centres to the smaller ones creates enough contact with which to spread information and culture that can influence language change.

Duemert and Mesthrie explain that doing research on linguistics can be a stressful procedure that drains finances and resources therefore making continuous research close to impossible. However, this can be overcome by carrying out apparent-time studies. This method involves conducting research on different age groups in a community by studying them intensively to determine whether there are any linguistic changes. The older age group normally portrays low variant used in comparison to the younger age group.

Part of Labovs research was the based on the premise that social classes have an effect on language change. As discussed those of a higher social class determined the influence of language change. It is argued that people of middle and lower social class will adopt variants associated with the upper class in order to assimilate prestige. The study of social networks is vital in understanding vernacular maintenance and change. This is the basis upon which the next model is formed on.

Milroys model

Belfast Milroy formed the hypothesis that using vernacular language is positively linked to how well the speaker is assimilated and integrated in the community network. He used the criteria of network density and network multiplexity to explain this hypothesis. According to Milroy, network density is measured by the links or connections. Low-density networks are those, which speakers are linked to one central member, but not to each other, while high-density networks are those in which members of a network know each other and interact on a regular basis.

Multiplexity describes the content located in the network links. Individuals connected to each other in more than one context, for example, workmates and relatives; a multiplex network is then formed. A uniplex network is one which members are linked on a single platform.

These links and networks are the social context within which people can influence language change on one another. The study contributes to comprehending language variation, change and maintenance in a society. Milroys study indicates that language use is standardized by people of high social status. Vernacular on the other hand is related to customs and norms found within local community settings characterized by dense and multiplex networks.

New approaches to variation and change

Duemert and Mesthrie highlight that researches studying sociolinguistics tend to highlight on the interaction between pronunciation of words and their significance in a social setting. This led to the need to focus on interaction between different variables as opposed to placing a variable in its communal setting. This new research method can be achieved by using statistical techniques that put into consideration numerous variables simultaneously.

Writing style

The book Introducing Sociolinguistics is a book done by several authors with each contributing in different chapters. The topic language and variation are done by Ana Duemert and Rajend Mesthrie. Their writing style comprises of the use of figurative illustrations. There are several charts used to illustrate the various concepts in the book with most examples given in a medieval setting. The writers use a formal tone throughout the chapter. There is also minimal use of jargon, making it easy to read through and understand. Their writing style and simplified language make the book suitable for sociolinguistics beginners.

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