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Sociolinguistics  

Christine Mallinson

The study of sociolinguistics constitutes a vast and complex topic that has yielded an extensive and multifaceted body of scholarship. Language is fundamentally at work in how we operate as individuals, as members of various communities, and within cultures and societies. As speakers, we learn not only the structure of a given language; we also learn cultural and social norms about how to use language and what content to communicate. We use language to navigate expectations, to engage in interpersonal interaction, and to go along with or to speak out against social structures and systems. Sociolinguistics aims to study the effects of language use within and upon societies and the reciprocal effects of social organization and social contexts on language use. In contemporary theoretical perspectives, sociolinguists view language and society as being mutually constitutive: each influences the other in ways that are inseparable and complex. Language is imbued with and carries social, cultural, and personal meaning. Through the use of linguistic markers, speakers symbolically define self and society. Simply put, language is not merely content; rather, it is something that we do, and it affects how we act and interact as social beings in the world. Language is a social product with rich variation along individual, community, cultural, and societal lines. For this reason, context matters in sociolinguistic research. Social categories such as gender, race/ethnicity, social class, nationality, etc., are socially constructed, with considerable variation within and among categories. Attributes such as “female” or “upper class” do not have universal effects on linguistic behavior, and sociolinguists cannot assume that the most interesting linguistic differences will be between groups of speakers in any simple, binary fashion. Sociolinguistic research thus aims to explore social and linguistic diversity in order to better understand how we, as speakers, use language to inhabit and negotiate our many personal, cultural, and social identities and roles.

Article

Phonological Variation and Change in European Spanish  

José Antonio Samper Padilla

Spanish is a language characterized on the phonetic level by a rich variation in consonantism, especially in the syllable-final position (both word-inner and word-final), whereas vocalism shows a more fixed character and a less relevant variation. Thus, it is not strange that the majority of variationist studies have focused on consonantism. Investigations addressing prosodic variation are fewer and more recent and will not be broached here because of space limitations. In the field of consonant variation, studies focusing on the weakening effect on certain elements of the coda stand out. The most relevant among these phenomena is the one which affects /s/, and this is so for various reasons: (a) because has been considered to be one of the isoglosses that divide the two great norms of current Spanish (Castilian and Atlantic); (b) because of its geographical extent; and (c) because it has led to theoretical approaches about the possible impact on number (singular/plural) and grammatical person (second/third-person singular) differentiation that implies the frequent presence of word-final -s. Additionally, variation which affects the liquid consonants (/l/ and /r/), leading to processes of both weakening and change in these two types of consonants, has been studied quite extensively (at least in Andalusia and the Canary Islands). The weakening process affecting the final nasal consonant, with velarization as a first step and potential elision as a second one, has been less frequently studied in Spain (much less than in the case of Caribbean Spanish, for example). In the field of syllabic tension, there is another phenomenon that has often been studied due to its geographic extent: the weakening of intervocalic /d/, which yields very different data depending on dialectal variety (evidence of the greater or lesser degree of progress in that weakening process). Sociolinguistic analyses also focus on the increasing expansion of yeísmo, a phenomenon usually conditioned by age as an explanatory factor in this advanced stage of the process. In Andalusian Spanish, the alternation between different pronunciations of the phonemes /s/ and /θ/ (mainly distinction, seseo and ceceo), the defricativization of /tʃ/ and the alternation between the realizations of /x/ as [x] and [h] have also been analyzed. In the case of vowels, as has been said before, it should be pointed out that cases of sociolinguistic variation in Spanish are not as numerous or as relevant; therefore, they have been less appealing to researchers. Among the main phenomena, we shall discuss the vocalic metaphony registered in Cantabria and Asturias.

Article

English in the U.S. South  

Kirk Hazen

English in the U.S. South contains a wide range of variation, encompassing ethnic, social class, and subregional variations all within the umbrella term of Southern English. Although it has been a socially distinct variety since at least the mid-19th century, many of the modern features it is nationally known for developed only after 1875. Lexical variation has long distinguished the U.S. South, but new vocabulary has replaced the old, and subregional variation in the U.S. South is no longer important for lexical variation. Social class still plays an important role in grammatical variation, but the rise of compulsory education limited previously wider ranges of dialect features. Despite traditional scholarship’s primary focus on lexical and grammatical language variation in the U.S. South, phonological variation has been the main area of scholarship since 1990s. Within phonological variation, the production of vowels, the most socially salient features of the U.S. South, has been a heavily studied realm of scholarship. Prosodic, consonant, and perception studies have been on the rise and have provided numerous insights into this highly diverse dialect region.

Article

Phonological Variation and Change in Italian  

Alessandro Vietti

The phonology of Italian is subject to considerable variability both at the segmental and at the prosodic level. Changes affect different features of the phonological system such as the composition of the inventory of phonemes and allophones, the phonotactic patterning of phonemes, and their lexical distribution. On the prosodic level, the variability takes the form of a composite collection of intonational patterns. In fact, the classification of intonational contours in geographical varieties appears fuzzier and less precise than the traditional division into geographical areas based on segmental features. The reasons for the high variability must be traced back, on the one hand, to the rapid and recent standardization and, on the other hand, to the prolonged contact with Romance dialects of Italy. Variation in Italian phonology can be traced back to two main dimensions: A geographic dimension, accounting for a large proportion of the total variability, and a social dimension that regulates variety-internal variation. The overall picture can be understood as a combination of vertical and horizontal sociolinguistic forces. Horizontal dynamics is responsible for the creation of a pluricentric standard, that is, a multiplicity of models of pronunciation that could be considered as geographical versions of the standard. Vertical dynamics brings about the formation of new norms at a local level and, most important, it generates a continuum of dialects ranging from the (regional) standard to the most local variety. Moving along this vertical continuum from the standard down to the local variety, there is an increasing of variability that represents a source for the emergence of social and stylistic values.