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Becky Childs

The field of dialectology, the study of the language of an area or group of people, has a long tradition within linguistics. From the earliest dialect studies, a focus on rigorous methodological practices has been an ever-present component of this discipline. Traditional methodologies can be seen in the work of the early dialect atlases, which relied heavily on mail questionnaires or fieldworkers that would chronicle the pronunciation, grammatical features, and lexicon of residents of particular regions. More recent technological innovations, such as GIS and online survey methods and applications, have brought multidisciplinary approaches to the study of dialects, as well as allowing for broader and more robust studies of geographic areas and social groups. The influence and interface of dialectology on various linguistic disciplines is noteworthy. Dialectological methods have most commonly been utilized in historical linguistics, sociolinguistics/language variation and change, and language endangerment/documentation. Within each of these disciplines, the adoption of methods from dialectology has allowed for the systematic study of language across geographic and social space, as well as across time.


Major Isoglosses in Romània  

Marcello Barbato

An isogloss is defined as a line that divides two areas in which a single feature has distinct values. The features apply to all linguistic levels and can be synchronic or diachronic. In Romance studies, isoglosses are generally traced on the basis of phonological and diachronic features. Very early on it was observed that, depending on the feature selected, different zones were outlined (noncoincidence of isoglosses). From this arose skepticism with respect to the possibility of delineating dialect groups. It was noted, however, that isoglosses often follow a trend that is at least parallel, if not coinciding (isogloss bundles). Research has therefore recognized the existence of dialect boundaries and has continued to investigate the correlation between these boundaries and physical or cultural ones. The isogloss is a problematic instrument for several aspects: It imposes a two-dimensional representation of linguistic reality that leaves no space for vertical variation (diastratic, diaphasic). Moreover, varieties do not always demonstrate a juxtaposition that can be represented by an isogloss (e.g., linguistic enclaves or bilingual areas). A further question is whether it is necessary to establish a hierarchy of isoglosses (phonological, morphological, lexical, etc.). Despite these issues, the isogloss remains a fundamental instrument for linguistic geography. The major isogloss bundles distinguish dialect groups: Sardinian, Romanian, Galician-Portuguese, Astur-Leonese, Castilian, Navarro-Aragonese, Catalan, Gascon, Occitanic, French, Alpine Romance, Cisalpine Romance, and Italian. For each bundle, the article attempts to determine whether and how it has changed over time, and what the possible cultural correlations of this might be.



Christoph Winter

Frisian is a West Germanic language that is indigenous to the southern coastal region of the North Sea in the Netherlands and Germany. In the early 21st century, it was spoken by around 400,000 inhabitants of the Dutch province of Friesland, by up to 1,000 speakers in the German municipality of the Saterland, and by an estimated 4,000 people in the German district of Nordfriesland. Corresponding to the geographical separation of these areas, which is the result of a complex historical process involving several migration events and language shifts, the Frisian language is traditionally divided into three dialect groups: West Frisian, East Frisian (Saterlandic), and North Frisian. They share common Frisian features, like the presence of two classes of weak verbs. Nevertheless, they are also characterized by individual innovations and various degrees of influence from different contact languages, which explains why they are no longer mutually intelligible. All three dialects are fully recognized as minority languages but differ in terms of their sociopolitical status. While West Frisian appears to occupy a moderately strong position in society—as it is not only recognized as the second official language of the Netherlands but also has access to higher domains and enjoys a considerable amount of constitutional support—the same does not apply to the other dialects. North Frisian and Saterlandic are mostly, if not entirely, confined to lower domains and attempts to extend their use have been only moderately successful. Considering the number of speakers, West Frisian is a relatively vital language as opposed to North Frisian and Saterlandic, which are both severely endangered.


Phonological Variation and Change in Latin American Spanish  

Pedro Martín-Butragueño and Érika Mendoza

“Latin American Spanish” (LAS) represents a substantial portion of the Spanish-speaking world. The geographical distances, the contrasts between rural and extremely urbanized areas, the existence of strong social inequalities and migratory streams, and the presence of a high number of indigenous American languages—all create the conditions for a complex linguistic reality, clearly diversified, while also unitary. Many variable linguistic phenomena correlate with the age of LAS expansion and the continuing massive urbanization that began in the 1960s. American Spanish-speaking communities have different segmental processes, such as consonantal weakening in intervocalic contexts, deletion in syllabic coda, vowel devoicing, among others. On the prosodic level, there is dialectal variation in intonational patterns and differences in rhythmic properties. Both segmental and prosodic variation is conditioned by linguistic, geographical, and social factors.


William Labov  

Matthew J. Gordon

William Labov (b. 1927) is an American linguist who pioneered the study of variationist sociolinguistics. Born and raised in northern New Jersey, Labov studied English and philosophy at Harvard University (BA, 1948) and worked as an industrial chemist for several years before entering graduate school in linguistics at Columbia University in 1961. He completed his PhD in 1964, under the direction of Uriel Weinreich. He worked at Columbia until 1971, when he joined the faculty of the University of Pennsylvania, where he taught until his retirement in 2014. Labov’s influence on the field began with research he conducted in graduate school. His study of changing pronunciations on Martha’s Vineyard, the subject of his master’s thesis, introduced a method for observing sound change in progress and broke with tradition by exploring social motivations for linguistic innovations. For his PhD dissertation, Labov carried out a study of dialect patterns on the Lower East Side of New York City. Using a systematic, quantitative methodology, he demonstrated that linguistic variation is socially stratified, such that the use of pronunciation features (e.g., dropping of post-vocalic /r/) correlates with social class, ethnicity, etc. in regular patterns. Labov’s early research was greatly influential and inspired many scholars to carry out similar projects in other communities. The paradigm came to be known as variationist sociolinguistics. Much of Labov’s scholarship seeks to advance our understanding of language change. Historical linguists traditionally study completed linguistic changes, often long after they occurred, but Labov developed a method for examining active changes through a quantitative comparison of speakers representing several generations. This approach produces a new perspective on the change process by revealing intermediate stages. Labov has brought insights from this research to bear on theoretical debates within historical linguistics and the field more broadly. His work in this area has also documented many active sound changes in American English. Among these changes are innovations underway in particular dialects, such as the vowel changes in Philadelphia, as well as broader regional patterns, such as the Northern Cities Shift heard in the Great Lakes states. Throughout his career, social justice concerns have fueled Labov’s research. He has sought to demonstrate that the speech of stigmatized groups is as systematic and rule-governed as any other. He led a pioneering study in Harlem in the late 1960s that shone new light on African American English, demonstrating, for example, that grammatical usages like the deletion of the copula (e.g., He fast) are subject to regular constraints. Labov has served as an expert witness in court and before the U.S. Congress to share insights from his study of African American English. He has also worked to promote literacy for speakers of non-standard dialects, carrying out research on reading and developing material for the teaching of reading to these populations.


(High) German  

Simon Pickl

(High) German is both a group of closely related West Germanic varieties and a standardized language derived from this group that comprises a wide range of dialects and colloquial varieties in addition to its standardized form. The two terms have related, and to an extent overlapping, but distinct meanings: German refers to a Standard Average European language spoken predominantly in Central Europe by some 96 million speakers and by minority speech communities around the globe. High German has a double meaning: On the one hand, it is another term for Standard German. On the other hand, it refers to the High German linguistic group within West Germanic, the linguistic basis for the German language. As such, it is defined by the High German consonant shift, a sound change that affected Germanic obstruents and set it apart from its immediate neighbors within (West) Germanic, that is, Low German and Low Franconian. The High German consonant shift around the 7th century, together with the onset of written transmission in the 8th century, marks the beginning of the history of (High) German. Traditional dialects perpetuate patterns of areal variation that arose in the wake of this sound change. Standard German developed out of High German written varieties, especially based on East Central German, through processes of leveling, koineization, metalinguistic reasoning, and codification. During that process, the emergent supra-regional norm superseded Low German in northern Germany and Upper German regional norms in the south, as well as influencing spoken registers, but (Standard) German remains a pluricentric and pluriareal language. Today, colloquial, regional varieties that combine features of Standard German and traditional dialects dominate oral language use, and in social media the written language, too, is developing new colloquial forms that build on standard orthography as well as on regional, informal forms of spoken language usage.


Corpus Phonology  

Jacques Durand

Corpus Phonology is an approach to phonology that places corpora at the center of phonological research. Some practitioners of corpus phonology see corpora as the only object of investigation; others use corpora alongside other available techniques (for instance, intuitions, psycholinguistic and neurolinguistic experimentation, laboratory phonology, the study of the acquisition of phonology or of language pathology, etc.). Whatever version of corpus phonology one advocates, corpora have become part and parcel of the modern research environment, and their construction and exploitation has been modified by the multidisciplinary advances made within various fields. Indeed, for the study of spoken usage, the term ‘corpus’ should nowadays only be applied to bodies of data meeting certain technical requirements, even if corpora of spoken usage are by no means new and coincide with the birth of recording techniques. It is therefore essential to understand what criteria must be met by a modern corpus (quality of recordings, diversity of speech situations, ethical guidelines, time-alignment with transcriptions and annotations, etc.) and what tools are available to researchers. Once these requirements are met, the way is open to varying and possibly conflicting uses of spoken corpora by phonological practitioners. A traditional stance in theoretical phonology sees the data as a degenerate version of a more abstract underlying system, but more and more researchers within various frameworks (e.g., usage-based approaches, exemplar models, stochastic Optimality Theory, sociophonetics) are constructing models that tightly bind phonological competence to language use, rely heavily on quantitative information, and attempt to account for intra-speaker and inter-speaker variation. This renders corpora essential to phonological research and not a mere adjunct to the phonological description of the languages of the world.


The History of Variationist Germanic Linguistics  

Frans Gregersen

The history of variationist linguistics (also known as variationist sociolinguistics or language variation and change) shows that over the years it has entered into competition and collaboration with a number of disciplines. It is in competition with Chomskyan theoretical linguistics, diverging from this hegemonic trend in methods, data, and types of analysis: variationist linguistics favors observation and dismisses introspection; it builds on everyday conversations with more speakers than one; and it uses quantitative methods in all analyses. Variationism collaborates with or is compatible with other types of analyses of language use and is sometimes seen as part of a larger sociolinguistic field also encompassing interactional linguistics, discourse analysis, critical discourse analysis, conversation analysis, and functional grammar, and systemic functional linguistics may complement or in other ways be used in otherwise mainly variationist enterprises. Indeed since one of the central variationist types of data is the sociolinguistic interview, variationist data may be analyzed by all of these disciplines. The article is organized along the following historical framework: It circumscribes three periods ranging from approximately 1960 to ca. 2010: The founder period establishes the approach at the various European universities by producing a number of exemplary studies, primary among them William Labov’s dissertation and later book, The Social Stratification of English in New York City. In focusing on an urban environment, Labov identified a moot point in the dialectological tradition, which otherwise is not only compatible with variationism but would also, gradually, be profoundly transformed by it. He also studied a community whose sheer size makes sampling and concomitant discussions of representativity necessary. These are central discussions for any urban sociology. The history of variationism in general plays out differently in the various countries or regions of Germanic-speaking Europe, but in the second period it is characteristic that variationist linguistics gets a more or less favored place in a broader canvas of disciplines studying spoken language in use. The disciplines may take their cue from sociology (ethnomethodology, conversation analysis), philosophy (speech-act theory), or social psychology (accommodation theory). Thus, we have labeled this period the period of fragmentation. The third period distinguished here is a period of larger corpora, when studies of variation may be carried out in tandem with, or indeed in collaboration with, other analyses; thus, in a way, modifying the previous period of fragmentation—at least institutionally. The three periods happen at various points in time in the various countries discussed, and it could be argued that the two later periods overlap, but the framework used here nevertheless makes it possible to organize their overall history.