1-20 of 28 Results

  • Keywords: sociolinguistics x
Clear all

Article

Dialectology  

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.

Article

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

The History of African-American Vernacular English  

Guy Bailey

African American English (AAE) originated from contact between Africans and Whites during slavery. The trajectory of slavery in the United States was different from that in the Caribbean, but in areas where population ratios and time frames were most like those in the Caribbean, a creole language, Gullah, emerged. In other areas, various degrees of creolization may have taken place. As a result, early AAE was not monolithic and included some regional variation. In recordings with former slaves and African Americans born during the last half of the 19th century, the reflexes of AAE’s origins appear in features that have strong parallels with Gullah and Caribbean creoles, including zero copula/auxiliary, monophthongal /e/ and /o/, fully back vowels, and non-front onsets of /au/. As African Americans moved from slavery into farm tenancy, features emerged in AAE that were shared with Southern White vernaculars. These include grammatical forms such as yall and fixin’ to and phonological features like monophthongal /ai/ and the pin/pen merger. However, even as shared features emerged, AAE maintained its distinctiveness by typically not participating in the Southern Shift that affected vowels in Southern White vernaculars. Developments during the Great Migration in the 20th century enhanced AAE’s distinctiveness. During the Great Migration such well-known features as durative/habitual be, ain’t for didn’t, and had + past as a simple past became widespread. AAE, then, is a product both of its unique heritage and the historical and demographic processes that promoted its independent development and also of people who valued (and still value) it as a mode of communication and as an instrument for identity and solidarity.

Article

Polysynthesis: A Diachronic and Typological Perspective  

Michael Fortescue

Polysynthesis is informally understood as the packing of a large number of morphemes into single words, as in (1) from Bininj Gun-wok (Evans, in press).1) a-ban-yawoyʔ-wargaʔ-maɳe-gaɲ-giɲe-ŋ 1SGSUBJ-3PLOBJ-again-wrong-BEN-meat-cook-PSTPF 'I cooked the wrong meat for them again.' Its status as a distinct typological category into which some of the world’s languages fall, on a par with isolating, agglutinating, or fusional languages, has been controversial from the start. Nevertheless, researchers working with these languages are seldom in doubt as to their status as distinct from these other morphological types. This has been complicated by the fact that the speakers of such languages are largely limited to hunter-gatherers—or were so in the not too distant past—so the temptation is to link the phenomenon directly to way of life. This proves to be oversimplified, although it is certainly true that languages qualifying as polysynthetic are almost everywhere spoken in peripheral regions and are on the decline in the modern world—few children are learning them today. Perhaps the most pervasive of the traits that give these languages the impression of a “special” status is that of holophrasis, which can be defined as the (possible) expression of what in less synthetic languages would be whole sentences in single complex (usually verbal) words. It turns out, however, that there is much greater variety among polysynthetic languages than is generally thought: there are few other traits that they all share, although distinct subtypes can in fact be distinguished, notably the affixing as opposed to the incorporating type. These languages have considerable importance for the investigation of the diachronic complexification of languages in general and of language acquisition by children, as well as for theories of language universals. The sociolinguistic factors behind their development have only recently begun to be studied in depth. All polysynthetic languages today are to some degree endangered (they are dying off at an alarming rate), and many have been poorly studied if at all, which makes their investigation before it is too late a prime goal for linguistics.

Article

Morphological and Syntactic Variation and Change in European Spanish  

María José Serrano

Since the 1990s, there have been major developments in the variationist approach to morphological and syntactic variation and change in European Spanish. This research area has garnered increasing interest because of the various morphosyntactic phenomena available for study. A significant amount of work on morphological and syntactic variation and change has been devoted to analyzing the linguistic differences among variants and the social and stylistic communicative settings in which they are used. The main phenomena studied in European Spanish are classified in three main groups: variation of personal pronouns, variation of verbal forms, and variation of syntactic constructions. Morphological and syntactic variants are linguistic choices constructed in a meaningful way that reveal speakers’ perceptions of real-world events and are projected stylistically onto the domain of discourse and interaction. Effective engagement with these choices requires the adoption of a broad, multifaceted notion of meaning to overcome earlier methodological controversies about studying variation at the morphological and syntactic levels because of the meaning that variants convey. In recent years, variation theory has benefited greatly from research in cognitive linguistics, a field whose basic tenet is that grammatical structures reflect the human perception of events. In fact, the most modern theoretical approach to morphosyntactic variation is based on the study of the cognitive meanings underlying variants, which is at the core of the empirical concerns of cognitive sociolinguistics. From a cognitive viewpoint, language is not a separate ability within the realm of human cognition; rather, it is developed along with all other cognitive skills. Studies of morphosyntactic variation address the social contexts in which variation takes place to adequately explain linguistic variation phenomena. The analysis of the communicative and cognitive backgrounds of morphological and syntactic variation challenges the traditional, structural, and behavioral concepts of linguistic variability and change. Thus, the study of these changes reflects the diversity and evolution of ways of thinking.

Article

Sociolinguistics in China  

Ming Liu

This article gives a brief introduction to sociolinguistics in China. Chinese sociolinguistics started with the introduction of Western sociolinguistic theories at the end of the 1970s. It did not become mature until the turn of the 21st century. After more than 40 years of development, Chinese sociolinguistics has now covered a variety of topics and themes. Among them, the most popular are “language life,” “language planning,” “language variations,” and “urban language studies.” After providing a brief introduction to the historical development of Chinese sociolinguistics, this article primarily focuses on some of the most popular topics in that field. Although Chinese sociolinguistics still relies on the introduction and incorporation of Western sociolinguistic theories, it has gradually formed its own research agenda. In the meantime, it has also attempted to adapt Western theories to the unique Chinese context and made some theoretical and methodological innovations. Especially in view of the growing urbanization and industrialization taking place in China, Chinese sociolinguistics is expected to play a growing important role in the country’s future development and lead to more breakthroughs in its theoretical and methodological developments.

Article

Contact Between Spanish and Portuguese in South America  

Ana M. Carvalho

Spanish and Portuguese are in contact along the extensive border of Brazil and its neighboring Spanish-speaking countries. Transnational interactions in some border communities allow for ephemeral language accommodations that occur when speakers of both languages communicate during social interactions and business transactions, facilitated by the lack of border control and similarities between the languages. A different situation is found in northern Uruguay, where Spanish and Portuguese are spoken in several border towns, presenting a case of stable and prolonged bilingualism that has allowed for the emergence of language contact phenomena such as lexical borrowings, code-switching, and structural convergence to a variable extent. However, due to urbanization and the presence of monolingual dialects in the surrounding communities, Portuguese and Spanish have not converged structurally in a single mixed code in urban areas and present instead clear continuities with the monolingual counterparts.

Article

Multilingualism in Rural Africa  

Pierpaolo Di Carlo, Jeff Good, and Rachel Ojong Diba

The pervasiveness of multilingualism throughout the African continent has led it to be viewed as Africa’s “lingua franca.” Nevertheless, sociolinguistic research on this topic has concentrated mostly on urbanized areas, even though the majority of Africans still live in rural regions, and rural multilingualism is clearly of much older provenance than its urban counterpart. In urban domains, individual language repertoires are dominated by the interplay between European ex-colonial languages, African lingua francas, and local languages, and language ideologies emphasize the ordering of languages in a hierarchy that is tied to social status. The situation in rural areas is clearly distinct, though it has yet to be thoroughly investigated. Early work on language use in rural Africa tended to background the presence of multilingualism and was dominated by an approach that viewed each community (or “tribe”) as having its own language. Thanks to the progressive adoption of ethnographic methods of inquiry, facilitated by language documentation research especially since the beginning of the 21st century, it has been possible to more effectively study areas of high linguistic diversity in West and Central Africa which demonstrate that multilingualism plays an integral role in structuring social relations. Available case studies document the presence of individuals with linguistic repertoires that are primarily oriented around local languages, ideologies, and practices and that do not clearly fit with what is known from urban environments. The most important theme that emerges from this work is the extent to which rural multilingualism is linked to the specific dynamics holding among communities that are near to each other rather than being a reflection of a more general, externally imposed value system. While this result makes it difficult to characterize rural multilingualism as a single, coherent phenomenon, it does point to the utility of a shared toolkit of research strategies for exploring it in more detail. In particular, ethnographic methods are required in order to ascertain the major local social divisions which language choice both reflects and constructs in these areas, and it is additionally important to focus on how individual repertoires are tied to specific life histories rather than to assume that groupings that are salient to the outside researcher (e.g., “villages” or “compounds”) are the relevant units of analysis. Finally, investigation of multilingualism in rural Africa is not only valuable for what it reveals about social dynamics on the continent, but it also seems likely to yield important insights for the study of sociolinguistics more broadly.

Article

Unsettling Imperial Science: Centering Convivial Scholarship in Sociolinguistics  

Finex Ndhlovu

The universalizing posture of claims made by colonial approaches and their regimes of representation continues to inform most mainstream sociolinguistics research agendas and project designs. Such claims reflect an imperial scientific tradition that overlooks and marginalizes other ways of knowing, particularly those from communities of the global South. Decolonizing sociolinguistics entails doing at least three things. First, we must decolonize ourselves through critical reflection on our own practices and how such practices contribute to the continuation of inequalities in knowledge production and in society. Second is the need to develop new narratives, new words, new grammars, and new vocabularies for eliciting empirical data to support the suppositions and arguments we advance in our anti-conventional and anti-colonial theoretical approaches to language and society research. Such alternative trajectories require a decentering of the dominant (colonial/imperial) voice and an increase in other voices speaking from other equally valid approaches that are currently being overlooked. Third, decolonizing sociolinguistics entails developing new models that draw on a rich collection of thought from a broad spectrum of traditions of knowing. This is about promoting convivial scholarship through mobilizing diverse resources to advance collaborative engagements that link our academic pursuits to public interests, including the interests of marginalized, minority, and global Indigenous communities. Convivial scholarship says the paths we follow in doing sociolinguistics research must be those that are committed to re-membering and rehumanizing Indigenous and other Southern peoples subjected to more than 500 years of coloniality. Decolonizing sociolinguistics must, therefore, mean freeing the field from the colonial tradition of knowing by bringing back to the center historically marginalized Indigenous and Southern knowledge systems. The premise is that a sociolinguistics that works for all must open pathways and avenues for epistemic access and cognitive justice through valuing diverse founts of knowledges as key contours.

Article

Discourse Analytic Approaches to Language and Identity  

Dorien Van De Mieroop

Rather than thinking of identity as something that defines a person in such a way that it makes them distinguishable from others, researchers using discourse analytical approaches within linguistics—especially in the fields of pragmatics and interactional sociolinguistics—tend to adopt a social constructionist perspective and thus view identity as a multimodally constituted activity or process. From this perspective, identity is not something one is or has, but something that one does or creates by means of various linguistic and paralinguistic resources as well as bodily movements. This performative view of identity has a number of implications. Rather than thinking of identity in the singular, a plural conceptualization of identities is capitalized on. Moreover, these identities should not be regarded as pertaining to only the ‘large’ macro-level sociodemographic categories individuals belong to, such as gender, race, and social class; identities are often described in much more nuanced terms. Such a fine-grained approach is needed to do justice to this performative perspective on identity, as it helps to capture the many dynamic and extremely fleeting ways in which people engage in identity work. Furthermore, all these identity constructions are not necessarily always consistent with one another, and they may sometimes even be contradictory, as people may not always be—or be able to be—equally prone to enacting a particular identity. This may depend on what they are doing and with whom, as identities are also related to the identities other people may construct around them. All these aspects make the analysis of identity quite a complex endeavor, as not only can their plural and fleeting nature make identities quite hard to capture, but it can also be quite a challenge to pin down precisely at which points in an interaction we can actually observe identity work in action.

Article

Orthography and the Sociolinguistics of Writing  

Mirka Honkanen

Orthography is not a neutral tool for representing language in writing. Spelling is a linguistic variable capable of carrying social meaning, and orthographies are technologies embedded in larger societal structures. Spelling plays a role in the construction of national and other social identities, the delimitation of languages, the authentication and stigmatization of speaker groups, standardization, and the written representation of paralinguistic features. In these and further ways, orthography is a topic of high sociolinguistic relevance. After written language had long received less sociolinguistic attention than speech, there is now a growing body of sociolinguistic research into spelling variation and orthography as a socioculturally situated practice. Sociolinguists investigate the social role of orthographies and spelling choices. When orthographies are developed for previously unwritten languages, decisions have to be made not only regarding phonemic representation but also between creating distance from and closeness to related languages. Orthography becomes a highly debated topic also when spelling reforms are proposed; different ideological, aesthetic, financial, educational, and sociopolitical arguments are typically brought forth. Standardized spellings are seen by language users as granting languages and speakers authority. When non-standardized spellings are used in transcripts of speech, they have been shown to assign sociolinguistic stigma to the speakers represented. Non-standardized spellings are used in different less than fully regulated orthographic spaces, such as digital writing, company and personal names, literary texts, subcultural publications, advertising, and private writing. Sociolinguistic studies on spelling often rely on data from digital communication such as text messaging or social media interactions. Such studies not only describe and classify different kinds of non-standardized spellings but also increasingly establish quantitative tendencies, explore correlations with macro-level sociodemographic factors, and show the potential for respelling to construct identities, personae, and meaning at the micro level of the utterance. Spelling can index identities and stances, act as a contextualization cue, and represent prosodic and dialectal features.

Article

Phonetics  

D. H. Whalen

Phonetics is the branch of linguistics that deals with the physical realization of meaningful distinctions in spoken language. Phoneticians study the anatomy and physics of sound generation, acoustic properties of the sounds of the world’s languages, the features of the signal that listeners use to perceive the message, and the brain mechanisms involved in both production and perception. Therefore, phonetics connects most directly to phonology and psycholinguistics, but it also engages a range of disciplines that are not unique to linguistics, including acoustics, physiology, biomechanics, hearing, evolution, and many others. Early theorists assumed that phonetic implementation of phonological features was universal, but it has become clear that languages differ in their phonetic spaces for phonological elements, with systematic differences in acoustics and articulation. Such language-specific details place phonetics solidly in the domain of linguistics; any complete description of a language must include its specific phonetic realization patterns. The description of what phonetic realizations are possible in human language continues to expand as more languages are described; many of the under-documented languages are endangered, lending urgency to the phonetic study of the world’s languages. Phonetic analysis can consist of transcription, acoustic analysis, measurement of speech articulators, and perceptual tests, with recent advances in brain imaging adding detail at the level of neural control and processing. Because of its dual nature as a component of a linguistic system and a set of actions in the physical world, phonetics has connections to many other branches of linguistics, including not only phonology but syntax, semantics, sociolinguistics, and clinical linguistics as well. Speech perception has been shown to integrate information from both vision and tactile sensation, indicating an embodied system. Sign language, though primarily visual, has adopted the term “phonetics” to represent the realization component, highlighting the linguistic nature both of phonetics and of sign language. Such diversity offers many avenues for studying phonetics, but it presents challenges to forming a comprehensive account of any language’s phonetic system.

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

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.

Article

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.

Article

Toward a Sociolinguistics of Modern Sub-Saharan African South–South Migrations  

Cécile B. Vigouroux

Despite their large demographic size, intra-continental African migrations have hardly been taken into account in the theorizing on migration in transnational studies and related fields. Research questions have been framed predominantly from a South-to-North perspective on population movements. This may be a consequence of the fact that the extent and complexity of modern population movements and contacts within Africa are hard to assess, owing mainly to lack of reliable data. For sociolinguists the challenge is even greater, partly because of the spotty knowledge of linguistic diversity in the continent and the scarcity of adequate sociolinguistic descriptions of the ways in which Africans manage their language repertoires. Despite these limitations, a sociolinguistics of intra-continental African migrations will contribute significantly to a better understanding of the conditions, nature, and periodicity of population contacts and interactional dynamics. It will help explain why geographic mobility entails reshaping sociocultural practices, including the language repertoires of both the migrants and the people they come in contact with. Moreover, the peculiarity of African economies, which rely heavily on informal non-institutionalized practices, prompts a rethinking of assumptions regarding the acquisition of the host country’s language(s) as the primary facilitator of the migrants’ socioeconomic inclusion. A sociolinguistic understanding of migrations within Africa can help to formulate new questions and enrich the complex pictures that the study of other parts of the world has already shaped.

Article

Social Network Approach in African Sociolinguistics  

Klaus Beyer and Henning Schreiber

The Social Network Analysis approach (SNA), also known as sociometrics or actor-network analysis, investigates social structure on the basis of empirically recorded social ties between actors. It thereby aims to explain e.g. the processes of flow of information, spreading of innovations, or even pathogens throughout the network by actor roles and their relative positions in the network based on quantitative and qualitative analyses. While the approach has a strong mathematical and statistical component, the identification of pertinent social ties also requires a strong ethnographic background. With regard to social categorization, SNA is well suited as a bootstrapping technique for highly dynamic communities and under-documented contexts. Currently, SNA is widely applied in various academic fields. For sociolinguists, it offers a framework for explaining the patterning of linguistic variation and mechanisms of language change in a given speech community. The social tie perspective developed around 1940, in the field of sociology and social anthropology based on the ideas of Simmel, and was applied later in fields such as innovation theory. In sociolinguistics, it is strongly connected to the seminal work of Lesley and James Milroy and their Belfast studies (1978, 1985). These authors demonstrate that synchronic speaker variation is not only governed by broad societal categories but is also a function of communicative interaction between speakers. They argue that the high level of resistance against linguistic change in the studied community is a result of strong and multiplex ties between the actors. Their approach has been followed by various authors, including Gal, Lippi-Green, and Labov, and discussed for a variety of settings; most of them, however, are located in the Western world. The methodological advantages could make SNA the preferred framework for variation studies in Africa due to the prevailing dynamic multilingual conditions, often on the backdrop of less standardized languages. However, rather few studies using SNA as a framework have yet been conducted. This is possibly due to the quite demanding methodological requirements, the overall effort, and the often highly complex linguistic backgrounds. A further potential obstacle is the pace of theoretical development in SNA. Since its introduction to sociolinguistics, various new measures and statistical techniques have been developed by the fast growing SNA community. Receiving this vast amount of recent literature and testing new concepts is likewise a challenge for the application of SNA in sociolinguistics. Nevertheless, the overall methodological effort of SNA has been much reduced by the advancements in recording technology, data processing, and the introduction of SNA software (UCINET) and packages for network statistics in R (‘sna’). In the field of African sociolinguistics, a more recent version of SNA has been implemented in a study on contact-induced variation and change in Pana and Samo, two speech communities in the Northwest of Burkina Faso. Moreover, further enhanced applications are on the way for Senegal and Cameroon, and even more applications in the field of African languages are to be expected.

Article

Language and Social Hierarchy in West Africa  

Judith T. Irvine

In the indigenous sociolinguistic systems of West Africa, an important way of expressing—and creating—social hierarchy in interaction is through intermediaries: third parties, through whom messages are relayed. The forms of mediation vary by region, by the scale of the social hierarchy, and by the ways hierarchy is locally understood. In larger-scale systems where hierarchy is elaborate, the interacting parties include a high-status person, a mediator who ranks lower, and a third person or group—perhaps another dignitary, but potentially anyone. In smaller-scale, more egalitarian societies, the (putative) interactants could include an authoritative spirit represented by a mask, the mask’s bearer, a “translator,” and an audience. In all these systems, mediated interactions may also involve distinctive registers or vocalizations. Meanwhile, the interactional structure and its characteristic ways of speaking offer tropes and resources for expressing politeness in everyday talk. In the traditions connected with precolonial kingdoms and empires, professional praise orators deliver eulogistic performances for their higher-status patrons. This role is understood as transmission—transmitting a message from the past, or from a group, or from another dignitary—more than as creating a composition from whole cloth. The transmitter amplifies and embellishes the message; he or she does not originate it. In addition to their formal public performances, these orators serve as interpreters and intermediaries between their patrons and their patrons’ visitors. Speech to the patron is relayed through the interpreter, even if the original speaker and the patron are in the same room. Social hierarchy is thus expressed as interactional distance. In the Sahel, these social hierarchies involve a division of labor, including communicative labor, in a complex system of ranked castes and orders. The praise orators, as professional experts in the arts of language and communication, are a separate, low-ranking category (known by the French term griot). Some features of griot performance style, and the contrasting—sometimes even disfluent—verbal conduct of high-ranking aristocrats, carry over into speech registers used by persons of any social category in situations evoking hierarchy (petitioning, for example). In indigenous state systems further south, professional orators are not a separate caste, and chiefs are also supposed to have verbal skills, although still using intermediaries. Special honorific registers, such as the esoteric Akan “palace speech,” are used in the chief’s court. Some politeness forms in everyday Akan usage today echo these practices. An example of a small-scale society is the Bedik (Senegal-Guinea border), among whom masked dancers serve as the visible and auditory representation of spirit beings. The mask spirits, whose speech and conduct contrasts with their bearers’ ordinary behavior, require “translators” to relay their messages to addressees. This too is mediated communication, involving a multi-party interactional structure as well as distinctive vocalizations. Linguistic repertoires in the Sahel have long included Arabic, and Islamic learning is another source of high status, coexisting with other traditional sources and sharing some interactional patterns. The European conquest brought European languages to the top of West African linguistic hierarchies, which have remained largely in place since independence.

Article

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.

Article

Munda Languages  

Gregory D. S. Anderson

The Munda language family constitutes the westernmost branch of the widespread Austroasiatic language family. Munda formerly was considered sister to the rest of the phylum, then known as Mon-Khmer, but this has been revised, and Munda is considered as Austroasiatic as any other branch. The internal classification of the Munda languages is still disputed, but a clear North Munda group exists and is uncontroversial. Other higher-order internal divisions remain disputed, although low-level groups like Sora-Gorum or Gutob-Remo are clear and accepted by almost all researchers today. Phonologically speaking, Munda languages make extensive use of glottal stop and pre-glottalized stops, nasal vowels, and retroflexion. Word level prosody shows Austroasiatic features with an overlay of South Asian areal features on the phrase level. Register and tone have been reported for individual languages such as creaky voice in Gorum and a low tone in Korku. Nouns in Munda languages may encode a range of grammatical and local cases, person and number of possessors, and covert distinctions of animacy in agreement and other morphosyntactic features. Verbs in Munda languages can be quite complex, with subject and object as well as TAM encoding, transitivity, finiteness, etc. Kherwarian languages stand out in this regard as well as for the distributional facts of the subject clitics, where the preferred locus is enclitic to the word immediately preceding the verb. Systems of negation can be very complicated and show unexpected interactions with TAM marking in languages like Gutob. Syntactically, Munda languages show many typical South Asian features such as verb-final structure, as well as non-finite structures, and in some cases switch reference systems or noun incorporation. The current sociolinguistic and demographic contexts of the different Munda languages range from expanding and healthy with official status in the case of Santali to seriously endangered in the case of Gorum.