Chapter 6, Regional and Social Variation

variable - a characteristic shared to differing degrees by individuals in a population

independent variable - In psychological research, the independent variable is a particular kind of experimental treatment; psychologists compare the behavior of subjects under different experimental treatments. Since the treatment is under the control of the experimenter, it is called independent, and since the treatment can be changed, it is variable. The variation in the behavior of the subject is attributed to the change in the experimental treatment. In sociolinguistics, social factors, often referred to as extralinguistic factors, are used to predict the occurrence of certain kinds of language behavior. Independent variables are also called predictor variables. Individuals are classified according to an independent variable, and then a variable is measured for each group. Dividing up Spanish-speaking individuals by social class and then measuring use of /s/ reveals that the lower class drops the [s] more than the upper class.

Similar patterns of distribution obtain with the pronunciation of /r/ in the New York area. On the basis of samples of speech, sociolinguists predict that individuals in a lower socioeconomic class will use a certain kind of language pattern. Other independent variables of interest to sociolinguists follow include sex, age, level of income, level of education, geographical location, family size, country of origin, and length of residence. Language itself can be used as a predictor of behavior. Individuals can be classified according to the variety of language that they speak, and then behavior towards those individuals can be measured. Studies show that an employer may discriminate against a job applicant who speaks a language variety which the employer considers inappropriate for the work.

dependent variable - In psychological research, the behavior of a subject in an experimental treatment is claimed to be caused by that treatment. Therefore, the behavior of the subject is the dependent variable, since its value depends on the experimental treatment. Language use or linguistic features are measured to determine how language use depends on social factors, but there is really no cause-effect relationship. For example, there is nothing specific about belonging to a lower social class that causes a person to drop the "r" sound. In fact, in Boston, the upper class drops the "r," so obviously there is nothing about the social condition per se that causes a person to pronounce words in a certain way. One dependent linguistic variable is the phoneme /r/ in English. Other dependent variables of interest to sociolinguists include language attitudes, language related behavior, and speech accommodation.

In sociolinguistics, language is generally viewed as the dependent variable, but not always. In the case of distribution of linguistic variables by social class, even though the class does not directly cause the occurrence of a given variant, language is still viewed as the dependent variable. The researcher should state simply that an association exists between class and speech behavior. On the other hand, use by a job applicant of a stigmatized language variety may indeed cause the employer to deny employment. In this case, a cause-effect relationship may be said to exist. Language is indeed causing a certain kind of behavior to occur. In this instance, language is an independent variable, and other kinds of behavior constitute the response or criterion variable.

sociolinguistic variable - a set of linguistic variants of a phoneme, morpheme, syntactic structure, lexical item, or discursive style, the selection of one of which depends on extralinguistic factors; this is a dependent variable

linguistic variant - a given value of a sociolinguistic variable. Linguistic variants can be phonological, morphological, syntactic, lexical, or discursive.

phonological variants - since variations in pronunciation lead people commonly to identify different "accents," is it this kind of variant which we will examine in detail here

phoneme - in traditional phonology, an abstract, minimally distinctive unit of sound, represented in slashes: /t/

allophone - a variant of a phoneme, a way of pronouncing a phoneme, represented in brackets [d]

Examples: /t/ has various pronunciations; linguistically conditioned variation depends on phonetic context

Socially conditioned variation depends on non-linguistic factors such as geographical location, social class, or style.

class stratification - differential distribution of linguistic variants by social class; a given linguistic variant is usually not found exclusively in one social group; the definition of social class is problematic, varying from study to study; 'r' is pronounced more frequently by members of higher social classes and 'r' is dropped more frequently by members of lower social classes in New York.

style stratification - differential distribution of linguistic variants by style; 'r' is heard more frequently in formal speaking than in informal speaking.

sociolinguistic marker - a sociolinguistic variable the variants of which are distributed according to both social class and social context

sociolinguistic indicator - a sociolinguistic variable that characterizes the members of a class, but of which the speakers are unaware, and which is not stratified stylistically

sociolinguistic stereotype - a sociolinguistic marker attributed to all members of a social group; sociolinguistic stereotypes often are folkloric: Spanish is fast, German is gutteral, and French is romantic.

shibboleth - a password, phrase, custom, or usage that reliably distinguishes the members of one group or class from another (from the Hebrew mean ‘an ear of corn,’ or ‘stream’)

Judges 12 - 4 Then Jephthat gathered all the men of Gilead and fought with Ephraim; and the men of Gilead smote Ephraim, because they said, "You are fugitives of Ephraim, you Gileadites, in the midst of Ephraim and Manasseh." 5And the Gileadites took the fords of the Jordan against the Ephraimites. And when any of the fugitives of Ephraim said, "Let me go over," the men of Gilead said to him, "Are you an Ephraimite?" When he said, "No," 6they said to him, "Then say Shibboleth," and he said "Siboleth," for he could not pronounce it right; then they seized him and slew him at the fords of the Jordan. And there fell at that time forty-two thousand of the Ephraimites.

hypercorrection - there are two basic ways of defining hypercorrection

the tendency of a less prestigious class to exceed a higher class in correctness, or to use a higher percentage of prestige variants

the tendency to overgeneralize, such as saying ‘Between you and I’ (this should be "between you and me," because the pronoun is the object of a preposition)