Variationist Sociolinguistics Essay

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Sociolinguist, William Labov, widely regarded as the founder of the discipline of variationist sociolinguistics states that there are variables in every language which allow the speakers to use the language differently. There can be phonological, morphological and lexical, variations in language as well as preferences for particular grammatical patterns. This essay aims to discuss how socio-biographical features such as age, social class and gender impact on language variation and change.

There are several different types of linguistic variation associated with age; age-graded variation, vernacular of a subgroup and indications of linguistic change in progress. An individual’s speech changes throughout the various stages of life, this is
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Labov (1990) refers to this phenomenon as Principle 1. While in stable sociolinguistic stratification men tend to use covert prestige and a higher frequency of non-standard forms, such as slang and incorrect grammar. Many explanations have been proposed as to why men and women tend to speak in this way. One theory suggests that because men’s occupation supposedly demonstrates their masculine status in society women have to rely on appearances and self-presentation because they have “less access to real power.”( Lodge,1997). According to Romaine (1978) “The females are clearly more concerned with the pressure exerted by local norms and asserting their status with the social structure”. Men are allegedly more likely to behave in an aggressive manner and reject socially constraints especially when surrounded by all males, whereas women are more socially docile. However this explanation assumes that men’s speech behavior is normal and that that of women is abnormal, perhaps each gender should be seen as “dependent on the other, seeking a sexual identity in speech patterns whose essential characteristic is to be different from hose adopted by the opposite sex.”(Lodge,

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