The Speech Community.Pdf

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The Speech Community

Peter L. Patrick
Dept. of Language and Linguistics University of Essex Wivenhoe Park Colchester CO4 3SQ United Kingdom Email:

This article will appear in JK Chambers, P Trudgill & N Schilling-Estes (eds.), Handbook of language variation and change. Oxford: Blackwell.


empirical linguistics, is at the intersection of many principal problems in sociolinguistic theory and method. This paper traces its history of development contemporary and notions, divergence, and discusses surveys links general to problems key issues with in

The speech community (SpCom), a core concept in

investigating language variation and change. It neither offers a new and
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Elsewhere it is considered too difficult to explore (Fasold 1984, p.44), or treated narrowly within a single paradigm, usually ethnographic (Fasold 1990, Romaine 1994, Salzmann 1998); with contrasting approaches briefly outlined but not pursued. Occasionally the SpCom is seriously treated, but with no positive resolution of difficulties. Hudson (1996) compares several major definitions but, starting from the premise that language is an individual possession, takes a radical subjectivist view that ends by entirely dismissing the utility of the concept. Wardhaugh (1998) similarly develops the idea from idealized homogeneity to fragmented individualism, with community dependent upon the impulse to identify oneself with others. Instead of rejection he prefers a vague, one-sizefits-all approach: “some kind of social group whose speech

characteristics are of interest and can be described in a coherent manner” (1998, p.116). More helpfully, but equally radically, Duranti recommends abandoning the SpCom as “an already constituted object of inquiry”, instead taking it as an analytical perspective: “the product of the communicative activities engaged in by a given group of people” (1997, p.82). Despite this trend towards rejection, the SpCom is still referred to by most researchers as though it were either unproblematic or, at any rate, necessary.

Peter L. Patrick

This partial

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