Three Waves of Variation Study

14802 Words Jun 14th, 2013 60 Pages
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Three Waves of Variation Study: The emergence of meaning in the study of variation Penelope Eckert Stanford University

Abstract

The treatment of social meaning in variation has come in three waves of analytic practice. The first wave of variation studies established broad correlations between linguistic variables and the macro-sociological categories of socioeconomic class, sex class, ethnicity and age. The second wave employed ethnographic methods to explore the local categories and configurations that inhabit, or constitute, these broader categories. In both waves, variation was seen as marking social categories. This paper sets out a theoretical foundation for the third wave, arguing that (1) variation constitutes a robust
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There are some very big questions, such as how the system of social meaning is structured, what kinds of social meanings are expressed in variation, how local meanings such as those found on Martha’s Vineyard articulate with broad demographic patterns, and how the relation between variants and social meanings becomes conventionalized. In what follows, I will outline an approach to the study of variation that centers on social meaning. This is not a proposal to replace, but to refine and supplement, current approaches to variation. I will begin by tracing the progress of the social study of variation over the past forty-five years, in order to illuminate the main issues. The treatment of social meaning in variation has come in three waves of analytic practice. No wave supersedes the previous, but each represents a quite distinct way of thinking about variation, and a distinct methodological and analytic practice, each of which grew out of the findings of the previous wave. The first wave of variation studies, launched by William Labov’s New York City study (Labov,1966), laid a solid foundation for the study of variation by establishing broad correlations between linguistic variables and the macro-sociological categories of socioeconomic class, sex class, ethnicity and age. These patterns pointed to questions
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