Sociolinguistics and Corpus Linguistics

By Paul Baker | Go to book overview

Notes

CHAPTER 1 INTRODUCTION

1. In this book I refer to sex variables rather than gender variables, although both concepts are somewhat tricky to define and they are often used interchangeably. Sex as a variable (for me) refers to the (mainly) binary distinction between biological males and females (acknowledging that some people are born intersexed or transsexual), while I use gender (particularly in Chapter 6) to refer to Rubin’s (1975: 165) distinction of ‘a set of arrangements by which biological raw material of human sex and procreation is shaped by human, social intervention’. For example, gender refers to the socially constructed traits of masculinity and femininity, and while gender is traditionally linked to sex, this conceptualisation allows for the existence of a masculine woman or a feminine man, as well as positing gender as shifting and dynamic (e.g. the concept of different ways of being masculine or feminine). In this sense, gender is a more complex phenomenon than sex, and more difficult for a variationist sociolinguist to isolate and carry out comparisons upon.

2. Hudson (1980: 24) defines a language variety as a ‘set of linguistic items with similar social distribution’. This definition raises further concept-definition problems, such as what is meant by a linguistic item. Chomsky (1965) would give examples such as lexicons, rules of pronunciation and meaning, and constraints on rules. However, Hudson (1980: 22) notes that definitions of linguistic items are dependent on the particular theory which a given linguist thinks best supports language structure. Determining exactly what is meant by, and therefore calculating, a ‘similar social distribution’ is also difficult. Another disadvantage of such a broad definition is that it could cover phenomena such as ‘languages’, ‘styles’ and ‘dialects’. Hudson (1980: 71) points out that there are considerable problems in distinguishing one language variety from another, and in determining one type from another, e.g. language from dialect. Therefore, the term language variety can only be used informally, without intending it to be taken as a concrete theoretical construction.

3. Interestingly, the word nigger occurs 23 times in the Lancaster1931 Corpus (early 1930s British English), 12 times in the Brown corpus (early 1960s American English) and once in the LOB corpus (early 1960s British English). The word does not occur at all in the Frown corpus (early 1990s American English) or the BE06 Corpus (mid-2000s British English) but appears 6 times in the FLOB corpus (early 1990s British English). Instances in the FLOB corpus, however, suggest that the word is referred to in a way which notes it as problematic, which is not the case for the 1960s corpora.

4. Thanks to Costas Gabrielatos for this observation.

5. http://www.americancorpus.org/

6. http://www.titania.bham.ac.uk/

7. http://www.cambridge.org/elt/corpus/international_corpus.htm

-179-

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