Style and Sociolinguistic Variation

Style and Sociolinguistic Variation

Style and Sociolinguistic Variation

Style and Sociolinguistic Variation


The volume brings together leading experts from a range of disciplines to create a broad perspective on the study of style and variation in spoken language. The book discusses key approaches to stylistic variation, including such issues as attention paid to speech, audience design, identity construction, the corpus study of register, genre, distinctiveness and the anthropological study of style. Rigorous and engaging, this book will become the standard work on stylistic variation. It will be welcomed by students and academics in sociolinguistics, English language, dialectology, anthropology and sociology.


Style is a pivotal construct in the study of sociolinguistic variation. Stylistic variability in speech affords us the possibility of observing linguistic change in progress (Labov 1966). Moreover, since all individuals and social groups have stylistic repertoires, the styles in which they are recorded must be taken into account when comparing them (Rickford and McNair-Knox 1994:265). Finally, style is the locus of the individual'S internalization of broader social distributions of variation (Eckert 2000).

In spite of the centrality of style, the concerted attention that has been paid to the relation of variation to social categorizations and configurations has not been equaled by any continuous focus on style. In other words, we have focused on the relation between variation and the speaker'S place in the world, at the expense of the speaker'S strategies with respect to this place. But as social theories of variation develop greater depth, they require a more sophisticated, integrative treatment of style that places variation within the wider range of linguistic practices with which speakers make social meaning. For this reason, the editors of this volume organized a two-day workshop on style at Stanford University in February 1996, funded by the National Science Foundation (no. SBR-9511724). Bringing together scholars who have worked on style in language from a variety of theoretical and methodological perspectives, the workshop had the goal of stimulating discussions that would set new directions for future work on style in variation. This volume is a product of that workshop.

2 The history of the study of style in variation

The study of sociolinguistic variation is commonly characterized (Bell 1984:145, Finegan and Biber 1994:316) as involving three principal components:linguistic or internal constraints, social or inter-speaker constraints, and stylistic or intra-speaker constraints.

The study of linguistic constraints is the area in which the concerns of 1 . . .

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