Academic journal article Quarterly Journal of Chinese Studies

A Reflection of Stylistic Variation in Sociolinguistics 1

Academic journal article Quarterly Journal of Chinese Studies

A Reflection of Stylistic Variation in Sociolinguistics 1

Article excerpt

Generally speaking, the member of different speech communities possesses a repertoire of several stylistic variations when they communicate with each other, and the choice of that depends on social functions it has to serve.


Language change is the phenomenon whereby phonetic, morphological, semantic, syntactic, and other features of language vary over time. All languages change continually. At any given period, the language, take English as an example, has a huge variety within itself. Descriptive linguists call this variety synchronic variation. For the effect of these different forms on language over time, the diachronic change comes. Two linguistic disciplines in particular concern themselves with studying language change, which are historical linguistics and sociolinguistics. Usually sociolinguists study the origins of language changes and want to explain how society and changes in society influence language. Language and society are interrelated. The relationship between language and society can be illustrated more clearly by the following table.

History of Sociolinguistics

According to Trudgill, sociolinguistics is the part of linguistics which is concerned with language as a social and cultural phenomenon. It investigates the field of language and society and has close connections with the social sciences, especially social psychology, anthropology, human geography, and sociology (Trudgill, 1995). It studies how language varieties differ between groups separated by certain social variables, e.g., ethnicity, religion, status, gender, level of education, age, etc.

The first attested use of the term sociolinguistics was in 1939 by Thomas Callan Hodson in the title of his paper Sociolinguistics in India. And sociolinguistics in the West first appeared in the 1960s and was pioneered by linguists such as William Labov in the US and Basil Bernstein in the UK.

Two trends have characterized the development of sociolinguistics over the past several decades. Firstly, the rise of particular specializations within this field has coincided with the emergence of more broadly based social and political issues. Thus, the focus on themes such as language and nationalism, language and ethnicity, and language and gender has corresponded with the rise of related issues in society at large. Secondly, scholars who examine the role of language and society have become more and more interested in applying the results of their studies to the broadly based social, educational, and political problems that probably gave rise to their emergence as sociolinguistic themes to begin with. Sociolinguistics thus offers a unique opportunity to bring together theory, description, and application in language study.

William Labov

William Labov is an American linguist, widely regarded as the founder of the study of sociolinguistics. He is especially noted for introducing the quantitative study of language variation and change (Sali, 2006), making the sociology of language into a scientific discipline.

The methods he used to collect data for his study of the varieties of English spoken in New York City, published as The Social Stratification of English in New York City (1966), have been influential in sociolinguistics.

He was, in every case, trying to elicit the response fourth floor, both in casual and in careful speech. Consequently, one of his interviews just something like this:

Fieldworker:Where can I get the ladies' dresses?

Informant iFourth floor.

Fieldworker;What did you say?

Informant:Fourth floor!

Labov argued that the informant would be somewhat more careful in the second response, and he was therefore able to record the informants ' behavior in essentially two different linguistic styles.

Further more, Labov also found that the percentage of the constriction of postvocalic /r/ also increased as the informants were asked to repeat the utterance fourth floor. …

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