Eckert Colloquium

May 1
Wieboldt 408
Stanford University
The Social Meaning of Variation is No Accident

The traditional focus in variation studies on change in progress and on class stratification has yielded a stunted view of the role of sociolinguistic variation in language. I will argue that sociolinguistic variation is a design feature of language, a system of signs for the non-propositional expression of social concerns. It calls on a variety of resources to express everything from emotions to attitudes to personal characteristics and qualities. The macro-sociological correlations that have until recently dominated thought about the distribution and meaning of variables are a reflection of the life constraints that give rise to differential social expression across social positions. Tied as they are to the meaning of social life, the use of variables is integral not only to linguistic, but to social change. I will discuss the key properties of variables, and examine some kinds of variables that emerge when one approaches variation from the perspective of social semiosis.