An introduction to English sociolinguistics by Graeme Trousdale

By Graeme Trousdale

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1 Overview In Chapter 5, we will look at some of the ways in which variation in English and interaction between speakers may result in language change, where some of the variant forms come to be used less frequently, until they disappear, while new forms replace them. This kind of language change is part of a natural evolution of human languages, arising from ordinary interactional discourse. Sometimes, however, the language of a community may change as the result of particular, organised, and targeted interventions, normally by powerful groups.

This has come to be known as covert prestige, and covert prestige – loyalty to vernacular norms – has been seen as an important factor in resisting the advance of the standard variety. Furthermore, what we witness in such cases of social and stylistic stratification of variation in language is that the variation is not random, but structured (what is sometimes described as “orderly heterogeneity”, Weinreich et al. 1968: 100). Such group uniformity is critical in Labov’s conception of the speech community; most critical is the fact that both orderly heterogeneity and shared norms are crucial for a group of speakers to be considered a speech community.

Once selected, the variety had to be codified in various ways. Codification is a critical part of the standardisation process since it is this stage which is crucial in attempting to eliminate variation. The true measure of success of a standard variety is absence of variation – if there is no phonological or grammatical variation, it is not possible for one pronunciation or grammatical structure to be rated higher than another – and codification is concerned with establishing what counts as standard and what counts as non-standard, by regularising spellings, pronunciations, words and grammar.

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