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Fifth class: Fischer and Labov

Monday, October 08, 2007

3:56 PM

"Myerhoff is one of the smartest people around," says JRR.

Fischer, John L. 1958. Social Influences on the Choice of a Linguistic Variant, reprinted in
Language in Culture and Society, ed. By Dell Hymes. 483-489.

Fischer and quantitative sociolinguistics

Labov reaching out to sociologists

If you look at Fischer and Weinreich, you'll see a lot

of the roots of Labov. Quantitative sociolinguistics is
the one that has thrived--the only one with a regular
conference (NWAV), with big numbers of theorists,

(But it doesn't really take.)

Quantitative methods arose to deal with variations,

where as structural (Gleason) and generative

This article is famous for the cross-over effect in lower

middle class: hypercorrection.

Variations seem random to many, so you could do as

the structuralists did (Bloch), and say the unit of
description is the idiolect. One speaker on one topic
on one occasion. Limit variation by saying this is the
object of the discussion.

You could also say there is dialect mixture. These are

mixed dialects and people are switching from one to
another. It gets weird when there are so many
switches in a small amount of time.

Fine vs. sharp stratification: Little overlap in sharp

stratification, lots of space between them. Fine
stratification keeps them close together.

(Labov gets rather caught up in his discussion of

common sense, probably because he's talking to

Bayley and the quantitative paradigm

"The central ideas of this approach are that an
understanding of language requires an understanding
of variables as well as categorical processes and that
the variation that we witness at all levels of language
is not random" (Bayley 2002: 117). Instead, there's
"structured heterogeneity."

You could say it's performance error, too, to side-step Input probability: Overall tendency for the rule to
the issue.
apply, apart from conditions. (I don't understand why
this never corresponds exactly with the overall
In general, people want to relate variants to one unit frequencies. They are close but not quite the same.)
at a more abstract level.

Schilling-Estes and ethnicity

One approach is categorically conditioned variation, She's looking at how people construct ethnicity with
where x always turns into y in situation B (i.e., x-->y / variables.
JRR points out that some of the topics have very few
Alternatively, free variation has no conditioning and tokens.
doesn't change the meaning. This is written x-->(y) /
Laura points out that the interviewer normally says
"wasn't" but switches to the interviewee's "weren't"
Fischer attacks free variation because it is just a label when they are talking about the interviewee's
and has no explanatory power. Meaning should
brother's death. Is it linguistic evidence of empathy?
include social and stylistic meaning and quantitative
conditioning should be used (not just qualitative
conditioning). The contrast here is stark. Here's Joos On Weiner and Labov: Lavendera said that you have
(1950: 703):
to have referential equivalence because that's only
All phenomenawhich we find we cannot
describe precisely with a finite number of
absolute categories we classify as non-linguistic
elements of the real world, and expel them from
linguistic science. Let sociologists and others do
what they like with such thingsthey represent
that 'continuity' which we refuse to tolerate in
our own science.

when you get social meaning. Paul Kay got involved,

Labov: Beautiful theories with ugly feet.
Joos thought that elites lead linguistic change and
then moved because the masses followed them. Turns
out not to be the case for most changes.

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out not to be the case for most changes.

our own science.

According to JRR, linguistics was always kind of cocky
compared to other social sciences relative to its
position as a science (anthropologists were borrowing
a lot, for example).

JRR says that like Weinreich, Fischer is relatively

cagey about the line between linguistics and
sociolinguistics (pg 486). We do too much making up
of our own theories, but should take courses in
stratification, etc.

Fischer says you have to be able to count (that is, get

corpora). "Counting in context" in Sankoff's phrasing.
This was different than the intuition approach of
mainstream grammarians.
Labov took Fischer and added:
Better sampling
Cleverer methods (department stores, maybe
danger of death)
More theorizing about change
Variable rules to formally represent
quantitatively conditioned variation: x-->
<y>/<A>. X is more likely to become y when
factor A is present. It's probabilistic, not
There is an S curve for change of frequency over time.
It isn't a straight line out. The diffusion could be from
the fringe into the mainstream.
Everett Rogers. The Diffusion of Innovations. A
wonderful book unknown by sociologists. It
covers early adopters of technology as well as
the spread of diseases.
Maybe, says JRR, the S-curve is about a preference for
categories--people may prefer clear distinctions. "I
know this may seem strange to say for a variationist."
To pursue quantitative phenomena:
a. Define variables in terms of where they happen
and what "doesn't count" (because they are
unclear or categorically conditioned).
b. See if all your subjects are varying or if you just
have dialects (discrete grammars).
c. Sample size is important. (The three kids who
only used -ing may have done -in if he had more
speech records. (You want 20 tokens per cell,
says JRR.)
d. Consider linguistic factors (etymology) and nonlinguistic (sex, personality, social status,
formality, earlier/later 'style').
e. You need to measure significance of the
variables. Thus you need raw frequencies.
f. Relate this to change.
g. How are the variants socially conditioned?
h. Make sure methods have good sampling and
take the interviewer effect into consideration
(see Trudgill about this).
i. Have you considered multiple dimensions with
different strengths?

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