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11 - Biographical Indexicality: Personal History as a Frame of Reference for Social Meaning in Variation

from Part II - The Structure of Social Meaning

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  30 July 2021

Lauren Hall-Lew
University of Edinburgh
Emma Moore
University of Sheffield
Robert J. Podesva
Stanford University, California
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Social meaning has been shown to be richly produced within and among social groups (Eckert 2008a). In this study, I describe a different context in which social meaning routinely arises: personal biography. A person’s history of style acquisition and their dominant styles can become a frame of reference for inferred social meanings, referred to here as biographical indexicality. I examine two different scales – micro (individual lifespan) and macro (migration) – for evidence of how sequential biographical history factors into indexical meaning. In both cases, the indexical work achieved by certain linguistic forms derives primarily from inferences based on a person’s past history or default style rather than socially shared valuations of forms. In closing, I discuss three kinds of indexicality that run counter to the predictions of group-oriented models yet are well-attested. These can be explained if we allow meaning to additionally emerge out of an individual’s personal history. Biographical indexicality thus adds to the set of processes that generate social meaning; it also de-essentialises the link between ethnolectal features and their potential social meanings (Eckert 2008b).

Social Meaning and Linguistic Variation
Theorizing the Third Wave
, pp. 243 - 264
Publisher: Cambridge University Press
Print publication year: 2021

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