Published online by Cambridge University Press: 30 July 2021
It is generally accepted that the body plays an important stylistic role, but few scholars embark on multimodal investigations of variation. In this chapter I discuss the results of two studies on the realization of the GOAT vowel to show that bodily practices occur alongside, and indeed can influence, linguistic behavior, both from moment to moment (through expressions of affect like smiling) and duratively (through facial postures like an open jaw). Study 1 reveals that GOAT exhibits a higher F2 when it occurs in the context of smiling, suggesting some sound changes may be advancing during moments when the body is used to express heightened affect. Study 2 illustrates that the more durative embodied practice of maintaining an open-jaw setting has had lowering consequences across the vowel system of California English – even for GOAT, which is typically described as undergoing fronting rather than lowering. The proposal advanced here assumes that linguistic variation is meaningful and that a non-trivial number of a linguistic variant’s social meanings derives from embodied practice. And crucially, meaning – some of it embodied – can initiate or influence the trajectory of change.