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1 - Social Meaning and Linguistic Variation: Theoretical Foundations

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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How expansive are the social meanings inferred by a nonstandard syntactic variant, and how are these social meanings constructed? This chapter suggests that the social meanings of syntax lie at the nexus of pragmatics and social distribution. Furthermore, the analysis shows that certain social meanings are enriched when syntactic items co-occur with specific phonetic variants. Drawing upon an ethnographic study of adolescents, this chapter focuses on the social meanings of negative concord by exploring the correlation between social class, social practice, topic of talk, nonstandard phonetic variants and instances of negative concord. Negative concord increases across social groups in-line with their placement on a pro-/anti-school continuum, but a topic analysis suggests that this a consequence of different groups talking about different things: there is more negative concord in talk about delinquent behaviour than there is in talk about non-delinquent behaviour (irrespective of social group). In exploring why negative concord is a useful device for talking about delinquency, the pragmatics of the construction itself are examined, exposing a relationship between social distribution and pragmatic function. Finally, an analysis of the relationship between negative concord and co-occurring phonetic variants suggests that different levels of linguistic architecture work synergistically to create social meaning.

Social Meaning and Linguistic Variation
Theorizing the Third Wave
, pp. 1 - 24
Publisher: Cambridge University Press
Print publication year: 2021

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