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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.
Why does a sound change spread faster among one group of people than another? While variationist sociolinguistics was founded on the idea that a variant’s social meaning might be part of the answer, the proposal is still the source of active debate. Eckert (2008, 2012) calls for a renewed focus on social meaning, articulating the core interest of ‘third wave’ research. Here, we join some recent work that highlights the benefits of combining analytic perspectives from all of Eckert’s (2012) three waves, particularly with respect to the study of sound change. By directly comparing insights from parallel analyses of the same data, we argue that all sound change researchers can potentially benefit from considering a third-wave perspective, in the sense that social change results in indexical change, and this may explain the trajectory of a sound change. Our data come from white and Chinese American residents of San Francisco’s Sunset District, recorded in 2008. As with the COT-CAUGHT merger (Hall-Lew 2013), focus on social change over time suggests that the individuals who came of age during the peak of social change are key to mapping the trajectory of GOAT-fronting.