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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.
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.
The 'third wave' of variation study, spearheaded by the sociolinguist Penelope Eckert, places its focus on social meaning, or the inferences that can be drawn about speakers based on how they talk. While social meaning has always been a concern of modern sociolinguistics, its aims and assumptions have not been explicitly spelled out until now. This pioneering book provides a comprehensive overview of the central tenets of variation study, examining several components of dialects, and considering language use in a wide variety of cultural and linguistic contexts. Each chapter, written by a leader in the field, posits a unique theoretical claim about social meaning and presents new empirical data to shed light on the topic at hand. The volume makes a case for why attending to social meaning is vital to the study of variation while also providing a foundation from which variationists can productively engage with social meaning.