Sociolinguistics Lab

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Current Work

Variation and Social Meaning

Several of us are interested in the social meaning of variation, or the ways that speakers utilize the ever-changing linguistic system in order to index various aspects of identity. This approach considers speaker agency and linguistic style as a central components of social practice as well as driving forces for linguistic change. Yolandi Ribbens-Klein’s work on the social meaning of rhotic variation in South Africa demonstrates that variants of Afrikaans /r/, and the particular stylistic combinations of those variants, are used by speakers in the Garden Route region of the Western Cape Province to index not only locality and belonging, but also local, emergent social meanings in the context of a changing socio-political economy through in-migration. Christian Paga is exploring the use of Multicultural London English (MLE) in Grime, a musical genre that originated in London in the early 2000s, to explore the co-construction of authenticity and youth street styles particularly in the context of a largely DIY music production scheme. Teresa Pratt’s recent work argues for an increased focus on affect in the study of sociolinguistic style, showing how adolescents at an arts high school in the San Francisco Bay Area utilize phonetic variation —  in voice, consonant, and vowel quality — to construct styles around affective qualities which are ideologically salient at the high school, such as being tough, chill, or high-energy.

Language Variation and Change

Ongoing research at the Sociolinguistics Lab falls in the area of language variation and change, also known as variationist sociolinguistics. Our research explores a wealth of ongoing changes, both longer term, such as the development of the quotative system since the mid-20th century, and also more recent changes such as the California Vowel Shift, rhotic variation in in South Africa, and Multicultural London English.  

Ongoing research in the lab also explores the question to which extent speakers can and do participate in ongoing changes in the community across their life-span. Isabelle Buchstaller has been investigating later life intra-speaker malleability across a 42 year time-span in a group of 6 older speakers, who were recorded in their 20s or early 30s and again in their 70s and 80s. More recently, Buchstaller, Ribbens-Klein and Pratt have combined their expertise to explore speakers’ linguistic malleability in the transition between university and post-university.

Our analyses also explore the ways in which language contact can result in the restructuring of the linguistic system. Yolandi Ribbens-Klein’s work explores ongoing shifts in the realisation of rhoticity in the contact variety Afrikaans, and rhotic variation in the speech of Afrikaans-English bilinguals when speaking varieties of South African English. Teresa Pratt’s recent work examines the sociophonetic and phonological components of vocalic change across communities in inland California. Isabelle Buchstaller’s research in the Republic of the Marshall Islands investigates the development of Marshallese English, a localised variety of English that is difficult to classify in most contemporary models of World Englishes. Christian Paga explores the ways in which Grime musicians adopt and adapt ongoing changes in the London area in their music.

Language Ideology and Politics

Our research also focuses on the connection between language and ideologies. The latter refer to people’s linguistic beliefs as well as their actual language practices. These beliefs are constructed from the  l

anguage user’s socio-cultural experiences and environment and are hence sensitive to change in society and power structures. This tendency is reflected in the semiotic landscape, such as historical buildings,  monuments, memorials, but also in the very mundane street names. Our MILL street renaming project traces these shifts through several regimes in eastern Germany and Poland. How people talk about places also involves how people experience themselves and others in relation to a locality. Place identities shape, and are shaped by discourses of belonging and exclusion. Yolandi Ribbens-Klein explores this connection between place and ideologies by investigating the discursive construction of locals and newcomers in South-Africa in the context of social and geographic mobility, and she is especially interested in the embodiment of place and belonging.