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Language Varieties

Miriam Meyerhoff

Subject Communication Studies » Language and Social Interaction
Sociolinguistics » Dialects

People Labov, William

Key-Topics language

DOI: 10.1111/b.9781405131995.2008.x


The term “language varieties” covers “language” and “dialect.” A variety may be characteristic of a particular social group, or associated with a particular speaking style across groups of speakers in a community (→  Communities of Practice ). “Variety” makes no direct or indirect assertions about the relative status of the linguistic system being described (“dialect” often refers with negative overtones to nonstandardized varieties). The relationship between language, social groups, and styles reflects present-day and historical factors that are unique to each community (→  Ethnography of Communication ). Good variationists use qualitative research to decide which correspondences between language and society to examine quantitatively. Some social groupings are common across societies, presumably because such group distinctions are generally salient to people the world over. These include identities and networks based on age, gender, social class, or very local communities of practice. Speakers systematically, though often subconsciously, differentiate members of different social groups by using a wide range of linguistic resources. These can be subtly different pronunciations of the same words, different patterns for organizing new and old information in sentences, or different pitch and intonation patterns. In earlier work on sociolinguistic variation, these correspondences were ... log in or subscribe to read full text

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