Language in Society

Published by Cambridge University Press

Online ISSN: 1469-8013


Print ISSN: 0047-4045


table 2 ; + indicates -s marking, -indicates no marking, and +/-indicates optional marking.
FIGURE 5: Vowel formant plot for a European-American male, born in 1910, mainland Hyde County.  
FIGURE 8: Normalized F 2 's of /ai/ nuclei for Hyde County natives.
FIGURE 9: Normalized F 2 's of pre-voiced-obstruent /ai/ glides for Hyde County natives.
The Regional Context of Earlier African-American Speech: Evidence for Reconstructing the Development of AAVE
  • Article
  • Full-text available

November 1999


428 Reads



W. Green
Despite extensive research over the past four decades, a number of issues concerning the historical and current development of AAVE remain unresolved. This study seizes upon a unique sociolinguistic situation involving a longstanding, isolated bi-racial community situated in a distinctive dialect region of coastal North Carolina to address questions of localized dialect accommodation and ethnolinguistic distinctiveness in earlier African- American English. A comparison of diagnostic phonological and morphosyntactic variables for a sample of four different generations of African Americans and a baseline European-American group shows that there was considerable accommodation of the localized dialect in earlier African-American speech. Nonetheless, certain dialect features such as copula absence and 3rd person verbal --s marking were distinctively maintained by African Americans in the face of localized dialect accommodation, suggesting long-term ethnolinguistic distinctiveness. Cross-gen...

Pronouns of Address in Swedish: Social Class Semantics and a Changing System

January 2008


133 Reads

One who has lived soon an entire century must learn to change all her habits, and habits of address surely are not the easiest. What comes simply and naturally in one place is wrong and ill-mannered in another (Former servant-girl, informant KU 2849). Even an ordinary simple worker has today became aware of the fact that he also is a human being, and that the great machinery would not function if he did not play his part. An old conservative postmaster's wife said once to my mother, who was the simple wife of a worker: ‘I think things now are not the way they should be; the workers' conditions are so good that they dress so well that nowadays one cannot tell the difference between workers and fine folk.’ This utterance from a woman who believed she belonged to the fine folk my mother never forgot, and I myself have also remembered it (Retired railroad worker, informant KU 2768)

Communication in a Multilingual Society: Some Missed Opportunities

January 2008


1,617 Reads

This article critically examines contemporary interactional studies of the cultural specifity of human language, conducted mostly in modern, multiethnic, industrialized societies (e.g., Clyne 1979; Gumperz 1982a, 1982b; Valdés & Pino 1981). What is often presented as the “linguistic evidence” for miscommunication in such contexts is in fact, we argue, the locus of the violations of the cooperative principles of discourse and human interaction, such as the Principle of Charity (Davidson 1974) and the Principle of Humanity (Grandy 1973). The conclusions these studies arrive at are vitiated by the fact, for which considerable empirical evidence exists, that the native speaker's repairability threshold depends crucially on nonlinguistic variables (Hackman 1977). Only a cross-cultural analysis of how or whether these misconstruals entail analogous consequences, regardless of who is being misunderstood by whom, can, we argue, produce the sort of evidence these studies claim to unearth.

[Review of Talking voices: Repetition, dialogue, and imagery in conversational discourse. 2nd edition. By Deborah Tannen]

January 2010


154 Reads

Reviews the book, Talking voices: Repetition, dialogue, and imagery in conversational discourse. 2nd edition by Deborah Tannen. This book is the same as the 1989 original except for an added introduction. This introduction situates TV in the context of intertextuality and gives a survey of relevant research since the book first appeared. The strength of the book lies in its insightful analysis of the auditory side of conversation. Yet talking voices have always been embedded in richly contextualized multimodal speech events. As spontaneous and pervasive involvement strategies, both iconic gestures and ideophones should be of central importance to the analysis of conversational discourse. Unfortunately, someone who picks up this book is pretty much left in the dark about the prevalence of these phenomena in everyday face-to-face interaction all over the world.

The Right connections: Acknowledging epistemic progression in talk

July 2007


363 Reads

It is proposed that the response token Right, in one important use, is a marker of epistemic dependency between two units of talk by a prior speaker, and that this talk has progressed the understanding by the Right producer of a complex activity involving much information transfer. Two other Rights as response tokens are considered: as an epistemic confirmation token similar to That's right, and as a change-of-activity token similar to Alright/Okay. In addition, Right is shown to be different from other response tokens, including the news receipt Oh, newsmarkers such as Really?, and continuers and acknowledgment tokens such as Mm hm and Yeah. The primary data consist of a fully transcribed dietetic consultation in an Australian hospital between a dietician and a client.

The ancient Greek address system and some proposed sociolinguistic universals

March 1997


68 Reads

© 1997 Cambridge University Press This article summarizes the results of a longer study of address forms in Ancient Greek, based on 11,891 address tokens from a variety of sources. It argues that the Greek evidence appears to contradict two tendencies, found in address forms in other languages, which have been claimed as possible sociolinguistic universals: the tendency toward T/V distinctions, and the principle that “What is new is polite.” It is suggested that these alleged universals should perhaps be re-examined in light of the Greek evidence, and that ancient languages in general have more to contribute to sociolinguistics than is sometimes realized.

Language and negotiation of ethnic/racial identity among Dominican Americans

October 2000


1,421 Reads

The ethnolinguistic terms in which the children of Dominican immigrants in Rhode Island think of themselves, i.e. as "Spanish" or "Hispanic," are fre- quently at odds with the phenotype-based racial terms "Black" or "African American," applied to them by others in the United States. Spanish language is central to resisting such phenotype-racial categorization, which denies Dominican Americans their Hispanic ethnicity. Through discourse analysis of naturally occurring peer interaction at a high school, this article shows how a Dominican American who is phenotypically indistinguishable from African Americans uses language, in both intra- and inter-ethnic contexts, to negotiate identity and resist ascription to totalizing phenotype-racial catego- ries. In using language to resist such hegemonic social categorization, the Dominican second generation is contributing to the transformation of exist- ing social categories and the constitution of new ones in the US. (Domini- can, construction of race, African-descent immigrants, ethnolinguistic identity, Spanish)* Dominican American self-definition of race in terms of ethnolinguistic heritage - as "Spanish," "Dominican," or "Hispanic" - runs counter to popular and histor- ical US notions of race in which African-descent phenotype has preceded all other criteria (e.g. national origin, language, or religion) for social classification. African-descent race has historically been treated as equivalent to African- descent ethnicity in the US (Mittelberg & Waters 1993), with the result that immigrants of African descent have largely merged into the African American population by the second generation (Bryce-Laporte 1972, Woldemikael 1989, Waters 1994). Unlike these other African-descent groups, Dominican Americans are successfully reversing, in many contexts, the historical precedence of African

DIANA BOXER, Applying sociolinguistics: Domains and face-to-face interaction

January 2006


279 Reads

Diana Boxer, Applying sociolinguistics: Domains and face-to-face interaction. Philadelphia: John Benjamins, 2002. 244 pp. Hb $108.00, Pb $47.95. This book has many fine qualities, including careful attention to what is meant by applying linguistics as opposed to applied linguistics. The author's goal is to show readers how research findings in micro-sociolinguistic interaction can be applied to several domains of public and private life: family, education, religion, the workplace, cross-cultural encounters, and so on. Application, in this case, involves awareness of subtleties that go unnoticed in face-to-face interaction, particularly those that create or sustain a power imbalance between participants. That awareness, in turn, sets the stage for “transform(ing) the social order” (p. 22, italics omitted) by empowering “individual speakers in their ordinary day-to-day interactions in all spheres of life and in all stages of life” (222). Instead of a social or political agenda, the book suggests in each domain what would constitute more “humane” interaction: stories would be addressed to children, as well as told about them; collaborative ways of speaking associated primarily with women would be given more status in the workplace and used more often by both women and men; gatekeepers who deal with international students (and other U.S. Americans who interact with speakers for whom English is a second language) would be more sensitive to the potential for face threat to arise from misunderstanding.

Drawing on the words of others at public hearings: Zoning, Wal-Mart, and the threat to the aquifer

November 2007


96 Reads

This study examines two public hearings on a zoning proposal that would allow the construction of a Super Wal-Mart Center on a field over the town’s aquifer. Many citizens speak out against the zoning change because of the risk to drinking water, as well as other issues. Citizens face the speaker’s problem of how to make their presentations convincing, given the technical matters involved and the fact that Town Board members have likely already heard about these issues. Some speakers draw on the words of others in their presentations. Using another ’s words allows the speaker to cite an authoritative source or to respond to what another has said, to evaluate it, and often to challenge it. Speakers use other devices in addition to quotes, such as formulations, repetition, and membership categorizations to develop their evaluative stances in the reporting context. The study’s focus is the discursive construction and rhetoric of using others’ words for the speaker’s own purposes.

Investigating Language Attitudes : Social Meanings of Dialect, Ethnicity and Performance

July 2005


2,404 Reads

Peter Garrett, Nikolas Coupland & Angie Williams, Investigating language attitudes: Social meanings of dialect, ethnicity and performance. Cardiff: University of Wales Press, 2003. x + 251 pp. Hb $79.95. As its title suggests, this book focuses on attitudes to language and dialect production, perception, and use, and particularly on attitudes to language variation, dialect, speech style, language preference, and minority languages as well as their speakers. As we know, an important aspect of the complex social psychology of speech communities is the arbitrary and subjective intellectual and emotional response of a society's members to the languages and varieties in their social environment: Different language varieties are often associated with deep-rooted emotional responses – social attitudes, in short – such as thoughts, feelings, stereotypes, and prejudices about people, about social, ethnic and religious groups, and about political entities. These emotional responses and perceptions of language and dialect phenomena are biased by cultural, social, political, economic, or historical facts or other circumstances within the speech community. Sociolinguistically based research may build a more complete and accurate picture of the speaker's linguistic behavior, in the context of its complex social psychology, as well as of the regard for language use within the community, and may further understanding of the dynamics of speech communities as well as of the subjective life of language varieties.

Bad News, Good News: Conversational Order in Everyday Talk and Clinical Settings

April 2005


1,106 Reads

Douglas Maynard, Bad news, good news: Conversational order in everyday talk and clinical settings. University of Chicago Press. 2003, x + pp. 327. Pb. $25.00. Maynard's book seeks to make substantive and methodological contributions: the first to describe the social organization of bad news/good news pronouncements, and the second to address and bridge longstanding methodological schisms between ethnography, conversation analysis (CA), and mainline sociology. Of the eight chapters, three (2, 4, and 7) were previously published and have been modified for the book.

Bilingual Speech and Language Ecology in Greek Thrace: Romani and Pomak in contact with Turkish

April 2010


120 Reads

This paper examines the influence of language ecology (Mufwene 2001, 2005) on bilingual speech. It is based on first hand data from two undocumented varieties of Romani and Pomak in contact with Turkish in Greek Thrace, in both cases Turkish being an important language for the community's identity. This analysis shows, on one hand, how the Romani-Turkish fused lect (Auer 1998) was produced by intensive and extensive bilingualism through colloquial contact with the trade language, Turkish. On the other hand, it shows how semi-sedentary Pomak speakers had limited, institutional contact with Turkish, resulting in more traditional codeswitching and emblematic lexical borrowings.

Linguistic constraints on intrasentential code-switching: A study of Spanish/Hebrew bilingualism

September 1986


320 Reads

In recent years, research has increasingly pointed toward the universality of three linguistic constraints on code-switching: (i) an equivalence of structure constraint, (2) a size-of-constituent constraint, and (3) a free morpheme constraint. The evidence derived from this study challenges the universality of the first two of these constraints, and argues instead that their claim to universality is largely a function of the coincidental relative similarity in the syntactic structure of Spanish and English, the two languages upon which most code-switching studies have been based. The present study breaks out of the Spanish-English mold and draws upon data from a language contact situation in which the two languages are syntactically very different from each other, namely, Spanish and Hebrew. The evidence presented also challenges the frequently made assertion that type of code-switching, namely, intra-versus intersentential code-switching, is correlated with degree of bilingualism of the speaker. Finally, the evidence suggests that intrasentential code-switching ability cannot, as some have argued, universally be considered a measure of bilingualism nor a mark of the balanced bilingual. (Code-switching, Spanish, Hebrew, bilingualism, syntactic constraints) College of Arts & Science Department of Spanish and Portuguese

Communication of Respect in Interethnic Service Encounters

September 1997


1,638 Reads

Divergent practices for displaying respect in face-to-face interaction are an ongoing cause of tension in the US between immigrant Korean retailers and their African American customers. Communicative practices in service encounters involving Korean customers contrast sharply with those involving African American customers in 25 liquor store encounters that were videotaped and transcribed for analysis. The relative restraint of immigrant Korean storekeepers in these encounters is perceived by many African Americans as a sign of racism, while the relatively personable involvement of African Americans is perceived by many storekeepers as disrespectful imposition. These contrasting interactional practices reflect differing concepts of the relationship between customer and storekeeper, and different ideas about the speech activities that are appropriate in service encounters. (Intercultural communication, respect, service encounters, African Americans, Koreans)

TABLE 5 . Use of electronic communication technologies by immigrant scientists who have or have not studied English.
The Role of English as a Central Component of Success in the Professional and Social Integration of Scientists from the Former Soviet Union in Israel

January 2005


81 Reads

More than 13,000 scientists from the former Soviet Union have arrived in Israel since 1988. The purpose of this study is to analyze various factors that influence immigrant scientists' integration into the Israeli society and academic community, paying a special attention to their multilingual identity. The previous studies conducted in this field emphasized the significance of the Hebrew language and juxtaposed Russian with Hebrew. However, in Israel, especially in the higher classes, English constitutes an important status symbol and a boundary marker. The research data demonstrates that English is a crucial factor which shapes the patterns of the immigrants' integration into the Israeli society. The results of various statistical tests presented in this study demonstrate significant differences between those who studied English and those who studied either German or French regarding the feeling of personal self-actualization and job satisfaction. Moreover, one's command of English proved to be the factor which determines one's risk of losing a job. Accordingly, the Israeli language policy, which, for ideological reasons, has traditionally perceived the acquisition of Hebrew by immigrants as its major goal, should be reformulated: apart from studying Hebrew, the immigrants who did not have an opportunity to study English beforehand must be provided with an access to this language, since without it they are unlikely to become the equal members of the Israeli middle class.

Towards a comprehensive description of language varieties: Naming practices, ideologies, and linguistic practices

July 2006


469 Reads

Although it is well accepted that linguistic naming conventions provide valuable insights into the social and linguistic perceptions of people, this topic has not received much attention in sociolinguistics. Studies focus on the etymology of names, details about the social and historical circumstances of their emergence, and their users, and sometimes make recommendations about the appropriateness of terms. This article departs from this tradition. Focusing on the term “Takitaki” in French Guiana, it shows that an analysis of the discursive uses of language names by all local actors provides significant insights into the social and linguistic makeup of a complex sociolinguistic situation. Descriptions of languages in such settings should be based on the varieties identified by such an analysis and on practices in a range of naturalistic interactions. Based on these analytical steps, the authors propose a multi-perspective approach to language documentation.

Figures of speech: Figurative expressions and the management of topic transition in conversation

December 1998


6,518 Reads

In conversation, speakers occasionally use figurative expressions such as “had a good innings,” “take with a pinch of salt,” or “come to the end of her tether.” This article investigates WHERE in conversation such expressions are used, in terms of their sequential distribution. One clear distributional pattern is found: Figurative expressions occur regularly in topic transition sequences, and specifically in the turn where a topic is summarized, thereby initiating the closing of a topic. The paper discusses some of the distinctive features of the topic termination/transition sequences with which figurative closings are associated, particularly participants' orientation to their moving to new topics. Finally, the interactional use of figurative expressions is considered in the context of instances where their use fails to secure topical closure, manifesting some conflict (disaffiliation, etc.) between the participants.

Evaluation in media texts: A cross-cultural linguistic investigation

November 2004


124 Reads

A quantitative/interpretative approach to the comparative linguistic analysis of media texts is proposed and applied to a contrastive analysis of texts from the English-language China Daily and the UK Times to look for evidence of differences in what Labov calls “evaluation.” These differences are then correlated to differences in the roles played by the media in Britain and China in their respective societies. The aim is to demonstrate that, despite reservations related to the Chinese texts not being written in the journalists' native language, a direct linguistic comparison of British media texts with Chinese media texts written in English can yield valuable insights into the workings of the Chinese media that supplement nonlinguistic studies.

Discourse within a sentence: An exploration of postpositions in Japanese as an interactional resource

July 2004


93 Reads

This study explores a phenomenon in Japanese conversation that might be regarded as “discourse-within-a-sentence,” or interpolating a sequence of talk during ongoing sentence construction. It explicates the way in which Japanese speakers use postpositional particles as a resource to incorporate an element in a parenthetical sequence into the syntax of a sentence-inprogress. It is shown that the usability of postpositions for achieving discourse-within-a-sentence comes from the situated workings of postpositions used in a wider range of interactional contexts. Through a detailed examination of relevant instances from transcribed Japanese conversations, this study addresses such issues as (i) “sentences” in interaction as both a resource for, and an outcome of, intricate interactional work; (ii) postpositions as resources for retroactive transformations of turnshapes in Japanese; and (iii) the relationship between typological features of the grammar of a language and forms of interactional practices. published or submitted for publication is peer reviewed

Language Policy, Language Education, Language Rights: Indigenous, Immigrant, and International Perspectives

January 1997


78 Reads

Indigenous languages are under siege, not only in the United States but also around the world, in danger of disappearing because they are not being transmitted to the next generation. Immigrants and their languages worldwide are similarly subject to seemingly irresistible social, political, and economic pressures. Yet, at a time when phrases such as "endangered languages" and "linguicism" are invoked to describe the plight of the world's vanishing linguistic resources in their encounter with the phenomenal growth of world languages such as English, there is also consistent and compelling evidence that language policy and language education serve as vehicles for promoting the vitality, versatility, and stability of these languages, and ultimately of the rights of their speakers to participate in the global community on and in their own terms. (Contains 53 references.) (Author)

TABLE 3 . Ugly female
TABLE 5 . Handsome male
TABLE 7 . Unpleasant male
How Taboo Are Taboo Words for Girls?

June 1992


5,075 Reads

In the past five years, there has been much interest in the question of whether women are really as concerned about politeness and status as they have been made out to be by such writers as Baroni and D'Urso (1984), Crosby and Nyquist (1977), Lakoff (1973), Spender (1980), and Trudgill (1972). Despite the commonly held perception that it is only males who bandy about derogatory and taboo words (Bailey 1985; Flexner 1975), Risch (1987) provided counterevidence based on data obtained in the United States. The results of the present study, based on data obtained in South Africa, strongly support her findings and challenge the assumption that women stick to standard speech, citing evidence that young females are familiar with, and use, a wide range of highly taboo/slang items themselves. In particular, attention is devoted to the question of pejorative words applicable to males and females, respectively, and the view that there are only a few pejorative terms commonly used to describe males (particularly by females) is challenged. (Women's language, politeness, linguistic taboo, stereotypes, slang, expletives, prestige forms).

Othering in gossip: 'you go out, you have a laugh and you can pull, ok but......

November 2005


155 Reads

It has been claimed that gossip allows participants to negotiate aspects of group membership, and the inclusion and exclusion of others, by working out shared values. This article examines instances of gossipy storytelling among young friends during which participants necrotiate self- and other-identities in particular ways. Participants are found to share judgments not only about others' behavior but also about their own behavior through particular processes of othering. A range of discursive strategies place the characters in gossip-stories (even in the category called "self-gossip") in marginalized, liminal, or uncertain social spaces. In the gossipy talk episodes examined, social "transgression" might be oriented to as a serious matter and thus pejorated, or oriented to in a playful key and thus celebrated. This ambiguity "Do we disapprove or approve, of this 'bad' behavior?" - means that in negotiating the identity status of "gossipees" liminality is constant. It is argued that othering, as an emergent category, along with the particular discursive strategies that achieve it, is an aspect of gossip that deserves further attention.

FIGURE 1. Pitch and voice continuum. 
FIGURE 2. Locations of languages where voice registers have been reported in Mesoamerica. 
TABLE 2 . High pitch and social role.
TABLE 3 . Lachixío gradient of imperative forms.
Shifting Voices with Participant Roles: Voice Qualities and Speech Registers in Mesoamerica

September 2010


718 Reads

Although an increasing number of sociolinguistic researchers consider functions of voice qualities as stylistic features, few studies consider cases where voice qualities serve as the primary signs of speech registers. This article addresses this gap through the presentation of a case study of Lachixio Zapotec speech registers indexed though falsetto, breathy, creaky, modal, and whispered voice qualities. I describe the system of contrastive speech registers in Lachixio Zapotec and then track a speaker on a single evening where she switches between three of these registers. Analyzing line-by-line conversational structure I show both obligatory and creative shifts between registers that co-occur with shifts in the participant structures of the situated social interactions. I then examine similar uses of voice qualities in other Zapotec languages and in the two unrelated language families Nahuatl and Mayan to suggest the possibility that such voice registers are a feature of the Mesoamerican culture area.

Top-cited authors