In order to understand how language variation descriptors are used, we
first must understand what language variation is. We can say that the U.S. is
linguistically diverse because of the multitude of languages spoken here, but
we can also find diversity within these languages. All languages have both
dialectical variations and registral variations. These variations, or dialects,
can differ in lexicon, phonology, and/or syntax from the Standard Language that
we often think of as Œcorrect' Language, although they are not necessarily less
proper than, say, Standard English. It depends on where, by whom, and in what
situation the dialect is used as to whether or not it is appropriate.
Most people are familiar with regional dialects, such as Boston,
Brooklyn, or Southern. These types of variations usually occur because of
immigration and settlement patterns. People tend to seek out others like
themselves. Regional variations tend to become more pronounced as the speech
community is more isolated by physical geography, i.e. mountain ranges, rivers.
Linguists have done extensive studies on regional dialects, producing detailed
Linguistic Atlases. Many linguists can tell where a person is from just by
knowing whether a person carries groceries home from the supermarket in a paper
bag or from the grocery store in a paper sack (Yule 184). And the person who
comes home from the supermarket with a paper sack serves to remind us that
language variation is not a discrete, but rather a continuous variable.
Characteristics of the dialect are more pronounced in the center of the speech
community and tend to be less discernible at the outer boundaries, where they
often overlap other regional dialects.
Within, and between, these regional variations we find the social
dialects. The primary social factors that influence dialects are class,
education, occupation, ethnicity, sex, and age (Ferguson 52, Yule 191). And
social dialects can vary on any or all three descriptor levels; syntax or
grammar, lexicon or vocabulary, and phonetics or pronunciation. Social
dialects are also where the described differences are often defined as
stigmatized or nonstigmatized (Ferguson 52). Stigmatized items include use of
the double negative (grammar), substituting the d sound for t...
... middle of paper ...
...frequency. Using in' for ing, as in goin' is universal across
status groups, but it is found almost twice as often in the lower working class
than in the lower middle class, and almost four times more than in the upper
middle class (Ferguson 61).
With all these different variables that intersect and overlap with the
different dialect variations is is a wonder that any sense can be made of
American English at all. But there two other important point to remember.
Language universals such as displacement, arbitrariness, productivity, cultural
transmission, discreteness and duality are unique to human language (Yule 22)
and provides a base or norm for measuring variations. Implicational
relationships provide a way of measuring relative distance between the different
variations and also serve as a means to predict changes in individual dialects
Ferguson, Charles A., and Shirley Brice Heath, eds. Language in the USA.
Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 1981.
Piatt, Bill. Only English? Law and Language Policy in the United States.
Albuquerque: U of New Mexico P, 1990.
Yule, George. The Study of Language. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 1985.
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