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Penny Eckert

Stanford University

Monday, February 29th at 9:30 AM in AP&M 4301. 

The Meaning of Variation

Abstract: The origins of variation studies in dialectology and sound change have had a profound effect on the theoretical foundations of the field. The focus on macro-social correlations has yielded a limited view of the social meaning of variation, and the focus on sound change has precluded serious thought about speaker agency. This talk will present what has come to be known as the “Third Wave” perspective on variation. In this perspective, variation is a robust system of signs capable of expressing the full range of social concerns. And tied as it is to the construction of meaning in social life, variation is integral not only to linguistic, but to social change. The ability to convey social information non-propositionally is essential to human sociality, and socially meaningful variation is a design feature of language. I will examine some types of variables that emerge when one approaches variation from the perspective of meaning, and discuss the place of variation in the larger meaning system of language.