Tag Archives: Variation
7/06-07 Variation and Syntax: Where are we now, and where do we go next?

July 6-7, 2013
2353 Mason Hall

Organizer contact: Jeffrey Parrott (jkparrott@gmail.com)

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Alan Munn, Michigan State University
Jeffrey Keith Parrott, University of Copenhagen

Supported by the National Science Foundation BCS-1265444

Invited speakers:
David Adger, Queen Mary, University of London
Leonie Cornips, Meertens Institute, Amsterdam
Bill Haddican, Queens College, City University of New York
Cristina Schmitt, Michigan State University
Jennifer Smith, University of Glasgow
Sali Tagliamonte, University of Toronto

For at least the past two decades there has been a growing interest in the reconciliation of sociolinguistic variation and syntactic theory. These vital fields of inquiry have been estranged virtually since their inception, with longstanding disputes mainly centered on fundamental methodological and theoretical issues. However, recent work (e.g., Adger & Smith 2005; Adger 2006; Adger & Smith 2010; Nevins & Parrott 2010, among others) has demonstrated that variationist empirical methods are indeed well suited for investigating variable phenomena of relevance to syntactic theorizing, and furthermore that independently developing theories of syntax and its interfaces have become sufficiently articulated that plausible mechanisms of intra- and inter-individual variation can be proposed. Thus, the purpose of this workshop is not only to synthesize our current understanding of syntactic variation, but to stimulate future collaborative research beyond the conventional domains of either variationist sociolinguistics or theoretical syntax. For instance, application of both variationist empirical methods and refined theoretical concepts (e.g., Adger 2010; Parrott 2012) to the study of second- or first-language acquisition (e.g., Smith et al. 2007; 2009; Parrott 2009), multi-lingualism or -dialectalism, language/dialect attrition or death, heritage languages or dialects, or other emerging topics increases the potential for unification of an even greater scope. To such ends, the workshop is primarily aimed at students and young researchers and features three invited one-hour lectures and up to fourteen 30-minute talks, along with panel commentary, small group collaboration, and plenty of time allotted for general discussion.

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Attitudes, Ideologies, Variation, and Change

Dennis Preston – Oklahoma State University
Course time: Monday/Wednesday 9:00-10:50 am
1401 Mason Hall

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Research about beliefs about language and reactions to it has gone beyond interest in such matters for their own sake, and researchers have used internal, classificatory mechanisms related to attitudes and beliefs to explain both the deployment of linguistic resources and the paths of language change. This course will examine historical and current trends in the study of attitudes and ideologies with reference to their role in more structured accounts of language variation and change. We begin with Hymesian ethnographic studies and social psychological approaches to attitude as developed by Lambert et al. Early uses of ideology and attitude in variationist studies will also be noted, and the continuation of the Hymesian tradition by linguistic anthropologists will be discussed. The course next elaborates on two recent turns — indexicality, as developed by Silverstein, and accounts of variability in linguistic theory, as suggested in attempts to build variable OT representations and the attaching of sociocultural information to forms in exemplar theory. The course also evaluates trends in both discoursal and experimental investigations. In the first, we look at content analyses, at linguistic anthropologists’ use of interaction in extracting ideologies from actions, and at more recent attempts to link attitudinal and ideological content to form in critical discourse analysis as well as proposals to link form and attitude by means of pragmatic analyses. Finally, we investigate task-based and experimental procedures in identifying and interpreting attitudes and ideologies, ranging from overt tasks such as those used in work on perceptual dialectology, including very recent uses of georeferencing techniques, to matched-guise and experimental response settings that seek to expose respondents’ unconscious reactions. We will look carefully at the design of experiments that relate attitudinal and ideological factors to structural elements, including techniques developed in social psychology in implicit research design. We conclude with an overview of the cognitive foundations of attitudinal and ideological processing, touching on acquisition, change, and deployment.

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Ethnolinguistic Repertoires in American English

Elaine Chun – University of South Carolina
Course time: Monday/Wednesday 1:30-3:20 pm
2347 Mason Hall

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This course explores the relationship between the English language and ethnicity in the United States by merging anthropological understandings of race and ethnicity with sociolinguistic methods of description and analysis. In doing so, it introduces students to both traditional and current models of language and ethno-racial identity. Specifically, the course explores sociolinguistic assumptions that may equate “race/ethnicity” with “non-whiteness,” that overlook the inherent relationships between racial categories, and that treat race as isolatable dimension. It will also question conceptions of ethno-racial language as an objective set of features by considering how language is a sociocultural set of practices and resources that produce meanings, identities, and ideologies.

The course will introduce students to a range of ethnolectal models that have been traditionally adopted as well as the problems and politics inherent in them. In particular, it will explore sites across the United States that complicate traditional models, including communities in which groups defy easy categorization in a black-white racial paradigm, cases in which speakers use features associated with racial outgroups, and speakers who simultaneously index gendered, classed, and racialized meanings. The course will additionally emphasize the real-world relevance of studying language and race, namely be considering racist and anti-racist language practices in institutional and media contexts.

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Individual Differences in Sound Change

Jeff Mielke – University of Ottawa
Alan Yu – University of Chicago
Course time: Monday/Wednesday 11:00 am – 12:50 pm
2407 Mason Hall

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One of the great mysteries of linguistics is the so-called actuation problem, first articulated in Weinreich, Labov, and Herzog 1968, and still largely unanswered to this day. The question is what causes the inception of language change, if the linguistic conditions favoring particular changes are always present? Previous studies on sound change have mainly focused on group effects, that is, effects observed in a population as a whole. Recent work has drawn on interspeaker variation for a solution to the actuation puzzle. The main impetus for considering individual differences in the context of sound change comes from the need to build a linking theory that bridges the gap between the emergence of new linguistic variants and their eventual propagation.

This course will explore sources of individual linguistic differences, and the role they may play in the initiation and propagation of sound change.  Idiosyncratic variation provides an opportunity to understand the limits and flexibility of the human capacity for language, and to better understand the observed properties of natural languages, which are systems that must be shared by individuals who differ from each other in important ways.  We will focus on three types of individual-level factors that have been implicated in language variation and change, namely covert linguistic/phonetic differences (e.g., differences in lexicon, articulation, and cue weighting), social-attitudinal matters, and neuro-cognitive factors.

Students enrolling in this course should have at least one course in phonetics and/or phonology.

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Institute Spotlight Thursday

Join us for this week’s Spotlight Thursday featuring Walt Wolfram!

Walt Wolfram is the 2013 Institute’s American Dialect Society Professor, a sociolinguist, and the William C. Friday Distinguished University Professor at North Carolina State University. He is the director of the North Carolina Language and Life Project, an organization that focuses on research, graduate and undergraduate education, and outreach programs related to language in the American South. He has published over 20 books and 300 articles, and was an early pioneer in the study of African American English, conducting some of the earliest fieldwork on the variety in Detroit in 1969.

He is responsible for articulating the principle of linguistic gratuity which encourages linguists to give back to the communities they collect data from, and is also active in disseminating the fruits of sociolinguistic research to the public sphere. Last week we also featured his comments about the importance of the 1973 Linguistic Institute, the last Institute that was held at the University of Michigan.


Language Variation and Thought

John A. Lucy – University of Chicago
Course time: Tuesday/Thursday 3:30-5:20 pm
2407 Mason Hall

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This course will explore research on the significance of natural language variation in shaping human thought.  The first unit of the course provides essential background by introducing historical and conceptual perspectives on the relation of language and reality that continue to shape our understanding of language variation and by surveying early work in anthropology (Boas, Sapir, Whorf) and psychology (Brown, Lenneberg, Carroll) linking language variation to thought.  Classic topics involving lexical forms denoting “color” and “snow” will be discussed critically.  The second unit reviews and contrasts prominent contemporary approaches from within anthropological linguistics, including both structure-centered approaches (Lucy et al.) and domain-centered approaches (Levinson et al.), as well as several influential approaches within psychology (Slobin, Boroditsky).  The discussions will highlight both continuities and innovations with respect to earlier work.  The third unit will review recent research extending these approaches to new populations including the deaf, young children, bilinguals, etc.  These approaches not only offer avenues to exploring underlying mechanisms but also open up ways of theorizing the centrality and trade-offs of relying on language in human thought.  The final unit will explore variations in the cultural and institutional regimentation of language-thought relationships, first in the areas of standard language as promulgated through education and literacy, and then within the research enterprise itself in areas involving practical translation, including comparative linguistic research.  Readings will be drawn from many fields but will emphasize classic works that emphasize comparative, developmental, and critical approaches and provide a foundation for further research.  Class time will be divided between general orienting lectures on theoretical issues and close discussion of key empirical works.

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Sentences and the Social: Representing Syntactic Variation

Julie Boland – University of Michigan
Lauren Squires – Ohio State University
Course time: Monday/Wednesday 1:30-3:20 pm
2333 Mason Hall

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Knowing the grammar of your language entails understanding how meanings map to syntactic structures, but these mappings are not strictly one-to-one.  We know, for example, that “Chris gave the book to Kim”  and “Chris gave Kim the book” are semantically equivalent and interchangeable. Likewise, we know “That car don’t run” is semantically equivalent to “That car doesn’t run,” but the two expressions are not interchangeable because the former is sociolinguistically marked. In this class, we explore the intersection of syntactic variation and sentence processing. Our approach assumes that knowledge of syntactic alternants, and of the social patterning of those alternants, is incorporated into our mental representations of grammar. As such, this knowledge should also be reflected in psycholinguistic theories. We will consider current theorizing that bears on this topic, and its limitations. Readings and discussion will address the following set of issues:

1. How do children deal with syntactic variation in the input?

2. How do adults represent and acquire syntactic variants that they themselves don’t use?

3. What is the role of language variation in sentence processing?

4. How do/can current models of linguistic competence and processing accommodate syntactic variation?

This course will be taught seminar-style, with students leading some of the discussions. The readings will focus on recent experimental research using a variety of online and offline methodologies. Students will work together to develop research proposals, which they will present to the class and write up as a final paper.

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Gerry Docherty – Newcastle University
Course time: Monday/Wednesday 3:30-7:30 pm; last 2 weeks of Institute only (July 8, 10, 15, 17)
2427 Mason Hall

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Sociophonetic research focuses on the implications for theories of speech production, speech processing and phonological acquisition of the presence of a rich array of social-indexical information inextricably woven into the substance of speech. Research in recent years has shown how this social-indexical channel can be sensitively controlled by speakers, is readily interpretable by listeners, and accessible to language-learners, and findings such as these are starting to have a significant impact on our understanding of different aspects of the speech chain, not least in respect of what we understand as an individual’s “phonological knowledge”. Sociophonetics is also concerned with the application of methods and theories from different areas of phonetic research to the theories and models of phonological variation and change which have arisen most notably from work within variationist sociolinguistics.

This course begins with an evaluation of the factors which have led to such a rapid and really quite sudden convergence of interest in sociophonetics from a number of different directions over the past 15-20 years. It then focuses on the research questions which define the sociophonetics research community, discussing key studies in the field, methodological innovations, and theoretical insights. The material covered will include empirical studies of speech production, perception, and acquisition, the development and application of new experimental methods for investigating sociophonetic questions, and an evaluation of the theoretical innovations associated with this rapidly developing field of research. The course will round off by considering the methodological and theoretical challenges which are likely to shape the next stage in the development of sociophonetic research.

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Sociophonetics of Gender and Sexuality

Rob Podesva – Stanford University
Course time: Monday/Wednesday 11:00 am – 12:50 pm
2330 Mason Hall

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This course examines the role of phonetics in the construction of gender and sexuality.  We begin with the premise that phonetic material carries a range of social meanings that themselves are constitutive of gender and sexuality.  Our goals are to review techniques for acoustically quantifying the phonetic characteristics of vowels, consonants, prosody, and voice quality, with an emphasis on those that are used to distinguish speakers on the basis of gender or sexuality; survey classic and current literature on the sociophonetics of gender and sexuality; and unpack the ideological processes that enable language users to forge indexical connections from phonetic forms to gender and sexuality.  In addressing this last issue, we will consider a range of issues, including the following: sounding gay, and as a point of contrast, sounding lesbian; the role of phonetics in constructing transgendered identity; intragender phonetic difference; and the pathologization of young women’s voices in the media, with a focus on the creaky voice (or vocal fry) phenomenon.

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Syntactic Variation: Sentences and Utterances

Ralph Fasold – Georgetown University
Course time: Tuesday/Thursday 11:00 am – 12:50 pm
2333 Mason Hall

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This course will explore how inherent variability, as asserted by linguistic variation scholarship, can be understood with respect to variation in syntax. We will limit ourselves to what Suzanne Romaine has referred to as “pure syntactic variables”, as opposed to morphosyntactic/ morpholexical, morphophonemic and pure phonological, variables.  The approach to syntax that we will assume is the Minimalist Program (MP) of Noam Chomsky. Relating variation in “pure syntax” to the MP is more daunting than it might at first seem, because MP theory and variation theory are not about the same thing.  MP syntax is about sentences.  Variation analysis is about utterances.  Sentences are abstractions; utterances are observable events. One cannot, strictly speaking, write or speak a sentence, only an utterance approximating one. The course will propose that we need separate approaches to sentences and utterances.  Both contribute to the understanding of language, but are fundamentally separate.

We will take up in detail four cases of “pure” syntactic variation: 1) the alternation among which, that and zero in relative clauses as studied by Tagliamonte et al (2005), 2)  the variation between pronouns and reflexives that exists even where the classic binding theory forbids it, 3) variation in word order in Dutch verb clusters as researched by Barbiers (2005), and 4) the alternation between preposition stranding and pied-piping of WH-noun phrases. The second and third cases emerge from my own research.

The approach will be in-class lectures augmented by Powerpoint slides.  There will be two out-of-class assignments, in which students will be asked to search an online corpus for examples that support or challenge the analyses of reflexives and pied-piping presented in class. The assignments will call for a discussion of how the examples relate to the presented analyses.

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Testimonial Tuesday!

Join us each Tuesday for testimonials from past Institute attendees!

“The 1973 Linguistic Institute at Ann Arbor helped launched the
current “era of sociolinguistics,” inspiring many to pursue a career
dedicated to examining the social life of language. It is only fitting
that we return 40 years later to reexamine the critical role of
language in society. I expect it to be just as inspirational.”

-Walt Wolfram


The Third Wave in Sociolinguistics

Penelope Eckert – Stanford University
Kathryn Campbell-Kibler – Ohio State University

Course time: Tuesday/Thursday 1:30-3:20 pm
2306 Mason Hall

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Sociolinguistic variation is most widely known for its correlations with broad social categories, particularly as it represents the spread of linguistic change through and across communities. These patterns, however, are the tip of the variation iceberg. Variation offers up a robust social-semiotic system capable of indexing the full range of a community’s social concerns, and of changing with those concerns. The Third Wave approach to variation is based in the understanding that the social-indexical potential of variation is central to the social functioning of language. This course will examine the social meaning of variation up close, and trace the relation between local meaning and the formation of abstract social categories. Topics will cover the nature of stylistic practice, the role of variation in social change, the sources of variables, and the range of indexical functions of variation from affect to stance to persona construction.

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