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Investigating VariationThe Effects of Social Organization and Social Setting$
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Nancy C. Dorian

Print publication date: 2010

Print ISBN-13: 9780195385939

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: September 2010

DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780195385939.001.0001

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The Variation Puzzle

The Variation Puzzle

(p.3) 1 The Variation Puzzle
Investigating Variation

Nancy C. Dorian

Oxford University Press

The unwritten Gaelic of East Sutherland fishing communities offers an example of linguistic variation in which individual speakers' competing variants lack social weighting. Dense face‐to‐face interaction, multiplex social roles, and absence of socioeconomic stratification obviate accommodation and allow variants arising from early population mixture to persist. Similar personally patterned linguistic variation can be seen in other small minority‐language populations with similar social organization. Speech style, gender, family membership, social network, extra‐community language norms, and language contact have relatively little effect. Unlike age‐related variation, personal‐pattern variation is relatively stable over apparent time. Unlike inter‐village variation, it is socially neutral. Reasons for delayed recognition of such variation in the sociolinguistic literature include residual prescriptivism among linguists, data control via source selection, an assumption of linguistic uniformity and accommodation in small, face‐to‐face communities, concentration on the group rather than on the individual, and an expectation of linkage between linguistic variation and social differentiation.

Keywords:   linguistic variation, social weighting, socioeconomic stratification, accommodation, population mixture, social organization, age‐related variation, personally patterned variation

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