A Accent   Where speakers differ (or vary) at the level of pronunciation only (phonetics and/or phonology), they have different accents. Their grammar may be wholly or largely the same. Accents can index a speaker’s regional/geographic origin, or social factors such as level and type of education, or even their attitude.

Accommodation   The process by which speakers attune or adapt their linguistic behaviour in light of their interlocutors’ behaviour and their attitudes towards their interlocutors (may be a conscious or unconscious process). Encompasses both convergence with or divergence from interlocutors’ norms. (See also Social identity theory.)

Acquiring (language)   It is sometimes useful to distinguish between the natural acquisition of a language variety (e.g., a mother tongue) and learning of a language variety (e.g., in the classroom).

Active knowledge   Knowledge of a linguistic variety that includes the ability to produce and use that variety, and not only understand it. (See also Passive knowledge.)

Acts of identity   LePage’s proposal that intraspeaker variation is a result of the speaker’s desire to present or foreground a different social identity under different circumstances. Strongly associated with LePage’s work on creole language speakers who often display extensive variation between consistent use of the vernacular norms of a creole and the standard variety of the lexifier. Contrasts with attention to speech and accommodation-based models of style-shifting such as audience design.

Age-grading   If, as a rule, all speakers of a community use more tokens of one variant at a certain age and more tokens of another variant at another age, the variable is said to be age-graded.

Ageing deficits   Changes in individuals’ performance in later stages of their lifespan. ‘Deficits’ refers to impaired performance on tasks or activities compared with younger speakers (e.g., recall, hearing). Focused on more than improvements that are associated with increased age (e.g., narrative skill, vocabulary).

Apparent time   The apparent passage of time is measured by comparing speakers of different ages in a single speech community at a single time. If younger speakers behave differently from older speakers, it is assumed that change has taken place within the community. The apparent time construct relies on the assumption that speakers only minimally change the way they speak after the critical period or in adulthood. A useful method where real time data is absent.

Attention to speech   Labov proposed that the different distribution of forms in different styles was motivated by the amount of attention the speaker was paying to the act of speaking. In activities, such as reading aloud, reading word lists or minimal pairs, Labov argued that speakers are paying more attention to their speech than they are in interviews and in interviews they paid more attention than when conversing with friends and family. Contrasts with accommodation-based accounts of style-shifting such as audience design. Also contrasts with more agentive theories of style-shifting such as acts of identity.

Attunement   A term sometimes preferred over accommodation because of the strong (but incorrect) association of the specific strategy convergence with the more general phenomenon of accommodation. Just as instruments in an orchestra have to be in tune with each other, speakers attune their behaviour to the situation and in relation to the way their interlocutors are behaving.

Audience design   Derived from accommodation theory. Proposal that intraspeaker variation arises because speakers are paying attention to who they are addressing or who might be listening to or overhearing them, and modify their speech accordingly.


B Bald, on record   A technical term in Brown and Levinson’s theory of politeness. Refers to an inherently face-threatening act made without any softening through positive or negative politeness strategies. Notice they do not call this ‘impolite’.

Broad stratification   A distribution of variants – for example, across groups of speakers in different styles – which shows each group of speakers patterning markedly differently from each other in each style. Shows up as a big gap between trend lines on a line graph.

Brokers   The people who introduce innovations into social networks.


C Caste systems   Relatively fixed social groups. A person is usually born into a particular caste and the possibilities for movement out of it are limited. (See also Social class.)

Change from above   Changes taking place in a speech community above the level of individuals’ conscious awareness. Able to be commented on. One variant is clearly standard or has clear overt prestige. It does not refer to changes led by higher social classes (though this may often be the case). (See also Change from below.)

Change from below   Changes taking place in a speech community below the level of conscious awareness. Not the subject of overt comment. It does not refer to changes led by lower social classes. (See also Change from above.)

Code mixing   Generally refers to alternations between varieties, or codes, within a clause or phrase. Often elicits more strongly negative evaluations than alternations or code switching across clauses.

Code switching   In its most specific sense, the alternation between varieties, or codes, across sentences or clause boundaries. Often used as a cover term including code mixing as well.

Collectivist   A collectivist society emphasises the relationships and interdependence of the individuals it is comprised of (cf. individualistic). (See also Wakimae.)

Communication accommodation   The full term for accommodation in which accommodation between individuals’ linguistic behaviour is seen as only one way in which individuals may converge or diverge from each other.

Community of practice   Unit of analysis introduced to sociolinguistics by Penelope Eckert and Sally McConnell-Ginet in their research on language and gender. A smaller unit than a social network. Co-membership is defined on three criteria: mutual engagement, a jointly negotiated enterprise, and a shared repertoire. Associated with analyses of variation that emphasise speakers’ agency. (See also Acts of identity; Speaker design.)

Community-wide change   An entire group or community switch to use of a new variant at about the same time.

Competence and performance   A distinction drawn by Chomsky. Competence is identified primarily with grammatical competence and is understood as the underlying or innate principle from which the structure of all natural languages derive. Performance, or what speakers do with their competence replete with errors and infelicities, is not seen as the primary interest of linguistics. (See also Pragmatic competence; Sociolinguistic competence.)

Constitutive   The view that a correlation between linguistic behaviour and a non-linguistic factor actually helps to bring about and define (i.e., constitute) the meaning of a social category. Often contrasted with an interpretation of variation as reflecting a social category. (See also Reflexive.)

Constrain/constraints   If the distribution of variants is neither random nor free, and instead shows systematic correlations with independent factors, those factors can be said to constrain the variation, or to be the constraints on the variable.

Contrastive analysis   An approach to second-language acquisition that focuses on points of similarity and difference in two varieties. The assumption is that where they differ, learners will have most difficulty.

Conventional implicature   An inference that arises from the meaning (or semantics) of a word or phrase. This means if you try to cancel the implicature, it sounds bizarre or can’t be understood. (See also Conversational implicature.)

Convergence   Accommodation towards the speech of one’s interlocutors. Accentuates similarities between interlocutors’ speech styles, and/or makes the speaker sound more like their interlocutor. It is assumed to be triggered by conscious or unconscious desires to emphasise similarity with interlocutors we like, and to increase attraction. (See also Divergence; Social identity theory.)

Conversational implicature   An inference that arises from interlocutors’ shared understanding of the norms of conversation. Not part of the semantics or inherent meaning of a word/phrase. Unlike a conventional implicature, you can cancel a conversational implicature (e.g., They have two cats if not more.)

Core network member   Term used by Jenny Cheshire to describe the members centrally involved and actively participating in a friendship network. Distinguished from peripheral and secondary members who are progressively less involved.

Cost of imposition   Modified term from Brown and Levinson’s politeness theory. A scalar measure of how serious a face-threatening act is in a particular society, and given the power and distance difference between speaker and hearer.

Covert prestige   A norm or target that is oriented to without the speaker even being aware that they are orienting to it. Evidence of covert prestige can be found in mismatches between speakers’ self-report of using one variant and actual use of another variant. Often used (wrongly) to refer to the value associated with non-standard or vernacular varieties.

Creole   A language variety arising out of a situation of language contact (usually involving more than two languages). A creole can be distinguished from a pidgin: (i) on the grounds that it is the first language of some community or group of speakers, or (ii) on the grounds that it is used for the entire range of social functions that a language can be used for. (See also Creolisation; Vernacularisation.)

Creolisation   The process by which a pidgin becomes the first language of a group of speakers. The linguistic outcomes of the expansion of the pidgin into a wider range of social functions. (See also Vernacularisation.)

Critical period   The period during which language learning seems to be easiest; that is, in childhood and for some people going into early adolescence. Exposure to language outside the critical period usually results in less than native-like acquisition. Some researchers believe the critical period is an artefact of (i) developmental changes in the brain, or (ii) changes in the receptiveness or attitudes of language learners, or (iii) a mixture of physiological and social factors.

Cross-over effect   The cross-over effect emerges at the intersection of style and class. Typically it refers to the breakdown in the most careful speech styles of clear stratification between speakers of different social classes. For example, when reading word lists, speakers from the second highest social class will suddenly produce more tokens of an incoming or prestige form than speakers in the highest social class do, instead of producing slightly fewer tokens as they do in their conversation or interview styles (cf. Hypercorrection).


D Dense and loose networks   Dense networks are characterised by everyone within the network knowing each other. In loose social networks not all members know each other.

Determinism/deterministic   The idea that there is a strong causal relationship between two factors (i.e., one determines how the other will be). The idea that if you know the value for one factor, you can automatically and reliably predict the value for another. (See also Linguistic relativism.)

Diachronic change   Change realised over chronological time.

Dialect   A term widely applied to what are considered sub-varieties of a single language. Generally, dialect and accent are distinguished by how much of the linguistic system differs. Dialects differ on more than just pronunciation, i.e., on the basis of morphosyntactic structure and/or how semantic relations are mapped into the syntax. (See also Variety.)

Dialect levelling   Reduction of differences distinguishing regional dialects or accents. One possible outcome of contact between speakers of different varieties.

Diglossia   Classically defined as a situation where two closely related languages are used in a speech community. One for High (H) functions (e.g., church, newspapers) and one for Low (L) functions (e.g., in the home, or market). The situation is supposed to be relatively stable and the languages/varieties remain distinct (cf. creole outcomes of language contact). Now often extended to refer to any two languages (even typologically unrelated ones) that have this kind of social and functional distribution.

Direct and indirect indexing   A relationship of identification. The distinction between direct and indirect indexing was introduced by Elinor Ochs. A linguistic feature directly indexes something with social meaning if the social information is a conventional implicature (e.g., speaker gender is directly indexed by some forms of some adjectives in French, je suis [prε] (male speaker); je suis [prεt] (female speaker). However, most variables associated with, e.g., male vs female speakers only indirectly index gender. Their distribution is sex-preferential not sex-exclusive. They are generally associated with several other social meanings, e.g., casualness and vernacularity with masculinity. Because these other factors help to constitute what it means to be ‘male’ the index between vernacular variants and male speakers/masculinity is indirect.

Distance   Social distance is a component of Brown and Levinson’s politeness theory. It refers to horizontal differences between people (cf. power). Also spatial distance e.g., between cities in the diffusion of an innovation.

Divergence   Accommodation away from the speech of one’s interlocutors. Accentuates differences between interlocutors’ speech styles, and/or makes the speaker sound less like their interlocutor. It is assumed convergence is triggered by conscious or unconscious desires to emphasise difference and increase social distance. (See also Convergence; Social identity theory.)

Domain   The social and physical setting in which speakers find themselves.


E Envelope of variation   All, and only, the contexts in which a variable occurs.

Ethnolinguistic vitality   See Vitality, ethnolinguistic.

Evidentials   Forms or structures that provide an indication of how the speaker knows the information being conveyed (e.g., direct experience vs reports from a third party).

Exclusive and preferential features   An exclusive feature is one associated solely with a particular user or group of users or solely in a particular context. A preferential feature is one that is distributed across speakers or groups, but is used more frequently by some than by others.

Expanded pidgin   A term used sometimes instead of creole to describe contact varieties that have spent longer as pidgins (lacking native speakers) within a community. (See also Vernacularisation.)


F Face and face wants   Erving Goffman’s notion of face, our social persona, adopted into politeness theory. Face wants are the desire to protect our positive face and negative face from threat or damage.

Fine stratification   A distribution of variants e.g., across groups of speakers in different styles, which shows each group of speakers patterning minimally differently from each other in each style. Shows up as small gaps between trend lines on a line graph.

Free variation   The idea that some variants alternate with each other without any reliable constraints on their occurrence in a particular context or by particular speakers.


G Gender   Not grammatical gender (i.e., different classes of noun that may be called ‘masculine’, ‘feminine’). Not sex of speaker which (largely) reflects biological or physiological differences between people. Used increasingly in sociolinguistics to indicate a social identity that emerges or is constructed through social actions. (See also Constitutive; Reflexive.)

Generational change   Each generation in a community shows progressively more and more frequent use of a variant. A change that can be inferred to be taking place on the basis of apparent time evidence is a generational change.

Globalisation   The increased contact between people of different social and linguistic backgrounds across broad swathes of geographical space. Commonly portrayed as a recent phenomenon and strongly associated with (and often attributed to) the new communication technologies (e.g., Internet, mass media, etc.). The dominance of a small number of language varieties (in particular US English) is seen as an important factor decreasing the ethnolinguistic vitality of lesser-spoken languages worldwide. It is worth bearing in mind that globalisation has been an issue in some parts of the world at least since the colonial period.

Grammatical competence   See Competence and performance.

Gravity model   Model of the diffusion of innovations introduced to sociolinguistics by Peter Trudgill. Social innovations (including linguistic innovations) have been observed to ‘hop’ between large population centres in a (spatially) discontinuous manner. At its simplest, the gravity model predicts that the larger the city/town, the sooner an innovation is likely to show up there. (i.e., the ‘gravitational force’ is provided by the weight of numbers of people).

Group differentiation   A hypothesised function for language variation. Social (in which we can include regional) varieties index group boundaries. In some theories of social psychology differentiation between groups is argued to be an important basis for forming positive self-image.


H High (H) variety See Diglossia.

Hypercorrection   The production of a form which never occurs in a native variety on the basis of the speaker’s misanalysis of the input (cf. Cross-over effect).


I Illocutionary force   The force of a speech act. Saying ‘I promise’ has the illocutionary force of promising if the speaker is genuinely committed to what they utter (and is not lying or hoaxing).

Independent factors   Many things may correlate with or predict the distribution of different linguistic variants. These factors are independent if they have an autonomous effect on the variable. Some factors are inter­dependent and don’t exert an independent effect. (See also Significant/significance.)

Index score   A means by which scalar variables like raising of a vowel can be converted into quantifiable data. For example, very low variants can be assigned a score of 0, and very raised ones a score of 3, with two intermediate levels. Aggregate scores across all tokens allow the researcher to identify some speakers or groups of speakers as more or less conservative/innovative than others.

Indexing   See Direct and indirect indexing.

Indicator    A linguistic variable which shows limited or no style-shifting. Stratified principally between groups.

Indirect index   See Direct and indirect indexing.

Individual agency   Recent approaches to sociolinguistics have tried to emphasise individuals’ freedom of choice in their analyses. Analysts argue that speakers are social actors or agents, (re)defining themselves through linguistic and other social behaviour. (See also Acts of identity; Community of practice.)

Individualistic   A society that emphasises and celebrates the individual over relationships (cf. Collectivist).

Inherent variability   A way of modelling variation as a property of the grammar. Contrasts with a model of variation as speakers’ (or a speaker’s) alternation between different sound or grammar systems (see code switching). Also contrasts with the notion of free variation. Inherent variability unifies interspeaker and intraspeaker variation in ways that the other two approaches do not.

Inherently face-threatening acts   Speech acts which necessarily threaten the speaker’s and/or hearer’s positive face and/or negative face. In Brown and Levinson’s framework, they require the speaker to decide whether or not to mitigate the threat and which politeness strategies to use.

Interlocutor   The people who are talking together are each other’s interlocutors.

Interdependent factors   Many things may correlate with or predict the distribution of different linguistic variants. Some factors bundle together and can be said to be interdependent. This means that every possible combination of the factors may not actually be attested, only a sub-set of combinations. As a consequence you can predict or rule out some factors if you know another factor. For example, the linguistic factors place and manner of articulation are interdependent, so for English if you know you are dealing with an initial nasal, you can predict that it will be either /m/or /n/ and will not be /ŋ/.

Intermediate forms   Forms emerging following contact between closely related varieties that fall in between the various input forms.

Interspeaker variation   Differences and variation that is measured between different speakers (individuals or social groups).

Intraspeaker variation   Differences in the way a single person speaks at different times, or with different interlocutors, or even within a sentence. Intraspeaker variation is a necessary corollary of inherent variability in grammars.


L Laminated   Erving Goffman’s term to refer to the way aspects of the context or the identity of the participants compound, reinforce and add depth to the meaning of each other.

Language attitudes   The study of what people think about different linguistic varieties and how those perceptions about language relate to perceptions of attitudes about different users of language.

Learning (language) See Acquiring (language).

Lexifier   The language that has provided most of the vocabulary (i.e., lexicon) to a pidgin or creole.

Lifespan change   A term introduced to the study of language variation and change by Gillian Sankoff. A change to a speaker’s pronunciation or grammar that takes place after the critical period can be described as a lifespan change. Lifespan changes in pronunciation appear to be severely restricted in their form: they generally only move in the direction of the community overall (see also Generational change) and they may also be constrained to certain input or starting points for a speaker. On the other hand, lifespan change is well-attested for vocabulary.

Lingua franca   Language used as a common means of communication among people whose native languages are mutually unintelligible.

Linguistic and non-linguistic factors   Sometimes referred to as ‘internal’ and ‘external’ factors respectively. The distribution of the variants of a variable may be constrained by or depend on other factors in the linguistic system. (For example: Is the subject a pronoun or a full NP? Is the following phonological segment coronal or velar?) The distribution may also be constrained by factors that lie outside of the grammar or core linguistic system. (For example: Is the speaker talking to a close friend or a stranger? Is there a lot of background noise?)

Linguistic insecurity   Speakers’ feeling that the variety they use is somehow inferior, ugly or bad. Negative attitudes to one’s own variety expressed in aesthetic or moral terms.

Linguistic marketplace   A way of talking about the extent to which an occupation or activity is associated with use of the standard language.

Linguistic relativism   Weaker position than determinism. Holds that the value of one factor is not wholly independent of the value of another factor, but instead is somehow constrained by it. Associated with the Sapir–Whorf hypothesis which suggests that the way we perceive the world around us is in some way reflected in the way we talk. (See also Reflexive.)

Loose networks   See Dense and loose networks.

Low (L) variety   See Diglossia.


M Marker   A variable that speakers are less aware of than a stereotype, but which shows consistent style effects. (See also Indicator.)

Monotonic   A steady increase or decrease in a feature along the x-axis of a graph. (See also Trend.)

Motivation   Some linguists believe there are social or psychological factors which drive or motivate variation. Speakers of a language may be able to talk about the different goals, intentions or motivations that are served by using one variant rather than another, but some motivations may be subconscious and not available for such comment.

Multiplex and uniplex ties   Individuals in a social network can be linked through a single social relationship (a uniplex tie; e.g., mother~daughter) or through several social relationships (multiplex ties; e.g., cousins~co­workers~neighbours).


N National language   A linguistic variety that has been chosen by a nation as the language expressing or representing national identity.

Negative concord   A language where a negative element/constituent in a sentence requires all other indefinites to also be negative has a rule of negative concord.

Negative face   The want of every competent adult member of a community that their actions be unimpeded by others. ‘Don’t tread on me.’

Negative politeness strategy   An action, phrase or utterance that indicates attention is being paid to the negative face wants of an interlocutor. Often achieved through shows of deference. One type of action available to mitigate an inherently face-threatening act. (See also Positive politeness strategy.)


O Observer’s paradox   The double-bind that researchers find themselves in when what they are interested in knowing is how people behave when they are not being observed, but the only way to find out how they behave is to observe them.

Official language   A linguistic variety that has been designated as the medium for all official, government business. There is usually a right to have all legal and public services provided in an official language, and an obligation on state or regional authorities to satisfy this right.

Overt prestige   The prestige associated with a variant that speakers are aware of and can talk about in terms of standardness, or aesthetic and moral evaluations like being ‘nicer’ or ‘better’. (See also Covert prestige.)


P Panel studies   Studies of variation across real time when the participants are held constant. (cf. Trend studies.)

Participant observation   The practice of spending longer periods of time with speakers observing how they use language, react to others’ use of it, and how language interacts with and is embedded in other social practices and ideologies. A means of gathering qualitative data rather than quantitative data.

Passive knowledge   The ability to understand, but not speak, a language. (See also Active knowledge.)

Perceptual dialectology   The study of people’s subjectively held beliefs about different dialects or linguistic varieties. The focus on lay perceptions about language complements the regional dialectologists’ more objective focus on the way people are recorded as speaking.

Performative/performativity   Judith Butler argued that gender is performative in the sense that the iteration of actions and ways of talking in a social context acquires constitutive force within a community. This underlies the social meaning associated with actions, events or categories.

Peripheral network members   See Core network members.

Pidgin   Generally, a language variety that is not very linguistically complex or elaborated and is used in fairly restricted social domains and for limited social or interpersonal functions. Like a creole, arises from language contact; often seen as a precursor or early stage to a creole. It is often said that pidgin can be distinguished from a creole in having no native speakers.

Politeness   The actions taken by competent speakers in a community in order to attend to possible social or interpersonal disturbance. (See also Negative politeness strategy; Positive politeness strategy; Wakamae.)

Positive face   The want of every competent adult member of a community that their wants be desirable to at least some others. ‘Love me, love my dog.’

Positive politeness strategy   An action, phrase or utterance that indicates attention is being paid to the positive face wants of an interlocutor. Often achieved through shows of friendliness. One type of action available to mitigate an inherently face-threatening act. (See also Negative politeness strategy.)

Power   A vertical relationship between speaker and hearer in Brown and Levinson’s theory of politeness. Along with distance and cost of imposition, power determines how much and what kind of redressive action the speaker might take with a face-threatening act.

Pragmatic competence   The ability of a well-socialised speaker to know when certain speech acts are required, appropriate or inappropriate. A competence required over and above grammatical competence in order to successfully participate as a member of a speech community. (See also Sociolinguistic competence.)

Preferential differences   If a feature or variant is found only in the speech of some speakers, it is exclusively associated with them. If it is found more or less frequently in the speech of any member of the community, but occurs more often in the speech of some groups of speakers, it is preferentially associated with them. (See also Direct and indirect indexing; Exclusive and preferential features.)

Principle of accountability   Refers to accountability to accurately represent the data. All tokens must be included in a linguistic analysis, rather than focusing solely on the most typical uses, or only on examples that require very subtle, decontextualised judgements.

Principle of maximum differentiation   An idea that there may be functional constraints on phonological variation preventing the realisations of one phoneme overlapping or encroaching too much on the realisations of another.

Probability/probabilistic   The likelihood with which a variant will occur in a given context, subject to the linguistic and non-linguistic constraints. An adjustment on raw frequencies of forms.


Q Quotative verbs   Verbs introducing reports of discourse (e.g., direct and indirect speech or thought). They include older, more stable variants such as ‘say’ and ‘think’, as well as newer ones such as ‘be like’, ‘be all’.


R Rapid and anonymous study   A questionnaire used to gather data quickly in the public domain. (See also Sociolinguistic interview; Triangulation.)

Real time   Augustinian time. The passing of years, hours, minutes and seconds that we measure with calendars and clocks and that we think we understand until we really think about it.

Reallocate/reallocation   Reassignment or reanalysis of forms in contact in a systematic way, e.g., as allophonically distributed variants of a phoneme.

Reflexive   The view that a correlation between linguistic behaviour and a non-linguistic factor is due to the fact that language reflects identification with a social category or a personal stance. Often contrasted with a constitutive interpretation of variation.

Regional dialectology   The identification and mapping of boundaries between different varieties on the basis of clusters of similar and different features in particular regions, towns or villages.


S Salient/salience   A maddeningly under-defined term when used in sociolinguistics. Sometimes refers to how readily a particular variant is perceived/heard (this may be due to physiological factors affecting perception, or social and psychological factors that affect prime speakers and make them attend to a form). Sometimes refers to a non-linguistic factor that the context or participants appear to have foregrounded in discourse.

Secondary network members   See Core network members.

Semantic derogation   Semantic shift that results in a word acquiring more negative associations or meanings.

Semantic shift   Incremental changes to the meaning of a word or phrase. Sometimes included within the scope of grammaticalisation (or grammaticisation) theory, but unlike classic grammaticalisation, semantic shift need not entail structural reanalysis of the word/phrase. That is, a verb might stay a verb but its meaning might be severely weakened or altered over time.

Sex   No, not that kind of sex. The term is increasingly restricted in sociolinguistics to refer to a biologically or physiologically based distinction between males and females, as opposed to the more social notion of gender.

Shibboleth   A linguistic feature that is used to differentiate between groups.

Significant/significance   Significance has a technical sense, in which it is a statistical measure. The distribution of a variant is said to be statistically significant if it is unlikely to have arisen just by chance. Sociolinguists generally follow normal social science practice and require that tests show there is less than a 5 per cent chance that the distribution of a variable in relation to other factors might be simply a coincidence before they will claim there is a significant correlation or patterning between the variant and some independent factor.

Situation(al)   A more idiosyncratic and personalised view of the context or situation of language use (cf. domain). In this text, used to describe one of the motivations for code switching.

Social class   A measure of status which is often based on occupation, income and wealth, but also can be measured in terms of aspirations and mobility. These factors can then be used to group individuals scoring similarly on these factors into socioeconomic classes.

Social dialectology   The study of linguistic variation in relation to speakers’ participation or membership in social groups, or in relation to other non-linguistic factors.

Social distance   See Distance.

Social identity theory   A social psychological theory holding that people identify with multiple identities, some of which are more personal and idiosyncratic and some of which are group identifications. Experimental work in this framework suggests that people readily see contrasts between groups in terms of competition, and seek to find means of favouring the co-members of the group they identify with over others.

Social meaning   Inferences about speakers or the variety they use and the interpretations we draw about how those speakers are positioned in social space because of this.

Social networks   Introduced to sociolinguistics by Jim and Lesley Milroy. Social networks provide an alternative basis for studying the systematic variation of language to the speech community. Networks are defined by contact between members; however, not all members may know each other, the network connections may be distributive (dense and loose networks) and some members may know each other in a different capacity from others (multiplex and uniplex ties).

Social space   How a community perceives boundaries between established or emergent groups within it, and individuals’ (externally or internally perceived) position in relation to those groups. Questions like ‘Where does a person come from?’, ‘What kind of education have they had?’, ‘How much have they moved around in their youth?’ help locate a person in social space.

Sociolinguistic competence   The skills and resources speakers need to deploy in order to be competent members of a speech community using language not only grammatically but appropriately in different contexts, domains or with different interlocutors. (See also Grammatical competence; Pragmatic competence.)

Sociolinguistic interview   An interview, usually one on one, in which different tasks or activities are used to elicit different styles of speech. (You will sometimes hear it used simply to refer to a one-on-one interview lasting at least an hour covering a range of topics.)

Sociolinguistics   The study of language in use, language in society. The field of sociolinguistics is a big tent: it can encompass work done in discourse analysis, studies of interaction, sociology, anthropology, cultural studies, feminism, etc. It can also be used much more restrictively to only refer to variationist studies in the Labovian tradition. For this reason, when you come across the term, it is worth stopping long enough to work out how the writer/speaker is using it.

Speaker design   A further approach to analysing style-shifting. Stresses the speaker’s desire to represent her/himself in certain ways. (See also Acts of identity.)

Speech acts   Utterances which, in saying, do something.

Speech community   Variously defined on subjective or objective criteria. Objective criteria would group speakers together in a speech community if the distribution of a variable was consistent with respect to other factors (e.g., style). Subjective criteria would group speakers as a speech community if they shared a sense of and belief in co-membership.

Speech levels   Replacement of vocabulary with sometimes radically different forms in the different styles associated with different social groups or castes.

Stable variable   If there is no evidence (e.g., from generational change) that one variant is pushing out another variant, the variable can be considered stable. A classic example is the alternation between the alveolar and velar nasals in the word-final ‘-ing’ which has existed for centuries and shows no signs of disappearing at present. Stable variables may exhibit age-grading (i.e., avoidance of a stigmatised variant in adulthood).

Status   Max Weber’s theory of social class held that it was based on a person’s status, measured in terms of their lifestyle and life choices in addition to measures of wealth and occupation (as per Marx).

Stereotype   A linguistic feature that is widely recognised and is very often the subject of (not always strictly accurate!) dialect performances and impersonations.

Stratified   The systematic and consistent patterning of a variant with respect to some independent factor, e.g., style, age, class. See Broad and Fine stratification.

Style-shifting   Variation in an individual’s speech correlating with differences in addressee, social context, personal goals or externally imposed task.

Subjective and objective measures   A speaker’s perceptions of their own performance and their performance evaluated by some external measure.

Substrate   The languages other than the lexifier that are present in pidgin or creole formation. The substrate languages often contribute to the grammatical structure of a creole, or they may constrain the semantics of words that have been taken over from the lexifier – e.g., han meaning ‘hand’ and ‘arm’ in Bislama (same denotation as equivalent words in the Eastern Oceanic languages of Vanuatu) and not the more restricted sense of English ‘hand’.

Symmetric and asymmetric accommodation   Symmetric accommodation means both interlocutors converge or diverge. Asymmetric means one interlocutor converges while the other diverges (can be motivated by mismatch in how interlocutors perceive the interaction). (See also Convergence; Divergence.)

Synchronic variation   Variation occurring now.


T Trend   Steady increase or decrease in the frequency of a form across a scale or set of measures. (See also Monotonic.)

Trend studies   A trend study involves comparing speech from members of the same community at different points in time. (See also Panel studies; Real time.)

Triangulation   A researcher’s use of several independent tests to confirm their results and aid in the interpretation of their results. For example, use of data from sociolinguistic interviews and a rapid and anonymous study.


U Uniplex tie   A network tie between individuals that expresses one role or basis for contact and interaction. (See also Multiplex and uniplex ties.)


V Variable   In this text, principally an abstract representation of the source of variation. Realised by two or more variants.

Variant   The actual realisation of a variable. Analogous to the phonetic realisations of a phoneme.

Variationist sociolinguistics   The study of language in use with a focus on describing and explaining the distribution of variables. An approach strongly associated with quantitative methods in the tradition established by William Labov.

Variety   Relatively neutral term used to refer to languages and dialects. Avoids the problem of drawing a distinction between the two, and avoids negative attitudes often attached to the term dialect.

Vernacular   In this text, usually used to refer neutrally to the linguistic variety used by a speaker or a community as the medium for everyday and home interaction. In some linguistic work the term may be associated with the notion of non-standard norms.

Vernacularisation   The process by which a contact variety becomes used with the full range of social and personal functions served by a language of the home. Also the linguistic changes associated with the expansion of the variety in this way. (See also Creolisation.)

Vitality, ethnolinguistic   A measure of the strength and liveliness of a language, usually a good indicator of the likelihood that it will gradually die out or continue to be used as the living language of a community. Measured in terms of demographic, social and institutional support.


W Wakimae   A Japanese term introduced to the study of politeness by Sachiko Ide. Refers to the attention paid to people’s interdependence and to the reciprocity of relationships, and, specifically, the discernment of appropriate behaviour based on this.

Wave model   The theory that language change emanates from a single starting point and is gradually incorporated into the speech of the nearest neighbours.

Weighting   An adjustment that can be made to raw frequencies of a variant so as to take into account any biases or skewing of its overall distribution. Expresses the probability or likelihood with which a variant will occur in a given linguistic environment or with a given non-linguistic factor.