SIRL was honored to host Penny Eckert at the Laboratoire Parole et Langage from June 21 to 24. Penny’s work on the social meaning of variation has been an inspiration to the SIRL Project, as well as her interest in integrating sociolinguistic research with other linguistic fields such as phonology.
Penny met with a number of members of the LPL during her stay and held a round table with members of the SIRL team. She gave a talk on June 22 on “The meaning of variation” (see summary below), and was interviewed by LPL sociolinguists on her work.
Seminar, 22 June 2016, LPL
Penny Eckert, Stanford University
Title: 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. This perspective takes as given that meaningful variation is a design feature of language, as the ability to convey social information non-propositionally is essential to human sociality. 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. 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.