Essay Example for Free: Variation and Language by Miriam Merhoff

Published: 2019-05-14
Essay Example for Free: Variation and Language by Miriam Merhoff
Type of paper:  Essay
Categories:  Sociology Linguistics Languages
Pages: 4
Wordcount: 1005 words
9 min read

Variation in sociolinguistics is the study of the extent to which a language is different from another or modification of the same language over a period of time as influenced by social and regional factors. There are several angles with which research can be done therefore the key point is to specify whether the angle is qualitative or quantitative.

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This chapter is focused on a qualitative research to show that regional and social influence are the roots of sociolinguistics. It also unveils the similarity in the adoption of regional and social methodologies. Some of the key words that need definition are variable, variant, determinism and constraint. Miriam describes the words as follows:


In this text, principally an abstract representation of the source of variation. Realized by two or more variants. In other words, it is the part of a word that displays different pronunciations.


The actual realization of a variable. Analogous to the phonetic realizations of a phoneme. In simplified terms, it is the different forms of a single word.


This is based on the idea that two factors can exhibit a strong relationship in that a second factor can be automatically predicted from the value of the first factor.


A constraint or constrain on the variable is a factor which the variants distribution is systematic correlated to.

Standards and norms in variation

Standard English is English which is deemed as acceptable across a variety of localities. Norms shared across several regions on the language associated with education are used to determine standardization of a language. When considering how people use language we observe the norms underlying the changes being used. These norms acquire a social meaning over time but only to the specified localities.

Regional dialectology

Research on regional dialectology can be traced to the 19th century when a field worker named Edmond Edmont cycled around villages in France asking people to mane various objects and recording their pronunciation. He used the same questionnaire to ease the comparison process when analyzing results. The results are then plotted on maps hereby distinguishing dialects according to geographical regions.

Regional variation can be used to establish the non- linguistic factors that affect language and pronunciation. An interest discovery by Dave Britain indicated that the Fens, located in England were separated by a swamp. Those in the east had a different dialect than those on the west; however, after clearance of the swamp some of the pronunciations were absorbed as the two regions intermingled.

This concludes that information on regional dialects can be used to draw principles of variation and change, therefore, sociolinguists have to be cautious when gathering data and drawing conclusions.

Social Dialectology

William Labov a student in university went to Marthas Vineyard, an island located in north east of United States. He was interested in learning variation and the relationship between variants and social order, an approach that is currently recognized as sociolinguistics. He noticed that the pronunciation of some words were different in comparison to those who stayed on the island and those who stayed off the shore, a small distance away. He also noticed there was inter-speaker and intra-speaker variation. Inter- speaker variation describes two different people of whom each speaks in a different variable, while intra- speaker variation describes, is when one individual uses two different variables of the same variant.

Though the island was small, Labov noted that language variation divided the community. Not only were they divided linguistically, but also socially due to factors like their experience on the island, age, and occupation. Those who stayed on the island displayed a variation in comparison to those who came for the holiday. His deduction was therefore that the locals variation was a way for them to differentiate themselves with the foreigner making their linguistic difference a way to exhibit social differentiation.

Through Labovs research, a conclusion can be made that current variation is more or less the root of prolonged variation or variation that occurs over a period of time.

Factors affecting variation

Regional and social factors affect variation on a large scale. There are other factors that contribute to variation in language. These include the desire to stand out from other people, the desire to fit in a community, desire to avoid being judged or frowned upon in a community and the desire to figure out how others are placed in and familiarize with fitting in the community. The mentioned factors acts as motivators to sociolinguistic development.

Peoples culture depending on origin, age and orientation is affiliated towards fitting in with specific social groups. Language plays a major component in this because it is the primary mode of communication. Tension can arise when a speaker tries to fit in while still maintaining their individual self. This requires an act of balance between the two.

Labov gave an illustration of using variation to relate with a group of people at the island. The locals at Marthas Vineyard wanted to stand out while at the same time identify themselves to one another which they did through language variation.

Some also use language to avoid scorn and judgement in order to fit in a certain group of people. Certain variants can be associated with negativity. In this case a speaker avoids using the variant in order to avoid being associated with a negative image. Variation has therefore been used to prevent negative social exposure.

Writing style

The author of this book Miriam Merhoff is very illustrative in her writing. She applies the use of questions within the writings to trigger readers to deliberate on the issues being written on. Miriam also uses narration style in her work. She gives real time examples and contrasts it with the information in the book. In addition to this she gives definitions at the side of the notes. This is useful for immediate interpretation to avoid disconnect when reading. She also adds interesting facts in her writing to stir interest in the readers mind. Her style is very suitable for Sociolinguistic beginners.

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