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The norms valid in a small peer group are different from those operating on the same individuals in a school context, for instance. Going back to what was established earlier: sociolinguistic systems are characterized by mobility : in the constant interaction within and between systems, elements move across centers and scale-levels. Concretely, an accent in English that bears middle-class prestige in Nairobi can be turned into a stigmatized immigrant accent in London. The reason for such changes is historical : the value and function of particular aspects of a sociolinguistic system are the outcome of historical and local processes of becoming.
This also counts for higher-order levels such as genres, styles, discourse traditions and other forms of intertextuality and interdiscursivity. In a complex system, we will encounter different historicities and different speeds of change in interaction with each other, collapsing in synchronic moments of occurrence. The previous statement, when initially formulated, was a general typification of discourse, from individual utterance to text and discourse complex. The intrinsic hybridity of utterances something, of course, introduced by Bakhtin a long time ago is an effect of interactions within a much larger polycentric system.
This is a reduction of complexity, and every form of interpretation can thus be seen as grounded in a reduction of the complex layers of meaning contained in utterances and events — a form of entropy , in a sense.
In sociolinguistic systems, we are likely to always encounter tensions between tendencies towards uniformity and tendencies towards heterogeneity. In line with the previous remarks, change at one level also has effects at other levels.
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Every instance of change is at least potentially systemic , since changes in one segment of the system have repercussions on other segments of that system. A change in one segment the teenagers affects other segments their parents , and is provoked by higher-scale features the often global jargon of online gaming communities. Similarly, as noted earlier, the introduction and spread of the internet and other mobile long-distance communication instruments has changed the entire sociolinguistic economy of societies; the change, thus, does not just affect those who intensively use such technologies but also those who lack access to them.
The latter remark has a methodological consequence. The loci of macroscopic change can be microscopic and unpredictable; large-scale change can be triggered by individual contingencies or recurrences of seemingly insignificant deviations — the stochastic side of sociolinguistic systems. A jurisprudence-driven legal system is a good illustration: a single highly contingent ruling by a judge can change the whole system of legislation on related issues. This means that microscopic and detailed investigation of cases — ethnography, in other words — is perhaps the most immediately useful methodology for investigating systemic sociolinguistic aspects cf.
The precise direction of change is unpredictable as well because of the unpredictability of the other factors. We know that systems change irreversibly — we know, thus, that there is a vector of change — but what exactly the outcome of change will be is hard to determine. We can believe in a certain direction of change; but we will not necessarily see it happen.
- The Sociolinguistics of Writing?
- Fields Virology [2 vols].
- Red Lake Nation: Portraits of Ojibway Life.
The history of language planning across the globe is replete with unexpected and often unwelcome and unhappy outcomes. In view of all this, the task of analysis is not to reduce complexity — to reiterate, in other words, the synchronization of everyday understanding — but to demonstrate complexity, to unfold the complex and multifiliar features and their various different origins that are contained in synchronized moments of understanding.
Blommaert I realize that all of these points sound rather abstract and perhaps daunting; I can reassure my readers, however, that they merely summarize and reformulate insights repeatedly established in sociolinguistic and linguistic-anthropological literature by now: they represent the second move of the paradigm shift, which merely extends and broadens the acquired insights of the first move. The terms in which I have couched my points are there because they enable us to imagine the sociolinguistics of superdiversity as organized on an entirely different footing from that which characterized the Fishmanian, Labovian and Schegloffian sociolinguistic world.
In fact, several of the points flatly contradict some of the most common assumptions in the study of language in society — the boundedness of speech communities, the stability, linearity and even predictable nature of sociolinguistic variation; the linear nature of linguistic and sociolinguistic evolution; the autonomy and boundedness of language itself, the assumption of sharedness of resources among speakers, and so forth — the structuralist reifications identified by the likes of Cicourel and Williams. They have now been replaced by a baseline imagery of openness, dynamics, multifiliar and nonlinear development, unpredictability.
We need an aggregate of methods that reflect the complexity of the cases we investigate and do not simplify these cases to a one-dimensional skeleton structure. Let me briefly review some important aspects of the task of designing methods for a complex sociolinguistics. The biggest challenge in research is how to avoid statifying and stabilizing what is, in effect, a dynamic and unstable given. In other words: we need methods that enable us to focus on change itself, on how and why sociolinguistic environments do not stay the same over time and in different conditions.
The points to follow will sketch aspects of this issue. As outlined earlier, events always emerge under influence of different and often unclearly related forces. The encounter was polycentric , we would now say. It is an elementary step in the development of method, I believe, to assume that every case of actual social interaction we study is couched in layers upon layers of relevant contexts, and that awareness of the salience of different context-levels is not sidelined whenever we focus on specific ones.
Transcripts have a tendency to suggest one single sequentially organized activity in which every turn can be read as responding to a previous one hearable on tape — while in fact, it was an activity in its own right or responded to an entirely different prompt signaling a different participation framework. The uniformity of activity and thus of context, as we saw can never be taken for granted. The complexity of communicative events needs to be reflected in the data artifacts we employ to study them. Really influential forces, as we know, may be characterized precisely by their in frequency of occurrence.
A set of methods needs to be designed for addressing the new sociolinguistic environments, mentioned earlier, that characterize superdiversity. Some work has been done already on online ethnography e. Beaulieu ; Androutsopoulos ; but work on the interaction between online and offline sociolinguistic life very much awaits development Varis provides a survey.
As mentioned earlier, the presence of new communication and information technologies has reshuffled the sociolinguistic economies of contemporary societies, leading to new repertoires and forms of semiotic work characterized by visual literacy-driven resources and practices.
This is disturbing for a science more at ease with and privileging spoken language usage as the baseline material for sociolinguistic inquiry and traditionally rather poorly equipped for addressing literate materials Lillis New multimodal methods of analysis need to come into circulation in order to adequately tackle the various challenges posed by these new and very rapidly evolving sociolinguistic environments.
Accepting and foregrounding the complexity of sociolinguistic phenomena and processes evidently does not make life easier for sociolinguists; it renders the job of adequate analysis vastly more complex indeed. We must realize that a paradigmatic shift such as the one outlined here will involve the disqualification, not so much of actual analytical techniques we will forever be recording and transcribing talk , but of the assumptions we hold about them and about their results.
Far more multifaceted forms of research will have to be constructed, combining in demanding ways advanced skills in a variety of methods and approaches, but held together and made coherent by a clearly established and defined research object.
This, I believe, is to be welcomed. In defining the object of sociolinguistics in this way, he reacted against the hegemony of a science of language that focused on the static, the stable, the eternal and the universal in language, and proposed a science that would explain the actual ways in which language operated in social life and played a role in structuring society. These ways were diverse, and that meant that they were not deducible from general rules of grammar or cognition, not stable over time nor unaffected by history and human agency.
But accepting it involves accepting diversity as change , both in the nature and structure of our object as well as in the approaches we develop for analyzing it.
The fact that paradigmatic shifts, such as the ones outlined here, occur and even intensify, is testimony of the usefulness of existing approaches: they took us to the point where we experienced their limits and the need to revise and improve them. We have in the past decades come to recognize language in society as a domain that has undergone deep and fundamental changes at all levels, as part of deep and fundamental changes of the world at large.
Journal of Sociolinguistics 10 4 , Language Internet 5, article 9. Backus, Ad A usage-based approach to borrowability.
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