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Third Wave Variation Studies



I view social studies of linguistic variation as coming in three loosely-ordered waves. For more detail, see my 2012 paper Three waves of variation study: The emergence of meaning in the study of variation. Annual Review of Anthropology, 41.87-100. Variation Study"

First Wave


William Labov initiated the first wave of quantitative studies of variation with his monumental work, The Social Stratification of English in New York City. The studies in this tradition use survey and quantitative methods to examine the relation between linguistic variability and major demographic categories (class, age, sex class, ethnicity). The results of these studies have combined to develop the "big picture" of the social spread of sound change, in which the socioeconomic hierarchy figures as a map of social space and change spreads outward from the locally-based upper working class.



Second Wave


The second wave of variation studies employs ethnographic methods to seek out the relation between variation and local, participant-designed categories and configurations. These commonly give local meaning to the more abstract demographic categories outlined in the first wave.

Both first and second wave studies focus on some kind of speech community, and examine linguistic features by and large as a function of their defining role as local/regional dialect features. These studies view the meanings of variants as identity markers related directly to the groups that most use them.



Third Wave


Building on the findings of the First and Second Waves of variation studies, the Third Wave focuses on the social meaning of variables. It views styles, rather than variables, as directly associated with identity categories, and explores the contributions of variables to styles. In so doing, it departs from the dialect-based approach of the first two waves, and views variables as located in layered communities. Since it takes social meaning as primary, it examines not just variables that are of prior interest to linguists (e.g. changes in progress) but any linguistic material that serves a social/stylistic purpose. And in shifting the focus from dialects to styles, it shifts the focus from speaker categories to the construction of personae.



Some studies in the Third Wave:

Campbell-Kibler, Kathryn. 2007. Accent, (ING) and the social logic of listener perceptions. American speech, 82.32-64.

Eckert, Penelope. 2008. Variation and the indexical field. Journal of sociolinguistics. 12.453-76.

Eckert, Penelope. 2010. Affect, sound symbolism, and variation. Penn working papers in linguistics. 16.1.

Eckert, Penelope. in press. Where does the social stop? Gregerson, Frans, Jeffrey K. Parrott, Pia Quist eds. Language Variation - European Perspectives III. Selected papers from the 5th International Conference on Language Variation in Europe (ICLaVE 5), Copenhagen, June 2009. Amsterdam: John Benjamins.

Eckert, Penelope. in press. Language and power in the heterosexual market. American Speech. Special issue on language and sexuality. Eds. Robert Podesva and Penelope Eckert.

Podesva, Robert. 2007. Phonation type as a stylistic variable: The use of falsetto in constructing a persona. Journal of sociolinguistics, 11.478-504.

Podesva, Robert. in press. The California vowel shift and gay identity. American Speech. Special issue on language and sexuality. Eds. Robert Podesva and Penelope Eckert.

Zhang, Qing. 2005. A Chinese yuppie in Beijing: Phonological variation and the construction of a new professional identity. Language in society, 34.431-66.

Zhang, Qing. 2008. Rhotacization and the 'Beijing Smooth Operator': The social meaning of a linguistic variable. Journal of Sociolinguistics, 12.201-22.