Variation in Grammatical Systems
In the previous chapter, we discussed the issues surrounding phonic variables, including the definition of the variable context and the different factors that may condition the variation: lexical, phonological and grammatical. In this chapter, we move above and beyond phonetics and phonology, to variation at the level of grammatical systems. Here, and in the rest of the book, we will use the term “grammatical” to refer to linguistic systems that are normally subdivided into fields such as morphology, syntax and discourse or pragmatics. There are two reasons for conflating these fields into one level. First, many variables cannot easily be separated into different fields. Rather, they are interleaved with each other, such that variants of a variable may be distributed across morphology, syntax and discourse (and, in some cases, phonology). Second, many of these variables raise similar methodological issues that differ from those raised by phonic variation. In particular, extending the study of variation into the realm of grammar requires us to reconsider the methods used in defining the variable context for phonic variables. Not only do we need to reconsider the nature of the relation between variants, but we also need to question whether the notion of the variable rule is appropriate at this level.