chapter  3
15 Pages

The Analysis of Linguistic Variation

The previous chapter laid the groundwork for the analysis of linguistic variation. We defined linguistic variation as “differences in linguistic form without (apparent) changes in meaning”. We also introduced the analytic construct of the variable, which we defined as “different ways (variants) of saying the same thing (the variable context)”. We saw that variables can occur at a number of different linguistic levels: phonetics or phonology, morphology, syntax, the lexicon and discourse. We introduced the principle of accountability, which requires that we examine not only the variant of interest to us but also its relative frequency with respect to all of the other variants of the same variable. In this respect, the definition of the variable context, the place where the speaker has a choice between forms, assumes a central position in the analysis of linguistic variation. How we define the variable context determines which forms we include in the analysis, how we calculate relative frequencies and, ultimately, how we interpret the variation.