Variationist Sociolinguistics

Robert Bayley

in The Oxford Handbook of Sociolinguistics

Published in print January 2013 | ISBN: 9780199744084
Published online January 2013 | | DOI:

Series: Oxford Handbooks

Variationist Sociolinguistics


The central ideas of variationist sociolinguistics are that an understanding of language requires an understanding of variable as well as categorical processes, and that the variation witnessed at all levels of language is not random. Rather, linguistic variation is characterized by orderly or “structured heterogeneity.” In addition, synchronic variation is often a reflection of diachronic change. This chapter reviews representative studies and outlines the main assumptions underlying the variationist approach. It presents an example of variationist analysis, using the well-known case of variation between Spanish null and overt subject personal pronouns. Then, the chapter considers a number of relatively recent developments in variationist sociolinguistics including the expansion of the variationist paradigm into new areas such as second-language acquisition and sign linguistics, as well as recent work that combines ethnographic observation and quantitative analysis.

Keywords: variationist analysis; Spanish null pronouns; North America; linguistic variation; synchronic variation; sign linguistics

Article.  8197 words. 

Subjects: Linguistics ; Sociolinguistics

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