Social Variation and Regional Variation
Not determiners of sociolects
Social class
Family (too little)
Region/Space (not
based on social norms)
(only lexical differences,
and it is the least stable)
Sociolect: A dialect or variety based purely
on societal norms (race, social class, etc)
Important Terms
Dialect (any variety) vs. Accent (pronunciation)
Sociolinguistics vs. Dialectology
Sociolects (basilect, mesolect, acrolect) vs. regional
Hypercorrection ( a standard rule applies in contexts where
it’s not supposed: idear or ‘warsh’?, ‘you & I’, he am…)
Grammatical vs Lexical variation
Jargon (specific vocabulary) vs. borrowing (from other
Standard vs non-standard
Migration vs. immigration
Linguistic Atlases (maps of regional variations)
Language contact vs. linguistic isolation
Lexical differences across regions
Pail, swill, whiffletree (= a thick quilt)
Johnny cake, salt pork, darning needle (=dragonfly)
Blinds (roller blades)
Skillet (eaves)
Piece (food taken between meals)
Snake feeder (dragonfly)
Lightwood, lighter (kindling)
Hasslet (edible pig inner organs)
Chittlins (small intestines)
Phonological differences (regions)
[o] =/= [] (hoarse =/= horse)
[s] in ‘grease’ (V) and greasy
Vowel in ‘root’ and ‘wood’ are equal
Hoarse = horse (??)
Verb rounding (frog, hog, wasp, wash)
Monophthongization (single Verb) of ‘new’, ‘due’
Diphthongization of Tuesday, new, due
Final [z] in Mrs.
Monophthongization of ‘five’
Diphthongization of ‘ten’
Morphosyntactic Differences (Regions)
Double modals – hadn’t ought
Past tense been see
climb for climbed’ (past tense marker lost)
Uninflected be (How be you?)
clum for climbed’ (irregularization of past tense)
seen for saw (forms reduction/simplification)
you all =/= you (second person distinction)
Seed for saw (regularization)
holp for helped’ (irregularization)
Basic Definitions
Standard in the US:
Middle-class Midwesterners vs.
African-American Vernacular; Latino
English, or Spanglish, Appalachian, Old
poor Southerners, etc.
Some Fundamentals
Knowing non-standard dialects is helpful for
both teacher & students. In urban ghettos,
we find very little adjustment to school forms.
Many bidialectals, when in contact with a
super-ordinate (dominant) dialect, may reflect
their awareness of that dialect as much of
their own.
Nonstandard dialects should be studied within
their own system (in their own right), but
also in comparison to other dialects of English
(such as Standard English).
Some Common Non-Standard
Dialect Features
No [-ed] inflections (past participle, especially)
Double negation (He don’t want no trouble)
[i] becomes [e] before m/n
Zero copula (no is, are, am)
Habitual be
Non-redundant pluralization (the boys, but six boy)
Regularization of possessive pronouns (mine, yourn)
Regularization and Non-redundant plural in reflexive pronouns (hisself,
theirself vs. himself, themselves)
Object pronouns in subject position (specially in ‘compound subjects’)
(Us girls)
‘them’ as demonstrative adjective (them books)
Adjective = adverbs (good for both well/good)
Loss of 3rd person sing. marker(he want or I has)
[] becomes [n] in word-final position in [-ing] words.
Black English features
(‘Black English’ recognized legally in 1979)
‘zero copula’ [no is, am, are]
Pre-Verb been
Auxiliary done
De-fricativization of voiced interdental
Multiple negative
No –s inflection for 3rd person singular
Extend 3rd person to 1st or 2nd.
I has some good friends. He don’t be rub me
the wrong way. Dem books be boring.
William Labov (1970)
Non-standard varieties of English are rule-governed
systems and neither corrupt or inferior
Advocates understanding of AAVE as ignorance leads
to teacher-student conflict
Can not draw on intuitions of children or nonstandard speakers as the superordinate variety will
be reflected
“In general, one can say that whenever a speaker of
a nonstandard dialect is in a subordinate position to a
speaker of a standard dialect, the rules of his [sic.]
grammar will shift in an unpredictable manner
towards the standard”
Labov, continued…
Labov uses systematic analysis to connect the
meanings in non-standard and standard
He states it is important for teachers to be
able to understand the intended meaning to
be able to supply the standard equivalent
Differences between the varieties are not as
sharp as they first appear
Non-standard varieties are not inferior as a
means of communication – contrary to early
Linguists fight the myth that working class people and the less
educated speak a simpler or coarser language
It is usually only the ‘refined aspects’ of language (grammar,
pronunciation) that are noticed
“A language is a dialect with an army and a navy” (Max
Early conclusions that non-standard dialects were grammatically
deficient were based on subjects’ shy or sullen reactions to test
There are areas where AAVE (BEV) is more precise than the
standard variety:
He be working (he generally works, perhaps regularly)
He working (he is working at the time of the utterance)
Labov’s research showed that AAVE speakers had a vastly higher
percentage of grammatical utterances (within the system of the
dialect) than the norm – academics had the lowest
Rachel Jones
“Not White, Just Right”
Claims skills with Standard English opened doors that would
have otherwise been unattainable as a “poor black girl”
Frustrations ensue from the idea that black kids believe
speaking accurately is a white trait
Such kids are submitting to the idea that success is a “white
States that recognising languages such as “Ebonics” is a
“damning commentary on our history of inequality and lack of
access to equal educational opportunities in this country”
Claims Standard English has empowered her
Claims mastery of Standard English is important for any group
hoping to succeed in America
African American Vernacular
English (AAVE)
Also known as Black English, Ebonics,
CNN Report on Oakland Ebonics Decision
LSA Resolution on the Ebonics Issue
More on AAVE

LANGUAGE VARIATION - University of Florida