• Speaker Variable: Age
 Interactions with Gender
 Sociolinguistic competence in Children
Key terms
Sex-related variability: Differentiation of speech behavior
between males and females related to physiological,
neurological and biological factors.
Gender-related variability: Differentiation of speech
behavior between males and females related to gender
• Speaker Variable: Gender
Eckert, 1998: “Gender and Sociolinguistic
Eckert, 1988: “Adolescent social structure and
the spread of linguistic change”
Gal, 1997: “Peasant men can’t get wives”
Traditional generalization regarding gender differences in speech:
“Women use fewer stigmatized and non-standard variants than do
men of the same social group in the same circumstances. “
Chambers, p. 102
Traditional explanations for the generalization
On what basis do authors relate women to “standard variants”?
The last word?
Studies of Language Variation:
Men and women in different cultures stand in different relations to linguistic
Exclusion from workplace
Obtain jobs where required to be “technicians of language”
Given responsibilities for representing an organization
A clear delineation of gender roles in society becomes associated with
clear distinctions in male and female use of sociolinguistic markers
Where gender roles also signal differences in social mobility, we may
expect other factors to interact with gender: e.g., education, social class
Theoretical Goal:
--explain the mechanisms whereby phonological change spreads outward
from urban areas and upward through the socioeconomic hierarchy
Research Goal:
--in a social network study, examine adolescent’s use of innovatory and
conservative linguistic forms
Eckert 1988: Belten High Study
vowels show flux in this dialect:
(ae) bad [Q] to raised variant [e]
(uh) cut ranges from [√] to backed [ç]
(ay) right monopthongizes to [a˘]
advances with proximity to Detroit
advances with proximity to Detroit
advances with distance from Detroit
Sociolinguistic Competence
A fluent speaker’s knowledge (largely tacit) of admissible variation in language,
the types of social meaning that may be embedded in language, and the rules
governing alternative structural choices.
•Language forms index social categories (genders, social classes, ages,
regional origins, social networks) and stylistic registers
e.g., post-vocalic /r/. Variants: {[®], ø} ”transmitter to receiver”
e.g., (ae)-tensing. Variants: {[iQ], [e´], [Q]} ”cat”
e.g., (-ing)-alternation. Variants: {[IN], [In]} ”singin’”
•A comprehensive theory of language accounts for speakers’ knowledge of:
systemic potential (Is Alternation X part of my system?)
appropriateness (Is Alternation X effective or suitable in this context?)
occurrence (Is Alternation X done, and likely to be understood by another speaker?)
feasibility (Is Alternation X possible, given means of implementation available?)
Milestones in Linguistic
3 months: Linguistic Precursors
Child’s physiology gets ready for speech (lowering of larynx,articulatory control)
5 months: Babbling
Early babbling (5-6 mos) “aaaaa”, “bababababa,” “pppppppp”
Canonical babbling (7-10 mos) “mada,” “dele”
12 months: One-Word Stage
Protowords: consistent phonetic form used to refer to something (e.g., “yaya” juice)
Holophrastic speech: A single word used to convey an entire utterance, e.g. “allgone”
18-24 months: Two-Word Stage
Emergence of syntax, e.g. “Give ball”
>18 months: There’s no Three-Word stage!
Baby t al k , B a by t alk
Chi ld’s la n g uage ac qu isition is
“The great e st in tell e ctual feat
any one of u s is e ver re q uir e d to
perfo rm .”
-- L e o n a rd Bl oom fi e ld (1933)
Categorical vs. Variable
Linguistic forms may occur categorically, or show fluctuation
Fluctuating forms occur with a likelihood or probability value (non-random,
(largely) Categorical feature:
In right-branching languages, determiners will appear to the left of the nouns they modify
(“the snowstorm”)
Tensing of short-a (Northern Midwest dialects) ”cat”
(largely) Variable feature:
Postvocalic /r/ deletion in informal settings “Park the car in Harvard yard.”
Double-modal constructions “She might could want to come.”
Can occur at any level of the grammar
The issue
Acquisition of variation
child learners expect language to contain and
employ socially meaningful variation
 Adults, not children, have been subject of
sociolinguistic studies of variation
 But, how does systematic variability develop?
What does it look like?
Difficulties Obtaining Child Speech
Chevrot, et al. (2000), Roberts (2002)
Developmental variation due to differences in physiological and cognitive
Patterns reflecting imitation
Distinguishing word-by-word (“lexical”) learning from rule-based learning
Testing difficulties: attentional fluctuation (often resulting in insufficient
amounts of data to be representative of the speaker)
Low intelligibility of utterances (less so for preschool age)
Possibility of DIFFERENT stylistic or social goals (different form-meaning
mapping than in adults)
Early Perspectives
Labov (1964)
Categorical features first
Vernacular (=dialectal) forms predicted to be acquired LATE in
adolescence (10-12)
Standard forms acquired later (around age 14) under contact with other
members of the linguistic community outside of their friends and family.
“By the age of six a child exposed to English will have constructed the grammar of
his language. This does not mean that no further development of his knowledge
of language is possible. ...We also learn certain less usual constructions of the
language. These exceptional or marked patterns of the language are not taken to
be part of the core grammar of the language, they belong to the marked
periphery of the grammar and may be acquired later. The native speaker will also
have to learn all of the social or cultural conventions associated with his language,
for instance, that certain words belong to a very high style whereas others are
informal. These conventions are not part of the grammar, they belong to the more
general domain of human behavior.” (Haegeman 2005, p. 17)
Crosslinguistic Evidence: studies of
acquisition of variability in children
For what ages has systematic variation been found?
Fischer (1958) British English (t,d), (-ing): social variation ages 3-10
Roberts (1994, 1996, 1997) American English (Philadelphia variety), (t,d): both, ages
Díaz-Campos (2005) Venezuelan Spanish, intervocalic-d deletion: both, ages 3-5
Sankoff and Blondeau (2006) Montreal French trilled /r/ vs. uvular /R/: both, ages 3;64;11
Purcell (1984) Hawaiian Creole English, various variables: both, 5-12
Chevrot, Beaud & Varga (2000) Southeastern French /R/: both, ages 6-7
Romaine (1978) Scottish English trilled /r/: social and stylistic, ages 6-8
Fischer (1958) British English (t,d): stylistic variation ages 10-11
Reid (1978) Scottish English glottal stop, (-ing) alternation: stylistic, age 11
American English (Philadelphia area)
Roberts (1994,6,7)
16 children ages 3;2-4;11
obtained large amounts of data; a range of
styles (6-13 sessions/child)
deletion of final (-t,d) in consonant clusters
adult’s patterns: (most deletion to least
Grammatical constraint:
monomorphemes, e.g., next [nEks]
semi-weak verbs, e.g., lost, slept [las]
regular past tense forms missed [mIs]
Phonological constraint:
delete more for a following
“past tense”>”past us”> “ran past.”
•Preschoolers similar to adults:
–phonological constraints
•Rule-based not word-based
–semiweak verbs treated
differently from adult
semiweak forms
•Social constraints less-well
Venezuelan Spanish
Díaz-Campos (2005)
36 children in 2 cohorts: ages 42-53 mos
(3;6 - 4;5) and 54-71 mos (4;6 - 5;11)
Working (WC) and middle (MC) social
Targeted 2 speech styles
Do children's productions fluctuate in a
manner showing sensitivity to formality?
Examined interaction between
socioeconomic class and age (to tease
apart developmental effects)
intervocalic /d/-spirantization
e.g., boda [boDa]
Again, preschoolers similar to adults
Both social classes deleted more in
informal than formal styles
•Deletion levels in younger
cohort suggest this is not a
maturational, but a
sociolinguistic effect:
WC=28% MC=10%
•Concludes that
preschoolers are showing
adult-like command of a
variable linguistic feature.
Southeastern French
Chevrot, Beaud & Varga (2000)
60 children ages 6-7, 10-12
Exp. 1: Studied deletion of postconsonantal, word-final /R/ (e.g., sucre,
vinaigre, coffre)
Exp. 2: Pseudoword experiment tests rulevs. lexical-based learning
“bydeincre,” “maullopre”
Factors tested: age, formality of situation,
phonological environment
Findings (Exp. 1):
6-7 yr olds deleted more than 10-12 yr olds
more deletions in informal than in formal
Following phonological environment is most
crucial predictor of deletion
Older children show a stronger stylistic
Findings (Exp. 2):
written prompts lead to conservation
of /R/, whereas oral learning
associated with style-based
deletions commensurate with Exp. 1
Conclusions: phonological
constraint emerges prior to age 6;
sociolinguistic constraint emerges
around age 6-7
lexical learning ruled out
•Descriptive coverage (Romance and Germanic)
•Phonological variation only
•Lexical learning not completely ruled out
Insights from Rohan
home environment:
English/Sinhalese/Jamaican Creole
first words 10-12 mos (“mama,”
“dada,” “amma”)
68 words, 14 mos
earliest signs of phonological
variation, 17 mos
(17 mos.)
Insights from Rohan
(1) postvocalic-r
heart, harbor, mirror*, shark
“Amma says /ha˘t/; you [Mommy] say /ha®t/”
(23 mos.)
“Trevor is at the ‘[ha˘ b´]’ Is it ‘/ha®˘b´®/’,
Mommy?” (23 mos.)
“mirror”  [mi®´]
“shark”  [Sa˘k] (“babytalk style”, 26 mos. to
(2) tensing of short-(i) (Eastern US)
“locomotive” [ti˘v]
generalized to “detective”
(36 mos.)
*deletion in syllable-initial contexts prohibited (mi-ROR)
Current Perspective
Children do acquire socially-influenced variable patterns prior to
Children become socially competent language users early--as they acquire
Simultaneity of acquisition of variable and categorical features makes it
difficult to defend a view that sociolinguistic competence vis a vis
acquisition of variation is layered on top of or follows “basic acquisition.”
Adult-modeled variation may be instructive for learning styles