Style Handout 4/3

Merissa and Megan
ENG 518 Crawford Spr. 06
“Style” and Sociolinguistics
“Our speech, that is, all our utterances (including creative works), is filled with others’ words, varying
degrees of otherness or varying degrees of ‘our-own-ness’, varying degrees of awareness and detachment.
These words of others carry with them their own expression, their own evaluative tone, which we assimilate,
rework, and re-accentuate”
~ M.M. Bakhtin (1981b: 89) as quoted by Schilling-Estes (2002: 391)
Stylistic Variation
Stylistic Variation involves variation in the speech of individual speakers.
This is called intra-speaker variation.
Types of variation include:
1. dialect
2. register
3. genre
Types of style as noted by Trudgill and Tannen
1. “formal” – high usage of specific phonological & morphosyntactical features
2. “conversational” – broad interactional patterns of complete discourses
Early studies examined formality of situations, audience composition, and such factors as:
1. topic
3. key (joking vs. serious)
2. setting
4. channel (spoken vs. written)
5. purpose
Recent studies utilize ethnographical, anthropological, sociological, and other approaches so as
to find patterns in the salient linguistic features of individuals (and within their communities). In this
manner, researchers may better learn how individuals categorize language use, other people, and the
world as a whole.
Investigations of style shifting include both linguistic and paralinguistic features
1. phonological
1. intonation
1. hair
2. morphosyntactic
2. clothing
3. lexical
3. make-up
4. pragmatic/interactional
4. body positioning
5. use of space
3 Major Approaches to Stylistic Variation
Attention to Speech
William Labov conducted the first investigations through sociolinguistic interviews in order to
capture “casual” and “natural” speech not altered by the presence of an observer.
Paralinguistic Channel Cues – changes in:
1. tempo
3. volume
2. pitch
4. breathing rate
5. use of laughter
Labov believed style shifts came about based on how much people exercised attention to their
speech – i.e. self-consciousness.
Patterning – stylistic variation parallels social class variation
Bell’s Style Axiom: Variation on the style dimension within speech of a single speaker derives
from and echoes the variation which exists between speakers on the “social” dimension
Exceptions to patterning
1. Statistical hypercorrection – use of higher rather than lower levels of standard variants in middle
class vs. upper class in more formal styles
2. “Hyperstyle” variables – show far more stylistic variation than social class variation for all
social groups
3. Hyperdialectism (Trudgill) – overgeneralizing into environments where highly noticeable
features of dialect contact aren’t linguistically expected
Limitations to Attention to Speech Approach
1. Separation of casual vs. careful speech is difficult
2. Channel cues are unreliable
3. Level of formality can’t be correlated with attention to speech
B. Speaker Design Approach
Under this approach, stylistic variation is examined through “the active creation, presentation,
and re-creation of speaker identity.” Identity encompasses personal as well as interpersonal dimensions.
Speaker Agency – why people make stylistic choices
Factors that can influence language choice:
1. audience
3. setting
5. key
2. topic
4. purpose
6. frame
*purpose, key, frame are speakerinternal
The importance of phonological variants
- carry connotations of group belonging – particular attributes of group (not group as whole)
- individuals, idealizations
Social Definition
- stylistic variation leads to social change
- define situations and groups
- groups and individuals change styles
as usage progresses
Limitations to Speaker Design Approach
1. (Bell) – not predictable, but interpretable
2. (Coupland) – audience-related, attention-related, interplay of message content, status relationships,
role relationships, linguistic function, linguistic form
3. Generalization is inappropriate because we are looking at intra-speaker variational patterns, not
patterns in existence across social groups.
Eckert (2000: 69): “The challenge in the study of the social meaning of variation is to find the relation
between the local and the global – to find the link between speakers’ linguistic ways of negotiating
identity and relations in their day-to-day lives, and their place in the social stratification of linguistic
variation that transcends local boundaries.” – As quoted by Schilling-Estes (2002: 393)
C. Audience Design Approach
Style shifting occurs in response to audience members, not from self-consciousness toward
speech. The basis of this approach is Speech Accommodation Theory.
Convergence and Divergence
1. Speech rate
3. Pausing
2. Content
4. “Accent”
Other Audience Members
1. Auditors – ratified participants not directly addressed
2. Overhearers – non-participants known to be within hearing range
3. Eavesdroppers – unratified people not known to be present
Dimensions of Audience Design
1. Responsive – speech is shaped in response to addressee(s)
2. Initiative – particular motivation to use particular speech in particular situation with
Limitations to Audience Design Approach
1. Heavy reliance on the responsive dimension.
2. Unclear on identifying marked (unexpected) vs. unmarked (expected) style, as they can both
create meaning
3. Personal characteristics – Responding to ethnicity? Familiarity? Age? Gender? Individual
4. Too unidimensional – Topic effects derive from audience effects?
The Future
Stylistic variation is essential in creating and projecting (performing) one’s personal identity. Listener
perception must also be taken into account; when do people notice style shifting and how do they
interpret such shifting? Are patterns apparent and interpretable? These questions and concerns about
identification through language use are all part of what linguistics view as the very start of finding the
meaning of “style.”