Author Archives: Haoqing Geng

Blog entry 10/21 – the search for social meaning

The three readings discuss the topic of linguistic variation, including dialects and vernacular accents, and how these variables carry ideological significance and meaning-making functions in society. Judith Irvine and Susan Gal’s notion on language ideology was referenced in all three papers; specifically, the semiotic process that demonstrates local language ideology through the association of linguistic features and users that belongs to certain social groups. Zhang referred to Pierre Bourdieu’s notion of the linguistic market to illustrate that linguistic symbols function to give meaning to the construction of work-place identity. Campbell-Kibler demonstrated that accent (and nonaccent) variables are perceived not as a continuum but as “a multidimensional landscape” that carry ideological weight, which has an effect on the perception of the accentedness and characteristics of the speaker (55). Eckert, drawing both papers as examples and discussing works by William Labov on the social class hierarchy and the relationship of the standard and vernacular dialects, delved more deeply into the process of meaning-making and started the scholarly conversation about variation and its social significance. By claiming that the social “is a meaning-making enterprise,” she directly linked linguistic variations and the indexical field to style construction and language ideology (472).

Both Zhang and Campbell-Kibler used quantitative methods to analyze their data and come up with a conclusion. According to Campbell-Kibler, qualitative data such as interviews can act as a pilot, complement, and check to quantitative analysis (35). This leads to a question: is a purely qualitative method possible to study and analyze topics in variational linguistics?

Discussion questions for Zhang 2005 “A Chinese yuppie in Beijing: Phonological variation and the construction of a new professional identity”

  1. Can the notion of linguistic market be thought of as a capitalist way of thinking, and is deeply rooted in the capitalist social structures (See pages 432 & 452)?
  2. Is identity-construction possible without being influenced by the sociocultural environment and language ideology? Can we discuss identity in idiosyncratic ways?
  3. Is identity construction as easy and surface-level as “picking and choosing” linguistic features and making a bricolage of stylistic “ensemble”? (456 & 457) 

Discussion questions for Eckert 2008 “Variation and the Indexical Field”

1. On page 455, Eckert denied the possibility of identity-claiming when speakers use certain features that are inductive to language change: “clearly, women (and men) are not saying ‘I’m a woman’ when they use a ‘female-led’ change, nor are they saying ‘I’m not a woman’ when they do not.” This claim seems to be unproved and easy to falsify. In some cases, speech pattern adoption can be a salient marker for identity expression. What do other speakers think?

2. Most of the work being done in sociolinguistics on variables and social change is in phonology and prosody. Are there semantic shifts that we can draw on to form ideas about the indexical field? Or is the study about semantics inherently ideological, thus making no need for the discussion about the semantic field? (See note 4 and page 454)

3. Is it only from variation that we can study the indexical field? What about meanings that don’t change, or ones that haven’t changed for an extended period of time? Do they exist? If so, can they complement the study of meaning-making and ideological connections?