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?