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Guide to Linguistic Theories, Research and Concepts | Language Variation

Beth Kemp | Monday August 08, 2011

Categories: Hot Entries, Linguistics Theory & Study, Linguistic Theory, Using Theory


This topic is concerned with dialect, in terms of regional and social variations which impact people’s use of phonology, lexis, semantics and grammar.  These social variations include aspects such as class, age, race and occupation, all of which can affect people’s language use (note that gender and interaction has its own guide as so much work has been done in this area, and some English Language specifications treat it as a separate topic to Variation).

Studying variation is concerned with three main questions:

  • How does one variety of English vary from others?

In answering this, students are mainly asked to describe ways in which a usage differs from the norm, so this is mainly an AO1 aspect of their study, making use of technical knowledge of phonology, lexis, semantics and grammar. 

Note that what defines terms such as ‘standard’ or ‘the norm’ and where a ‘dialect’ or ‘variety’ differs from a ‘language’ are fascinating questions, but not ones that A Level students are typically expected to explicitly address in exams or coursework.

  • Why do people use non-standard varieties of English?

This area requires knowledge of theories and concepts which seek to explain why we make the choices that we do.  Many of these concepts can be supported by reference to sociolinguistic research studies, providing evidence of trends and correlations in terms of usage choices of different groups of people.  This aspect of studying variation requires both AO2 knowledge in terms of theories, concepts and research and AO3 work interpreting the context in which particular language features are selected and used.

  • What impact do non-standard varieties have?

This angle is also well-served by research studies, particularly those which offer evidence of people’s attitudes to different varieties and the impact that choices of standard or non-standard usages have in our lives.  The theoretical discussion here is also accompanied...

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