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William Labov’s Quantitative Researches in Sociolinguistics

The choice of a variant is submitted to definite regularities. This variation is determinate. So, which factors determine the choice of variants in a person’s speech?

W.Labov and his following say that linguistic behavior depends on such social conditions as the socio-economic status of a speaker, his age and sex. The quantitative and the qualitative approaches are used in studying the influence of social factors on the choice of linguistic variants.

W.Labov is the father of the quantitative approach. One of his works which is dedicated to the social stratification of English language in New York has caused the increase of the quantitative researches.

W.Labov studied the difference in the pronouncing of [r] after vowels (for example, in the word ,park) by New York residents. He came to a conclusion that the pronouncing of the sound is a sign of a person’s high social class position. The research shows that one should not ignore the social and economic differentiation of society while learning languages.

In New York W.Labov also studied the difference in the pronouncing of (th) in such words as three and thing. The results showed that the lower social strata used [t] in 90% of cases, the best social circles used it in less than 15% of cases. However, the percentage of pronouncing [t] decreased in formal and well prepared speech.

The conclusion that linguistic behavior depends on social and stylistic context is of primary importance.

The quantitative researches in sociolinguistics show a very close connection between the development of language and the development of society. They also prove that external factors have an influence on the choice of variants.


One thought on “William Labov’s Quantitative Researches in Sociolinguistics

  1. I would like to add that Labovians are, probably, the largest but by no means the only group of American scholars interested in the way language is influenced by the society and influences it, in its turn.
    One of the shortcomings of Labov’s group’s work is their concentrating on the phonetic phenomena (and, to a lesser extent, the structure of narratives) while the structure of lexicon and, still more so, the structure of discourse have more explicit ties with the ideology and social srtucture, which is demostrated in the papers of Deborah Schiffrin and Deborah Tannen and other discourse specialists.
    The other factor which makes the picture more complex is the changing structure of the society itself. W.Labov believed that when people control their speech they try to imitate the speech of upper classes. But recent research shows, for example, that middle-class men tend to project a working class male’s image, considering it to be more masculine.

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