Oral Presentation Session
Reviewed by: Society for Linguistic Anthropology
Of interest to: Practicing and Applied Anthropologists, Students, Those Involved in Mentoring Activities
Primary Theme: Identity and Equity
This panel explores the potential for mutual theoretical and methodological elaboration between variationist sociolinguistics and linguistic anthropology. While both disciplines focus on the study of language as a social and cultural phenomenon, the historical development of the two fields has resulted in divergent disciplinary perspectives. The two fields have established distinct methodological traditions, with variationist sociolinguists implementing rigorous and often quantitative analysis of linguistic forms, and linguistic anthropologists using ethnographic and qualitative methods to explore how linguistic practice relates to broader social processes.
The last decade has seen increasing efforts to a bridging of the two fields such that the implementation of the disciplines’ complementary perspectives can result in the advancement of theoretical and methodological issues of interest to both (e.g., Bucholtz and Hall 2008; Woolard 2008; Eckert 2012). Recent development in variationist sociolinguistics draws on insights from linguistic anthropology, particularly, treating sociolinguistic variation as a semiotic system (Eckert 2016; Silverstein 2016), revealing its indexical mutability, and elucidating the processes whereby sociolinguistic variation takes on indexical potential. Nevertheless, the analysis of fine-grained linguistic form and the implementation of quantitative methods have primarily remained within the domain of variationist sociolinguistics. Through a discussion of various studies incorporating insights from both fields, we argue that the use of variationist analytical methods largely missing in linguistic anthropological research can inform anthropological analysis of broader sociocultural issues and processes.
Centering on indexicality and enregisterment, three papers in the panel examine how “pure indexicals” (Silverstein 1976) swept up in enregisterment are used to enact legible personae among a group of African American speakers in Rochester, New York, a community of San Francisco drag queens, and participants in a Chinese television entertainment program respectively. Two papers further explore the process of enregisterment by combining experimental, quantitative and qualitative tools to illuminate the understanding of Pierce’s interpretant, one using data from Bolivian Quechua and the other examining L2-accented English. The last paper explores the consequences of operationalization—a process whereby social phenomena are conceptualized as quantitative variables—using sociophonetic data with trans communities in the Western United States. Together, these papers illustrate the ways in which the integration of both fields’ theoretical and methodological tools can produce a more sophisticated and rigorous analysis of sociolinguistic variability.