Colloquium: James Stanford

Event Date: 

Thursday, October 5, 2017 - 3:30pm

Event Location: 

  • South Hall 3605

Speaker: James Stanford (Dartmouth)

Topic: Variationist Approaches in Lesser-Studied Language Communities: New Opportunities and Challenges

Reception: All are invited to a reception following the talk

Variationist Approaches in Lesser-Studied Language Communities: New Opportunities and Challenges


James N. Stanford

Dartmouth College


Traditionally, the Labovian paradigm of quantitative variationist sociolinguistics (e.g., 1966, 1972, 2001) has largely focused on English and other well-known languages in industrialized Western societies. As a result, many of the classic sociolinguistic principles have lacked perspectives from diverse, lesser-studied, non-Western communities. But this situation is changing as an increasing number of variationist sociolinguists are examining underrepresented languages. At the same time, an increasing number of field linguists are quantifying variation in their language descriptions and documentation. 

Using field results from Sui, Ersu, Zhuang, Lalo, Hmong, and other minority languages around the world, this talk shows how lesser-studied languages can inform sociolinguistics, and conversely, how variationist approaches can inform field descriptions and other areas of linguistics. For example, research on Sui (Guizhou, China) shows how the local clan-based traditions of Sui society are more relevant to understanding language variation and gendered language usage than Labov's classic large-scale socioeconomic patterns. On the other hand, recent work on Ersu (Sichuan, China) suggests that contact-induced phonological change in an endangered language can occur along socioeconomic lines in ways that reflect Labov’s models. The talk also points out the increasing opportunities for fruitful collaboration on research of this type, as variationist sociolinguists and linguists from other branches of linguistics draw upon their complementary strengths and interests.