Sociolinguistics Symposium 21

  • Dennis Preston (Oklahoma State University, USA)
  • Rebecca Clift (University of Essex, England)
  • Laura Wright (University of Cambridge, England)
  • David Britain (University of Bern, Switzerland)
  • Francisco Moreno-Fernández (University of Alcalá de Henares, Spain, and Harvard University, USA)
  • Kathryn Woolard (University of California, San Diego, USA)


Dennis R. Preston

Short Bio:

Dennis PrestonDennis R. Preston (Regents Professor, Oklahoma State University and University Distinguished Professor Emeritus, Michigan State University; Ph.D., University of Wisconsin-Madison) has been visiting professor at the Universities of Indiana Southeast, SUNY Oswego, Hawaii, Arizona, Michigan, Canterbury (New Zealand, as an Erskine Fellow), Copenhagen, Berkeley, Colorado, and Chicago and Fulbright Senior Researcher in Poland and Brazil; he is currently Co-Director of the Center for Oklahoma Studies at Oklahoma State University and Director of RODEO (Research on the Dialects of English in Oklahoma). He was Co-Director of the 1990 Teachers of English as a Second Language (TESOL) Institute and Director of the 2003 Linguistic Society of America Institute, both at Michigan State. He was President of the American Dialect Society (2001-02) and has served on the Executive Boards of that society, the International Conference on Methods in Dialectology, New Ways of Analyzing Variation, and the Linguistic Society of America, as well as the editorial boards of Language, Impact, International Journal of Applied Linguistics, Kwartalkik Filologiczny, Journal of Sociolinguistics, Language and Immigration, and others and as an evaluator for numerous other institutions, journals, publishers, and granting agencies. His work focuses on sociolinguistics and dialectology, particularly the revitalization of folk linguistics and perceptual dialectology and variationist accounts of second language acquisition. He has directed four major National Science Foundation grants, two in folk linguistics and two in language variation and change and was a member of the International Advisory Committee for the LANCHART (Language Change in Real Time) project at the University of Copenhagen and the sociolinguistic survey of Helsinki as well as others and was recently made a founding member of the advisory board of the Walter Benjamin Kolleg at the University of Bern. He is invited frequently for presentations in both academic and popular venues. His most recent book-length publications include, with James Stanford, Variation in indigenous languages (2009); with Nancy Niedzielski, A reader in sociophonetics (2010); and, with Alexei Prikhodkine, Responses to language varieties: Variability, processes and outcomes (2105). He is a fellow of the Japan Society for the Promotion of Science and the Linguistic Society of America and was awarded the Officer's Cross of the Order of Merit of the Polish Republic in 2004. He is a recipient of the University Distinguished Faculty Award and the Paul Varg Alumni Award of the College of Arts and Letters, both at Michigan State. He is a long-standing friend of the Sociolinguistic Symposium and presented his first plenary at #11, twenty years ago at the meeting in Cardiff in 1996.

Plenary Session 1: Where to find attitudes (and what to do with them): Origins, triggers, and pathways

Many now agree that language attitude research is important to the theoretical foundations of variation and change. If you do not, please re-read and re-think the remarks on the evaluation problem in Weinreich, Labov, and Herzog (1968).

The theory of language change must establish empirically the subjective correlates of the several layers and variables in a heterogeneous structure. Such subjective correlates of evaluations cannot be deduced from the place of the variables within linguistic structure. Furthermore, the level of social awareness is a major property of linguistic change which must be determined directly (186).

Recently, there has been an explosion of interest in language attitudes (e.g., Preston and Niedzielski (2010), Dialectologia Special Issue II (2011), Prikhodkine and Preston (2015), Babel (2016), and numerous theses, dissertations, and journal articles), happily taken up by a number of disciplinary and interdisciplinary specializations, which include at least sociolinguistics (broadly conceived), anthropological linguistics, discourse and conversation analysis, the social psychology of language, and folk linguistics (including perceptual dialectology), each with different perspectives and methodological approaches, and, perhaps less helpfully, different terminologies — often for what appear to be the same things. I will not produce a new list of idiosyncratic redefinitions of that terminological richness nor a historical review of various approaches; for the latter, please see Peter Garret's comprehensive Attitudes to Language (2010).

What I will try to do, however, is place the major findings (and diverse terminologies) of these approaches into a cognitive flowchart, one that focuses on the three factors suggested in the subtitle. 1) Origins: What facts and what sorts of facts made entire languages/varieties, and even parts of them salient to attitudinal response in the first place? That is, what brought about the cognitive inventories we possess that are relevant to language attitudes? 2) Triggers: What must happen in our experience to bring about specific instances of attitudinal responding? 3) Pathways: How are alternative responses (e.g., positive vs. negative) and alternative types of responses (e.g., conscious vs. nonconscious) to the same data triggers activated?

You might want to come to this talk equipped with your own understandings of such concepts as enregisterment, salience, consciousness (explicit vs. implicit), indexicality (and indexical field or attitudinal cognitorium), standard and nonstandard, prestige and nonprestige, destandardization and demotization, and language ideologies.  

I hope also to make this talk practical in the presentation of a proposed taxonomy of research approaches that touches on the above cognitive outline and encourages interdisciplinary approaches.


Rebecca Clift

Short Bio:

Rebecca CliftRebecca Clift did her M.Phil, and then a PhD on ‘Misunderstandings in Conversation', at Cambridge University, and is now Senior Lecturer in the Department of Language and Linguistics at the University of Essex. She teaches Pragmatics and Conversation Analysis, has supervised PhDs on interaction in Arabic, Greek, Spanish, Persian, German, French, and English. She co-edited, with Elizabeth Holt, the Cambridge University Press volume ‘Reporting Talk' on reported speech in interaction, and has published articles in Language, Language in Society and other leading journals in Linguistics and social interaction. Her recent research has focused on, amongst other things, embodiment and laughter in conversation, and she is currently engaged in examining a substantial corpus of videoed family interaction. Her textbook on Conversation Analysis in the ‘Cambridge Textbooks in Linguistics' series is forthcoming with Cambridge University Press.

Plenary Session 2: Agency and autonomy in indirection

Why might a parent say to a child ‘Is that your coat on the floor?' as a means of getting them to pick it up, rather than using a directive, ‘Pick up your coat'?

Work on indirect utterances has focused exclusively on what the speaker is assumed to gain from indirectness. In contrast, this talk uses insights and data – both audio- and video-recorded – from Conversation Analysis (CA) to illuminate observable recipient conduct as a means of identifying the interactional motivations for a speaker to be indirect. Central to the analysis is the observation that recipients do work of various kinds to exert agency in response; to establish that what they are doing has a degree of autonomy, rather than being purely acquiescent in response to a prior turn. It turns out that linguistic mechanisms deployed in the pursuit of autonomy figure centrally in this empirically-grounded account of indirectness.


Laura Wright

Short Bio:

Laura WrightLaura Wright is a Reader in English Language at the University of Cambridge.  She works on the history of the London dialect, and as a result, her focus is multilingual.  Her most recent books are Codes-witching in Early English, co-edited with Herbert Schendl (Mouton, 2011), and The Use and Development of Middle English, co-edited with Richard Dance  (Peter Lang, 2012).  In recent work she has focussed on the language of trade: ("Kiss Me Quick: on the Naming of Commodities in Britain, 1650 to the First World War", in Esther-Miriam Wagner, ed. Merchants of Innovation: the Language of Traders  (Mouton, in press); and  "From ‘Lavender Water' to ‘Kiss Me, You Dare!': Shifting Linguistic Norms in the Perfume Industry, 1700-1900", in Giovanni Iamartino and Laura Wright, eds. Textus (in press).  She is currently part of the Multilingual Practices in the History of Written English project, University of Tampere, with Päivi Pahta, Arja Nurmi, Janne Skaffari, Jukka Tuominen and Jukka Tyrkkö.

Plenary Session 3: Sunnyside

The Oxford English Dictionary's first reference to eggs sunnyside up is 1901.  Sunnyside was the title of a Charlie Chaplin film of 1919, in which Charlie works as a farmhand.  Keep Your Sunnyside Up, Up was a hit from the film Sunny Side Up of 1929, written by Buddy De Sylva, Lew Brown and Ray Henderson, as was On the Sunny Side of the Street, written by Jimmy McHugh and Dorothy Fields, 1930, both depression-era songs being about maintaining optimism in the face of adversity.  Sunnyside is a common British house-name, associated with suburban nineteen-twenties and thirties semi-detached housing of the lower-middle and upper-working classes.  The British Royal Mail database available to the public for looking up postcodes (that is, not configured for linguists searching for house names) presently returns 14,703 hits for Sunnyside in the UK.  Yet prior to 1859, so far as I can discover, there were no houses called Sunnyside in London at all.

There is no scholarly history of British house names.  Place names have been studied for nearly a century by the English Place-Name Society (begun by the great Sir Allan Mawer (1879-1942), son of a commercial traveller in fancy trimmings from Bow) but the Scottish and Welsh Place-Name Societies are very new and even the English volumes have included farm names only sporadically.  Writing the history of house names is therefore a challenge.  Yet choice of house-name reveals social information about the namer. Our earliest English literature (Beowulf) contains a house-name (Heorot), suggesting that the practice of naming the building where one lives is old.

My talk will focus on the extraordinary history of Sunnyside, a seemingly semantically transparent name.  I identify the early adopters in London, probe what it is that they have in common, and follow their social networks back to earlier users.  This procedure leads far away both in place and in time, to outside the British Isles, and into prerecorded history.


David Britain

Short Bio:

David BritainDavid Britain is Professor of Modern English Linguistics at the University of Bern in Switzerland, where he has worked since 2010. His research interests embrace language variation and change, varieties of English (especially in Southern England, the Southern Hemisphere and the Pacific), dialect contact and attrition, dialect ideologies, and the dialectology-human geography interface, especially with respect to space/place, urban/rural and the role of mobilities. He is editor of Language in the British Isles (Cambridge University Press, 2007), co-editor (with Jenny Cheshire) of Social Dialectology (Benjamin, 2003), and co-author of Linguistics: an Introduction (with Andrew Radford, Martin Atkinson, Harald Clahsen and Andrew Spencer) (Cambridge University Press, 2nd edition 2009). Dave is also currently an Associate Editor of the Journal of Sociolinguistics and is on the editorial board of Journal of Linguistic Geography, English Language and Linguistics and English World-Wide.

Plenary Session 4: Up, app and away?: Social dialectology and the use of smartphone technology as a data collection strategy

The most recent systematic countrywide portrait of the dialect landscape of England is the Survey of English Dialects (SED), conceived by Harold Orton and Eugen Dieth in 1946 and finally completed in 1978 with the publication of the Linguistic Atlas of England. Mostly older rural men from over 300 villages across England each endured four days of answering an orally administered questionnaire.

While there has been no similar survey since, repeating the SED seems inconceivable today. It is highly unlikely that anyone would invest that much time and that much money on such a venture. Dialectological methods have changed, our questions about language variation have moved on from the regional – we would, I imagine, want to invest the time, energy and finances elsewhere. And we just wouldn't want to do it that way anymore.  Yet the SED remains a valuable and oft-cited resource and later atlas-oriented dialect surveys have proven to be immensely valuable in portraying at the regional and national scales language changes that have been identified at the local level (e.g. Labov, Ash and Boberg's 2006Atlas of North American English).

Here I present an attempt to gather, rather more quickly and rather more cheaply, contemporary countrywide dialect evidence from England using a smartphone application. With colleagues Adrian Leemann, Marie-José Kolly, Dani Wanitsch, Sarah Grossenbacher and Melanie Calame, the English Dialects app was built, based on a very successful earlier app for Swiss German dialects. I outline both how the English app developed from the Swiss one and how it collects data of different kinds from users, as well as discussing its reception and adoption since its launch in January 2016.

What the app does not do is collect data of a kind that contemporary dialectological practice would ordinarily deem to be sufficiently ‘authentic' or ‘vernacular'. I too admit to having been uncomfortable about the kind of data it would collect and what of value it would bring. In reflecting methodologically about the app, I present not only what are clearly weaknesses of the app, but also reflect upon on what this very different way of collecting data tells us about contemporary practice. In other words, in critiquing the data from the app, certain problematic aspects of current approaches come to the fore. 

I end by presenting and interpreting some of the results of the app – maps, to some extent socially sensitive, of a number of salient variable forms in the English dialects spoken across England.


Labov, W., Ash, S. and Boberg, C. (2006). Atlas of North American English. Berlin: Mouton de Gruyter.

Orton, H. et al. (1962–71). Survey of English Dialects: Basic Materials. Introduction and 4 vols. (each in 3 parts). Leeds: E. J. Arnold & Son.

Orton, H.,Widdowson, J. and Upton, C. (1978).Linguistic Atlas of England. London: Croom Helm.


Francisco Moreno-Fernández

Short Bio:

Francisco Moreno-FernándezFrancisco Moreno-Fernández holds a PhD in Hispanic Linguistics and is Professor of Spanish Language in the University of Alcalá (Spain). He pursues research in sociolinguistics, dialectology, and applied linguistics. He has been Academic Director of the "Instituto Cervantes" (2008-2013) and a visiting researcher at the universities of London, New York, (SUNY – Albany), Québec (Montreal), and Tokyo as well as visiting professor at Göteborg, University (Sweden), Universidade de Sao Paulo (Brazil), University of Illinois at Chicago, Brigham Young University, and Pontificia Universidad Católica de Chile. Corresponding Member of the Spanish Royal Academy, the Cuban Academy of Language and the Northamerican Academy of the Spanish Language. Since 2013 he is Director of the Instituto Cervantes at Harvard University (Observatory of the Spanish Language and Hispanic Cultures in the United States).

Moreno-Fernández is co-editor of Spanish in Context (John Benjamins) and General Editor of Lengua y migración / Language / Migration (University of Alcala). He belongs to the Editorial Board of the journals: International Journal of the Sociology of Language, Journal of Linguistic Geography,Journal of World Languages, Boletín de Filología de la Universidad de Chile, Lingüística Española Actual, Revista Internacional de Lingüística Iberoamericana, and Oralia.

He is author of Historia social de las lenguas de España (2005), Spanish in Spain: The Sociolinguistics of Bilingual Areas (2007), The Sociolinguistics of Spanish: Social History, Norm, Variation and Change in Spain (2008), Principios de Sociolingüística y sociología del Lenguaje (4th ed. 2008), La lengua española en su geografía (2010), Sociolingüística cognitiva (2012), Spanish Revolution. Ensayo sobre los lenguajes indignados (2014), and La maravillosa historia del español (2015), among others.

Plenary Session 5: Comparative sociolinguistics and massive surveys. About null direct objects in Spanish

This presentation will be built around these two fundamental interests: on the one hand, the interest in syntactic change, its causes and consequences, and on the other hand, an interest in experimentation in the field of methodology, especially by collecting data on a large scale. My goals are, first of all, to practice a comparative sociolinguistics and to reflect on the processes of variation and change on a large geographic scale in an international language like Spanish. To do this I will analyze the emergence and development of direct null objects in Spanish from different geographical areas. I will also analyze the advantages of massive online surveys as a method to gather language materials using a technology with global reach.


Kathryn Woolard

Short Bio:

Kathryn WoolardKathryn Woolard is a linguistic anthropologist (Ph.D. University of California, Berkeley, 1983) and professor of Anthropology at the University of California, San Diego. She has conducted fieldwork on the sociolinguistic situation in Catalonia over more than 30 years, and has also published on Spanish-English language politics in the U.S. and on language ideology, race and religion in early modern Spain. Woolard is author of Double Talk; Bilingualism and the Politics of Ethnicity in Catalonia (Stanford 1989/2014) and Singular and Plural: Ideologies of Linguistic Authority in 21st Century Catalonia (Oxford University Press, forthcoming May 2016). Woolard is also known for her collaborative work in establishing the study of language ideologies. With Bambi Schieffelin and Paul Kroskrity, she co-edited Language Ideologies: Practice and Theory (Oxford, 1998), and with Susan Gal,  Language and Publics: The Making of Authority (St. Jerome 2001/Routledge 2014).

Woolard is a recent fellow of the Netherlands Institute for Advanced Studies (2013-14), past fellow of the Center for Advanced Study in the Behavioral Sciences (1999-2000), past president of the Society for Linguistic Anthropology (2009-11), and a fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences (elected 2013). She is a past associate editor of Language in Society and is currently associate editor for linguistic anthropology of the American Anthropologist and a member of the editorial committee of the Annual Review of Anthropology.

Plenary Session 6: Attitudes and Ideologies

Twenty-five years ago, linguistic anthropologists from diverse analytic traditions joined forces to forward a collective research agenda on language ideologies, understood as selective, interested cultural conceptions of the nature of language and of its role in social life. The effort was to advance research on the intersection of language and social life by bringing into focus the effects generated by social actors' own construals and representations of that intersection of language and society. The premise was that language ideology is not just an epiphenomenon, but rather a mediating link between social and linguistic structures that reflexively affects the form of each. Therefore, as Michael Silverstein argued, the necessary "linguistic datum" was the "total linguistic fact": "the mutual interaction of meaningful sign forms, contextualized to situations of interested human use, mediated by cultural ideology" (Silverstein 1985).

The net was deliberately cast broadly enough to bring into (not always comfortable) relation studies of language attitudes and prestige within linguistic contact situations, of metapragmatically driven historical change in syntactic forms, and of cross-cultural differences in traditional conceptualizations of language as an object or an activity. The same questioning lens was turned on scientific ideologies held by professional language workers – including ourselves. Moreover, the concept was taken up across a number of disciplines with an alacrity that sometimes disconcerted even its instigators. Many of us found it hard to keep our 3D glasses on, and the concept flattened as one element or another of the "total linguistic fact" often tended to drop out of sight.

In this talk I consider where this program has taken us in these decades and whether and how it can move forward to make further contributions to understanding the social life of language and the linguistic life of society. These questions are explored in the work of others and in my own research in Catalonia on the evolution of language ideologies, attitudes and practices across some 35 years of political autonomy and socio-economic change.

Reference cited:

Silverstein, Michael. 1985. "Language and the culture of gender: at the intersection of structure, usage and ideology." In Semiotic Mediation, edited by E. Mertz and R. J. Parmentier, 219 - 259. Orlando: Academic Press.