Language variation and change

Authored by: Kazuko Matsumoto

Routledge Handbook of Japanese Sociolinguistics

Print publication date:  June  2019
Online publication date:  June  2019

Print ISBN: 9780415790277
eBook ISBN: 9781315213378
Adobe ISBN:


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This chapter focuses on the branch of sociolinguistics which has come to be recognized as “language variation and change (LVC)” or “variationist sociolinguistics”. It firstly provides an overview of LVC by explaining its genesis and a number of crucial roles played by variation in language (the notion of orderly heterogeneity; variation being functionally and socially meaningful; variation as an implicit necessity in the process of language change). It then outlines the research goals (constraint, embedding, transition, evaluation and actuation problems) as well as the methodological principles of LVC (the principle of accountability; circumscribing the variable context; the envelope of variation; linguistic constraints, social factors etc.). The third section illustrates the development of Japanese LVC studies by reviewing representative work within the variationist framework. It consists of four parts: phonological and phonetic variation and change; morphosyntactic variation and change; gender-related variation; and variation and change in diaspora Japanese varieties outside of Japan. They have demonstrated that language variation is neither chaotic nor random, but highly structured in Japanese varieties as well. They addressed the manifesto not only by describing language change in progress (the direction, speed and social evaluation of linguistic change), but also by attempting to account for the possible causes for change in order to contribute to the construction of a theory of language change. The final section provides a summary of this chapter and directions for further research in Japanese LVC study.

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