How children learn to use their languages in socially appropriate ways that reflect their status in the community and the social context


  • Constrained variation: distribution of a variant is not random or free, there are systematic correlations with independent factors.
  • Free variation: accounts for cases where some variants seem to alternate with each other without any reliable constraints in a particular context or when used by a certain speaker
  • Interspeaker: variation occurs between different speakers within or across speech communities
  • Intraspeaker: variation occurs between within a single speaker, but might depend on interlocutors and context (= inherent variability)
  • Group differentiation: social/regional varieties index (mark) group boundaries
  • Variation factors
    • Speaker-driven factors
    • Audience-driven factors
    • Task-related factors
    • Linguistic factors

Language vs Dialect vs Accent

  • Language: not mutually intelligible communication systems
  • Dialect: mutually intelligible, but have differences in sentence structure (syntax), how words are made (morphology), or word choice (lexicon)
  • Accent: mutually intelligible, only have differences in phonology (sounds)

Rate and Time

  • Ochs (1985)
    • How are phonological registers, word order, and ergativity acquired by children learning Samoan (and how does their speech compare to adult patterns)?
      • Children use features of both registers even at one word stage, but do not show recognition of appropriate contexts until multi-word stage (2- 2.5 years), children start producing tautala lelei first and then tautala leaga
    • Ergativity acquired relatively late, appears to match a sociolinguistic norm in the community
  • Types of time
    • Real Time: chronological time based on year
    • Apparent Time: an estimate of time based on speaker age or date of birth
    • When we look at a speaker age as a proxy for time, we must make assumptions what things are stable in language and at what ages.