Linguists commonly define style as different ways of saying the same thing. This treatment of style as independent of content is part of a larger treatment of language as excisable from social practice. It invokes a set of constructs – sociolect, ethnolect, genderlect, speech community, register – that are all too easily treated as static assemblages of features marking pre-existing and stable social situations and categories. But style is an expressive practice in which social distinctions are produced and reproduced, and one might think of the lectal constructs as representing stability in the face of change. This talk will consider stylistic practice as a dialectic between change and stasis, arguing that it is only in considering the social practice in which variation takes on meaning that we can untangle the interplay between them.
Penelope Eckert is the Albert Ray Lang Professor of Linguistics and Anthropology at Stanford University. Her research, based on ethnographic studies of sociolinguistic variation among adolescents and preadolescents, examines the construction of meaning in stylistic practice. She is also a founder and enthusiastic participant in Stanford’s Voices of California project, examining English dialectology across rural California. She is author of Jocks and Burnouts: Social Identity in the High School, (Teachers College Press 1989), Linguistic Variation as Social Practice (Blackwell 2000), Language and Gender (with Sally McConnell-Ginet. Cambridge University Press 2003, 2013), and The Third Wave in variation studies: In search of meaning (Cambridge University Press 2018).