Linguistic variation and change

Linguistic variation and change. By Scott F. Kiesling. (Edinburgh sociolinguistics.) Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2011. Pp. xii, 200. ISBN 9780748637621. $36.

Reviewed by Susanne Wagner, Chemnitz University of Technology

It is remarkable that despite an abundance of introductory textbooks on sociolinguistics in general and language variation and change (LVC) in particular, there is still ample space for new and delightful fresh perspectives. The current volume provides such a perspective by uniting major historical findings and methods with state-of-the-art research. In ten chapters, K manages to come full circle, covering ‘old-fashioned’ questions and methods originating in nineteenth century comparative philology just as naturally as issues of enregistering identity that appear in ongoing research. This broad sweep must be seen as the hallmark of the book. Through a focus on contemporary methods, students are often only marginally aware of the historical link between comparative philology and (variationist) sociolinguistics, something K nicely counteracts here.

Part 1 (Chs. 1–3) covers questions and methods of LVC, including theoretical discussions, such as the problematic nature of the linguistic variable as well as hands-on advice on conducting fieldwork. Part 2 (Chs. 4–7) delves into the relationship between variation and social factors, tackling such different issues as inter- and intraspeaker variation (Chs. 4 and 5), meaning and social patterns (Ch. 6), and the acquisition of variation (Ch. 7). Part 3 (Chs. 8 and 9) shifts the perspective to individual structures and their variability. Phonology and morphosyntax are the focus of Ch. 8, while Ch. 9 looks at variation on a syntactic, lexical, and suprasegmental level.

The book includes a number of very concise but yet comprehensive tables that summarize (sometimes decades of) research on particular variables. One such table, for example, provides a summary of canonical variation patterns (78, table 4.3), another looks at the order of indexicality and Labovian variable types (108, table 6.1). The book’s breadth and coverage is amazing for a volume of this size. The reader is familiarized with basic concepts, as is fitting for an introductory textbook, but also introduced to advanced concepts, including instruction for how to measure perception with matched-guise scales, the effects of frequency, and the role of priming. A very accessible style makes this book a fun read, which is notable for a book of this scope.