Speakers, communities and languages – bridging the gaps
Miriam Meyerhoff, Victoria University of Wellington
Two aspects of language variation and change interest our team. A speech community is composed of individuals who share the same constraints on linguistic variables – lots of previous work has shown this is a meaningful way to define a speech community. This being the case, variation at the level of the individual becomes another way of defining varieties, and variation between varieties gives rise to differences between languages. Hence, the differences between languages have their roots in individual variation at some point in the past. Or so the thinking goes. No-one has ever shown this. In our talk, we try to engage in this exercise of scaling up. We draw on data from a number of variables differentiating the speech of individual speakers of Bequia Creole English and map these onto variables that differentiate varieties of English, these can then (in principle) map onto variables that differentiate languages. We use statistical tools that are novel to sociolinguistics to undertake this exercise of scale.