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Sociolinguistics Coursework


Sociolinguistics is a study that seeks to explore the aspects of linguistics as used in addressing the connection between the language and the society. According to (Labov, 1966), It is a changing field that tries to accommodate the changes in the society. Various approaches have been developed to explain the dimension of variations in sociolinguistics.

The most common of these studies are apparent time and real time studies of sociolinguistic variations (Labov, 1963). The two studies are addressed in the change of linguistic paradigm.

The dimensions of variations in the sociolinguistic paradigm includes the adoption of theoretical aspects such as the concept of function, stylistic and social meaning, variation and linguistic change, bi-directional relations between the synchronic and the diachronic, on the one hand, and internal and external variation, on the other hand (Miralle, 2003. pp 2)

The aim of this coursework is to explore the concept of real time and apparent time studies in linguistics. The paper will also point out the relative advantages and disadvantages of the two approaches and Pope’s study contribution to the studies. Addressed also in the paper is the connection between Pope and Labov’s studies and Blake and Josey (2003).

The relative advantages and disadvantages of real time and apparent time studies in linguistics

The long standing question in sociolinguistics is whether it is possible to observe the linguistic change when it is actually taking place. According Romney and colleagues (2000), most linguists have maintained that these changes cannot be observed. The argument has been that we can only observe the consequences of change after it has already occurred.

The real time study of linguistics claims that change in language can be observed as it takes place. The apparent time, on the other hand, claims that the linguistic change progress is indicated by the age stratified variations observable in a linguistic form. That is to mean that the change in language can only be understood by observing the impact it creates on the speakers.

Apparent time studies in linguistics

The apparent time study has an advantage in that it can be used to explore a wide range of features in linguistics and this make it more reliable.

The method also has disadvantages that may affect the credibility of the result or information obtained. For instance, the apparent time construct is made difficult by a number of factors. First, since quantitative sociolinguistics is a recent development, it is difficult to gather real time evidence of earlier periods that can be used for comparison.

The tests of construct cannot be done without the real time data. According to Bailey and colleagues, “The oldest quantitative studies were done only 30 years ago, and these older studies cover only a few locales (e.g., Martha’s Vineyard, New York City, Detroit and Washington, DC (Bailey, Wikle, Tillery & Sand, 1991, pp. 243).

This makes it difficult to gather substantial data that would validate the study. Another difficult arises from differentiation of characteristics. This approach heavily relies on impressions to study linguistics. The challenge lies in the interpretation of significance of these impressions.

In their study, Bailey, et al (1991, pp. 244) found out that the use of phonetic caused variation in meaning. This differences which is manifested in pronunciation would set a limit to the credibility of apparent time studies. Consequently a criterion for testing hypothesis was established in order to curb credibility.

First, there should be a large time difference between the two studies done before testing. Secondly, only similar characteristics should be considered for testing. Thirdly, the population being studies should be similar to the other in a number of ways. They include the composition of the population. Fourthly, the style of recording should be applicable to both studies so that comparing them would be easy.

In her research, Pope found out that the ratio of change in the apparent studies could not be established. At times the change would take time at other times change would happen within a short time. It is vivid that the conclusions in apparent studies confirm real time studies modifications in language.

Real time studies in linguistics

The real-time studies involve conducting investigations in to particular phenomena as they are take place. It entails collection of data as they are actually being generated. This is why it assumes that language variations and changes could be observed as they take place. This method as used in studying sociolinguistics variations has several inherent advantages over other methods of inquiry.

The first advantage is that it gives the researcher the opportunity of taking advantage of emerging themes and unique case features. This is due to the fact that the researchers are flexible and opportunistic in their data collection and analysis effort (Poplack and St. Amand, 2007, pp709)

The second advantage is that data that is collected in real time reduces the reliance on the participant’s memory in building account of events that have taken place several months or years earlier (Albert, Durepos & Wiebe, n. d). Thirdly, the study also alleviates the biasness of the participants who may seek to give themselves a certain status in the narrative and therefore give exaggerated information.

Fourthly, where the end point of the research is not known during data collection, the researcher cannot easily be predisposed towards a particular outcome and this reduces the chances of competing or unusual solutions being ignored not noticed.

In real time studies, the research engages in looking at samples of people at different times. This enables the researcher to learn any development in language that could have happened (Bandle, 2005, pp 1775)

According to Albert and colleagues (nd), a major disadvantage of this method is that it takes a lot of time in following events as they occur in real time. Such prolonged engagement is risky in that there is likelihood of investigators influencing the research site which may affect the results.

Another disadvantage of real time is the instability experienced in keeping the contact with the subject of study. At times they may relocate or lose interest. However, according to him researchers have been able to overcome this difficulty.

Pope’s Methodology

Pope attempted to design a methodology for the study of the differences in linguistics. The main challenge was that it was impossible to do a similar study on same population twice and get identical results. The human beings are likely to give different responses when a similar question is asked more than once. In order to counter these hard ships in the study, Pope has considered a number of factors.

They include “ the range of speaking styles, the geographical and social coverage of the island, the perceived social identity of the field workers and as already mentioned, the fact that Josey only studied (ay) and not (aw)” (Pope, Meyerhoffand and Ladd, 2007, pp 625). In analyzing the speaking styles, Pope closely observed criterion followed by Labov.

Information gathered from the MV residents was in form of interviews where they would be asked to pronounce certain words. This was done across the island within several weeks. This was different from the tape recordings done by Blake and Josey (Pope, Meyerhoffand and Ladd, 2007, pp 615).

Pope closely followed Labov’s words that she used in the study. Pope asked the residents of MV to read the same words so that she could establish similarities and contrasts. To collect this data, Pope spent several weeks on the island between 2001 summer and 2002 winter. She moved to different locations to interview the people.

The motive was to get a large population sample that could be used in establishing credibility. This sample was proportional to Labovs sample. In addition those interviewed were between four years to one hundred years. The population consisted of three ethnic groups which include: Native American, Portugal and the English speakers. Their economic livelihood of the MV dwellers was mainly agricultural.

In gathering the information Pope found the fishermen uncooperative when it came to interviews. However, social networking was established through family relations with another interviewee. Another challenge was the difficulties established in trying to interview Wanpanoags who live in an inapproachable area, Aquinnah (Pope, Meyerhoffand and Ladd, 2007, pp 618).

Pope gives “a more detailed presentation of the distribution of centralized variants as function of speakers’ attitude towards life and on MV and as a function of the speaker’s age.” (Pope, Meyerhoffand and Ladd, 2007, pp 619). Pope further noted that MV dwellers showed insignificant change when it came to centralization of characteristics in lexical style.

In addition Pope also found out that the higher the degree of centralization the higher the level of lexical stress. On the other hand, corpus found out that the level of stress was in no way influencing centrality. Labov in this matter argued that these relations between the centralization and the level of lexical stress are subject to change and that those involved like the MV could have their characteristics changing (Pope, Meyerhoffand and Ladd, 2007, pp 619).

Words could also be similar in their way of pronunciation. Distinguishing the two words could be a challenge to a person without knowledge about the differences. For example “…sliding being potentially confused with sledding” (Pope, Meyerhoffand and Ladd, 2007, pp 620). Further limited centrality is manifested in the use of such word as “like” to replace the use of words such as “it was, like, and so hot” (Pope, Meyerhoffand and Ladd, 2007, pp 620)..

There is centrality between members of same occupation. However the variation changes across different occupations. Therefore this depends on the orientation of every group of occupation. It could be argued that attitude is based on influences from the tourist. This is because locals prefer to identify themselves with their speech for purposes of marketing, for instance the fishermen.

Tourist and non-tourist can be differentiated by their speech, hence a seller would easily tell a potential client. Therefore the attitude in the speech could also indicate ones identity. Thus weather they are of Portuguese, English or native by American origin. Positive attitudes about the MV Island were demonstrated by the dwellers.

Those who were loyal spoke highly of the island and demonstrated emotional elements of belonging to the island hence they had a high degree of centrality. An attitude in status is revealed in MV Island. They gladly accept to be called and be identified as summer people. However centralization has decreased with the inclusion of other people from different origin who have been assimilated in the island. They bring new attitudes which are influential.

Pope argued that a restudy of the real time would shed some light on the study of apparent time in matters concerning age group. She also noted that the apparent studies could not provide us with a clear outline on the ratio of change. This is because as progress in change goes on a sudden force of happen drastically (Pope, Meyerhoffand and Ladd, 2007, pp 623).

She also criticizes Blake and Josey arguing that their results produced different results because they considered only one pronunciation of “ay”. Their results indicated that there was aloe centralization among the young generation. Pope also concludes that findings in the study of apparent time are useful in real time studies since they show change in the use of language.

According to Turell (2003, pp7), the success of the study of linguistics is dependent on selection of the interviewees age. This methodology is affected by individual’s attitude and loss of teeth for instance.

Pope’s discussion on Blake and Josey

Pope discussed the findings that Blake and Josey found to establish variations in findings. He considers analyzing the social data used and the method executed in realizing the findings. In Blake and Josey study the assumption was that a large population of MV belonged to the middle class.

Most of the residents had a source of income where agriculture was the main source of employment. Others were fishermen while others were involved in the tourism industry. A few people were unemployed. However, pope refuted that they belonged to that social class. This is because their household income barely was enough to cater for all their needs.

Hence she denied that the household income could not be considered to determine the cost of living. Blake and Josey raised concerns about the increasing cost of living for MV residents. This was a result of tourism. Certain rich tycoon bought and maintained their houses near the beach. This posed a threat to the locals since they could not buy low cost houses.

In order to curb this insecurity, a Children Plot Program and the Island Affordable Fund was established to enable to residents own land. These MV residents were depending on tourism as a source of income and therefore depended on them as a source of income. This was the dilemma posed in the island between tourism and the threat of losing their Island to tourism.

Pope on the other hand developed interest in establishing perceptions about the island. He found out that the cost of living way above what the resident of the MV could afford. The journalist portrayed that the island was being slowly taken over by tourist through humorous cartoons in their publications.

He argued that such habits must stop so that the dwellers of the island were saved from extinction. Therefore in relation to their social and economic being, their attitudes to identify with the island would be tempered with (Pope, Meyerhoffand and Ladd, 2007, pp 625)

In analyzing the methodology used by Blake and Josey, there were variations of the findings from those of Pope. There were differences in the way the research was carried out. Blake, Josey and blare conducted their interview from closed rooms where the interviewees were recorded on tape.

On the other hand Pope closely followed the method used earlier by Labov. They observed different speakers who were asked to pronounce certain words. Another difference in methodology was that Blake and Josey interviewed a particular group where as Pope interviewed different speakers from different groups within the same island as Labov did.

These differences may have risen from the host of Blake and Josey who might have given them contradicting contacts to those of pope in their fieldwork (Sankoff and Blodeau, 2006, pp1). The perceptions of the people may have been compromised. Those being interviewed could have formed an attitude towards the rearchers.

For instance Blake and Josey had been hosted by a rich family whereas Pope was lived and introduced herself as a student hiker who was on a trip. Considering the latter, interviewees would have been freer to give information openly. Those interviewed by Blake and Josey might have had an attitude towards them since they had been hosted by a person of a high status.

The other difference in methodology occurred with the sole focus on “ay” and completely ignoring the “aw”, which compromised their inferences. Pope noted that “… our results show, centralization of (aw) is increasing while that of (ay) is decreasing, then from a purely phonetic point of view, Blake and Josey’s findings of an overall decrease in centralization is readily reconciled without data.

However, we reiterate that we find no evidence for their more general conclusion that centralization has lost its status as a maker of MV identity” (Pope, Meyerhoffand and Ladd, 2007, pp 625)

Changes on the Island

According to Blake and Josey, changes have happened in linguistic pronunciation. Considering findings on the Chilmark community that was studied, the use of “ay” has decreased as compared to findings on MV island where there aws rampant usage. In addition, the degree of centralization is minimal among the old generation. Further the young generation demonstrates characteristics of earlier group which consisted of middle aged people (Blake and Jakes, 2003, pp, 476)

The MV island dwellers have changed in their social economic orientation (Banks, 2011, Para 1). The traditional ways of gaining income which include mainly fishing and farming has changed into reliance on the tourism industry for their income. These have proved to be challenging enough because the tourism industry is seasonal.

The tourists come during the summer where they gain some income. During the winter it is usually offseason hence there is very little income for these dwellers in a time when the cost of living is very high. During this time they are sustained by trading fish and farm produce (Blake and Jakes, 2003, pp, 476)

The island increased demographically. Today the rich famous and high status individuals consider MV Island a destination for leisure. Moreover, different people from all walks of life meet in the island. They also come from diversified religions. As a result the island now depends on tourism for its survival.

Another change is in the attitudes held by the islanders towards tourism. They see tourism as a source of income for the locals. Therefore changes in language are seen as being motivated by perceptions held by the MV Island dwellers (Blake and Jakes, 2003, pp, 479) Labov and Pope and age grading

Age of the speaker is another important aspect as demonstrated by Pope. He argues that there is a large extent of centralization with the younger generation. However in a subsequent study that was done in 1960, the degree of centralization between both the old and the new generation cannot be ignored.

Thus the level of centralization can be argued to belong to different age groups as opposed to gradual change (Sankoff, 2006, pp9). Another factor in determining centralization is the knowledge demonstrated in using certain words. The use of certain pronunciation will run across all age groups. However Pope in his study was, unable to establish what stereotypes were associated with accent in pronunciation of words.

According to Pope we can detect changes in speech by paying attention to the structure of phonetics among different age groups. She pointed out what Labov had earlier suggested, that variation in synchronic studies could reflect gradual change in language. The attitude and social orientation of individuals affect their language.

At times one can without a doubt associate certain pronunciation with a particular age-grade. The pronunciation might change among the same age-grade after some decades (Pope, Meyerhoffand and Ladd, 2007, pp 615). Thus it could be argued that after childhood people modify their language to fit their attitude and social orientation.

Pope raised concerns on the progress of change in linguistics that was related to age grading. He argued that at a particular time in progress, a group would experience a high level of centralization in their speech. This would be indication high levels of centralization in speech rather than an indication of change in development (Pope, Meyerhoffand and Ladd, 2007, pp 622).


It is evident that there has been change in the use of language in MV Island. These changes have undergone a period of time. It is apparent it might be necessary to consider apparent time studies in drawing inferences in the real time studies (Parrott, 2002). The methodology of research plays a part in determining the credibility of the research; therefore it is important to ensure that the method employed is credible.

The methodology should cover a large population from all areas. The age grading is an important determinant in the development of language (Chambers, Trudgil & Schilling, 1998, pp 375).

Reference List

Albert, J., Durepos, G. & Wiebe, E., nd. Advantages of real time studies in Linguistics. Encyclopedia of Case Study Research, pp. 783-785.

Bailey, G., Wikle, T., Tillery, J., & Sand, L., 1991.The apparent time construct. Language Variation and Change, 3 (1991), 241-264.

Bandle, O., 2005. , Vol 2. Web.

Banks, C., 2011. The history of Martha’s Vine yard: Family Genealogy, Vol.3 Pp 298-328.

Blake, R. & Josey, M., 2003. The /ay/ dipthong in Martha’s Vineyard Community. What can we say 40 years after Labov. Language in Society, 32, 451–485.

Chambers, J.K. , Trudgil, P. & Schulling, E.N., 2011. . Web.

Labov, W., 1963. The social motivation of a sound change. Word, 19, 273-309.

Labov, W., 1966. The social stratification of English in New York City. Washington: Center For Applied Linguistics.

Parrott, J., 2002. Dialect death and morpho-syntactic change: Smith Island weak expletive ‘It’. In Johnson, D.E. and T. Sanchez (Eds.), Papers from NWAV 30. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Working Papers in Linguistics.

Pope, J., Meyerhoff, M. & Ladd, R.D., 2007. Forty years of language change on Martha’s Vineyard. UK: University of Leeds.

Poplack, S., & St. Amand, A., 2007. . Web.

Romney, A. K., Moore, C. C., Batchelder, W. H., & Hsia, T. L., (2000). Statistical methods For characterizing similarities and differences between semantic structures. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 97(1), 518–523.

Sankoff, G., & Blondeau, H., 2006. . Web.

Sankoff, G., 2006. Age: Apparent Time and Real Time. Web.

Turell, T. M., 2003. Apparent and Real time in studies of linguistic change and Variation. Web.

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