Sociolinguistic development: when the social differences merge into the social networks

Laurence Buson, Aurélie Nardy

Laboratoire LIDILEM, France Laboratoire LIDILEM, France


Sociolinguistic development: when the social differences merge into the social networks

A lot of sociolinguistic studies have shown that the speakers’ linguistic uses were socially stratified according to macro factors such as social background, gender, etc. This tendency has been established for adults from the first sociolinguistic studies (Labov, 1972; Trudgill, 1974) and more recently in children (Roberts, 1997; Chevrot, Beaud & Varga, 2000). Other studies have been interested in micro factors such as the social network, the status, and the density and multiplexity of the relationships within the peer groups (Milroy, 1980). The latter have taken into account interpersonal relationships whereas the former have considered more global categories.

The aim of our paper is to observe how macro and micro approaches can complement one another as far as sociolinguistic development is concerned. First, we will focus on the children’s sociolinguistic uses between two to six years old. Second, we will look at the stylistic variation awareness in preadolescents.

We conducted a transversal study with 185 children born into two contrasted social backgrounds, and aged between two to six. We also carried out a longitudinal survey in a kindergarten classroom of children aged between 4;7 and 5;7. We will present results from the analysis of children’s uses of sociolinguistic French variables: the optional liaison and the variable deletion of the final postconsonantical /R/ and /l/ in the clitic pronouns il(s) and elle(s) ('he', 'she', 'they'). From two to six years of age, we observe a progressive divergence of the sociolinguistic uses between upper-class and lower-class children whereas at a more local level, we note that uses converge after one year in the classroom.

Concerning stylistic variation awareness, we collected information about social representations in individual interviews. One hundred and ninety six preadolescents aged between nine and eleven years have participated. They were asked to react after listening different stylistic varieties through a semi-directive interview, a questionnaire and role-plays.

In this study, as for the previous one, we noticed an effect of the social background. Nevertheless, this effect must be balanced by the micro analysis. Indeed, we noted that the social mix of the friendship pairs (determined with the social diversity between the child and his best friend) influence the representations on the stylistic variation. We noticed that preadolescents from lower-class, involved in mixed pairs, present representations similar to those of upper-class.

In conclusion, we will discuss the macro and the micro approaches: to what extent the macro and micro analysis can be complementary approaches? And what are the methodological issues at stake for sociolinguistic researches?

Chevrot, J.-P., Beaud, L. & Varga, R. (2000). Developmental data on a French sociolinguistic variable: the word-final post-consonantal /R/. Language Variation and Change 12, 295-319.

Labov, W. (1972). Sociolinguistic patterns. Oxford: Blackwell.

Milroy, L. (1980). Language and social networks. Oxford: Blackwell.

Roberts, J. (1997). Acquisition of variable rules: a study of (-t, d) deletion in preschool children. Journal of Child Language 24, 351-372.

Trudgill, P. (1974). The Social differentiation of English in Norwich. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Session: Paper session
Variation 9
Friday, April 4, 2008, 15:45-17:15
room: 15