An evaluation of usage-based approaches to the modelling of sociophonetic variability

Gerard Docherty

Newcastle University, UK

TP187: Usage-based and rule-based approaches to phonological variation

A comprehensive understanding of the factors governing variability in speech performance requires a seamless interface between theories of phonological variation/change and models of speech production, perception and learning; theories of change set out to explain the linguistic behaviour of communities of individuals, but, of course, this behaviour is mediated through individuals' capacities to generate, perceive, and process the stream of speech and to learn about the social meaning conventionally (within a particular speech community) associated to particular features of speech performance. When all is said and done, despite the fact that there has historically been relatively little exploration of this interface, the theoretical positions taken across these areas simply have to dove-tail together.

In recent years there have been signs of genuine progress in this regard with work by sociolinguists being increasingly informed by new theoretical developments in production and perception, and much greater attention being given by theorists of production, perception and acquisition to the realities of inter-/intra-speaker social-indexical variability.

This paper explores further the nature of the interface between accounts of social-indexical variability in speech and models of phonological knowledge and how it is deployed in production and perception. There is an emerging consensus that our understanding of individuals’ knowledge, production and interpretation of speech sound patterning requires appeal not only to the abstract phonological categories of conventional linguistic analysis but also to episodic representations which encapsulate fine-grained phonetic detail and a wide range of other contextual features relating to particular experienced episodes. Drawing on recent studies of the production, perception and learning of sociophonetic patterns within speech, this presentation provides a critical evaluation of the contribution of episodic- and usage-based models of representation to our understanding of the factors which govern variability within speech performance. Key issues for further investigation are identified and discussed.

Session: Themed Panel (part 1)
Usage-based and rule based approaches to phonological variation
Friday, April 4, 2008, 13:45-15:15
room: 03