Presidential Address delivered art the City University of Hong Kong, Hong Kong, on December 4, 2008, at the 14th annual meeting of the International Association for World Englishes Social and linguistic perspectives on variablilty in world Englishes
Van Rooy, Bertus
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Linguistic variability is a peripheral concern to many linguistic approaches. This paper argues that much is gained by taking variability seriously. An examination of the views of Trudgill and Schneider leads to a number of insights into new varieties of English, which may have wider implications for a general understanding of variability in language. Trudgill's claim that the stabilisation of colonial varieties of English is achieved deterministically, without the mediating role of social forces is considered, but not accepted. However, Trudgill draws attention to the important influence of the distribution of variants in the input to the eventual outcome. Schneider's model is accepted as far as the social processes are concerned, but has to be supplemented with a more thorough consideration of the input to language contact settings. The examination of the two views lead to two insights into social and psycholinguistic aspects of English language acquisition and the formation of new varieties in Outer Circle contexts. On the social side, learners are exposed to more variability, but simultaneously receive less input. Conventions and stabilisation are therefore likely to take longer. On the psycholinguistic side, learners are cognitively more mature when language acquisition starts, leading to general schemas that are less instance-based than those acquired by young children whose cognitive and linguistic development are aligned. On the basis of a deeper appreciation of variability in new varieties of English, it is concluded that standardisation is unlikely to have a significant effect on new varieties, and that they will develop conventions grounded in actual language use.
- Faculty of Humanities