Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Style and Stance #3: Am I ready to start being a sociolinguist?

I am just about ready to start examining data sets ... just about.  Before I do, though, I want to use this week's post to encapsulate my understanding of style and stance and how a researcher applies these.  I also want to explore how these seem applicable to written texts in light of the majority of sociolinguistic work being done with speech.  If I am wrong about any of what I write below, tell me now!

"Style is the locus of the individual's internalization 
of broader social distributions of variation" (R & E Loc 100).
Our class discussions helped distill the concept of style for me.  Irvine puts it so simply: style is distinctiveness (Loc 370).  I really appreciated a classmate asking Dr. Anderson about how it is possible that people did not see variation in style before this current wave of sociolinguists.  I had been thinking the same thing because I see variations in people's linguistic styles all the time, including in my own speech.  I talk to my students differently than I do to my own children, which is still different from how I speak to my parents.  Dr. Anderson's explanation of how the earlier researchers were looking at distribution of aspects and assuming they had meaning made sense; now people are ready to see the variation within these aspects.

"Stance is generally understood to have to do with the methods, linguistic and other, 
by which interactants create and signal relationships with the propositions they utter 
and with the people they interact with" (Jaffe 30).
Stance seems to be the aspect of sociolinguistics that applies most to my goal of analyzing written data sets because it concerns both what people are saying/writing and how they are doing so. Since writing does not carry vocal inflections, the "how" is more limited (although certainly still something to be analyzed).

"Speaker stances are thus performances through which speakers may align or disalign themselves 
with and/or ironize stereotypical associations with particular linguistic forms" (Jaffe 4).
The concept of aligning and disalinging is what I hope to study about academic writing in digital spaces. I wonder if authors are choosing to disalign from traditional academic expectations in their digital writing.  That is, are they taking a stance that can be indexed to uncover a social meaning?  This brings me to the ways I have seen sociolinguistics as applicable to written texts:
  • Sociolinguistics "affords us the opportunity to observe linguistic change in progress" (R & E Loc 1): This is what I hope to see by comparing traditional academic writing with digital academic writing.  Is there a sea change happening?
  • "[S]tyles in speaking involve the ways speakers, as agents in social (and sociolinguistic) space, negotiate their positions and goals within a system of distinctions and possibilities" (R & E Loc 401-402).: I believe this can apply to academic writing as well, as choices writers make are aspects of defining themselves within the academic community. Is the digital academic community allowing for different positions and possibilities?
  • "loading, an extension of the notion of keying that refers to 'the speaker's level of investment in the identity being negotiated'" (Jaffe 10): This makes me think about profile writing and how much people invest in negotiating these identities and how they can change from platform to platform.
  • "utterance as performance" (Jaffe 11): I believe the possibility of having written language be a performance is greater in digital writing than traditional writing.  Susan Delagrange's Technologies of Wonder is a good example of this.
One aspect of stance I am surprised about is the amount of focus on content. In her look at Barbara Jordan, Barbara Johnstone focused a great deal on what Jordan said in her speeches and how this content defined Jordan (see Jaffe pages 42 through 44 as an example).  I wonder how this is linguistics when linguistic methods are not considered.

As I think through the possibilities of style and stance, my own interests in academic writing are becoming better defined. I believe the digital world gives us many opportunities to think about the social aspects of writing and the linguistic choices choices that are changing in this writing. One of these changes is that people are still figuring out how to present themselves and their ideas in the digital world because writing has never had as many linguistic options as face-to-face speech. People are learning how to understand this world through experimenting with style and stance (which makes me think of Irvine's indexing).  As I continue to think about these issues and start to explore some basic data sets, I hope to fully define why I am drawn to stances in digital writing.
Jaffe, Alexandra. Stance: Sociolinguistic Perspectives. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2009. Kindle edition.

Rickford, Penelope Eckert and John R., ed. Style and Sociolinguistic Variation. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2001. Kindle edition.


  1. How refreshing to see the excellent discussion we had in class on Tuesday night summed up with a mixture of your own insight and the insight of the writers we studied for the week. I'm intrigued by your final paragraph about the changing face of linguistic study with the changes of the digital world. This really intersects with our copyright and literature class and further reinforces the ties that bind English studies.

  2. I'm thinking about your last paragraph, too. You note that writing has not had as many options to present oneself as face-to-face speech. I wonder how digital options open up new options in terms of the visual and even audio means. As I type this, I catch sight of your bookshelf: that element of your blog definitely shows a way of presenting yourself outside the texts you write yourself, and you have much more control of this type of material that people did before, say, with a published book.