Phonological considerations in sociophonetics

Paul Kerswill, Kevin Watson

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter


One aim of sociolinguistics is to understand linguistic variation across communities by comparing language from different groups of speakers (e.g. younger and older, male and female, working class and middle class). However, language is not only constrained by these social factors, but also by the linguistic system itself. In this chapter, we show that although the name sociophonetics might imply that the focus of the discipline is on sociolinguistics and phonetics, we also need to understand how variation can be constrained by language internal phonological concerns. First we elaborate on the distinction between phonological and social factors in sociophonetics. Then we show that since phonological criteria are crucial even in defining what our variable is, understanding these criteria is important at the very beginning of a sociophonetic project. Using examples from different varieties of English, we answer two general questions: (1) What phonological concerns should we consider when analyzing a linguistic variable, and (2) How should we go about investigating them? Finally, we offer advice to anyone wishing to undertake a sociophonetic study which takes phonological factors into account.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationResearch Methods in Sociolinguistics
Subtitle of host publicationA Practical Guide
EditorsJanet Holmes, Kirk Hazen
Place of PublicationOxford
Number of pages13
ISBN (Print)978-0-470-67360-7
Publication statusPublished - 2014

Cite this