Date: Thu, 20 Nov 1997 11:24:57 -0500
From: "Dennis R. Preston" preston[AT SYMBOL GOES HERE]PILOT.MSU.EDU
Subject: Re: vernacular
These are some very important issues. I would add to the style and status
senses of vernacular the other 'acquisition' one, namely, the
sociolinguistic 'commonplace' that your vernacular is your 'first learned'
and hence 'strongest' variety.
I think you have to specify which of the above definitions of vernacular
you are talking about before you can approach your last question. I also
believe you have to specify the linguistic 'level' you mean.
That covers too much territory to address quickly, but, to complicate it
further, you could think about the apparent fact that regionally isolated
varieties (e.g., Faroese as opposed to modern Norwegian, Trudgill's
example) show more rather than less variation due to their lack of
other-language and variety contact (i.e., their isolation).
If you throw out situations like that (and compare only 'equally situated'
varieties), then I believe there is a great deal of evidence that
lower-status varieties show greater regularity at lexical, phonological,
morphological, and syntactic levels. I wouldn't want to venture into
The next two situations (i.e., stylistic and 'native') are also
interesting. You would always expect more variation in your 'native'
variety (the acquisition sense of 'vernacular'), at least along
interpersonal and 'folk' dimensions, although you might speculate that some
middle (and upper-) class speakers come to find their native variety so
inappropriate for some sorts of interpersonal activities that they actually
prefer lower-status varieties (a less 'male' oriented notion of 'covert
pretige,' if you like, a theme I tried to use in exaplaining in some of my
recent attitudinal research the preference for southern speech among
northern repsondents - along affective dimensions only, of coruse;
intellectual and 'standard' language use still belong to northern speech
[according to Michigan respondents, at any rate]).
Glad to see someone is thinking about sorting this out. A little lexical
prescriptivism among professionals never hurts.
I want to return to something Jeutonne said a few days ago.
I object to the use of "vernacular" in the term, an objection that
I have had since the early 1980s.
Until we consistently use "vernacular" with other terms, such as
Southern dialect, Northern dialect, Yiddish English, Chicano
English, etc., we make, in my opinion, an unfortunate distinction for
African American English. Enough of this soap boax topic.
I am working on a paper on what sociolinguists mean by "vernacular"
and the value they attach to it. My hypothesis is that although we
often give a style-based definition of the term, we operationalize it
as a class-based construct. So I am asking, What does "vernacular"
mean to you?"
And while I'm at it, is everyone here comfortable with the claim that
the vernacular shows less internal variation than more formal/middle
ellen.johnson[AT SYMBOL GOES HERE]wku.edu
Dennis R. Preston
Department of Linguistics and Languages
Michigan State University
East Lansing MI 48824-1027 USA
preston[AT SYMBOL GOES HERE]pilot.msu.edu