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

discoursal variation.

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

class varieties?


ellen.johnson[AT SYMBOL GOES HERE]

Dennis R. Preston

Department of Linguistics and Languages

Michigan State University

East Lansing MI 48824-1027 USA


Office: (517)353-0740

Fax: (517)432-2736