Date: Thu, 20 Nov 1997 19:56:25 -0500
From: TERRY IRONS t.irons[AT SYMBOL GOES HERE]MOREHEAD-ST.EDU
Subject: Re: vernacular
On Thu, 20 Nov 1997, Ellen Johnson wrote:
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?"
To me, the term "vernacular" means a local idiom. In this context, it
refers to variation associated with a specific region and has nothing to
do with issues of style or social class.
And while I'm at it, is everyone here comfortable with the claim that
the vernacular shows less internal variation than more formal/middle
I cannot answer this question because I am not comfortable in using
"vernacular" as a label for a variety that is associated with a certain
If vernacular is associated with the variety spoken by a lower working
class group of a specific area, I cannot accept the claim. Aside from
studies looking at small sets of linguistic variables, there is no
evidence to support such a claim across an entire linguistic system.
For example, a study could show that there is less variation in
the variable realization of the nasal phoneme of the progressive aspect
verbal inflection in English in working class speakers of English. But how
can we go from this item and others like it to a claim about the entire
variety unless we have available a complete description of the variety?
To be frank, I have never seen a complete description of a variety that
would allow such claims to be made.
Beyond these questions, the claim that there is less internal variation in
the vernacular than in middle class varieties parallels Bernstein's
distinction between a restricted and an elaborated code. What is
contemporary thinking on the legitimacy of this distinction?
Terry Lynn Irons t.irons[AT SYMBOL GOES HERE]morehead-st.edu
Voice Mail: (606) 783-5164
Snail Mail: UPO 604 Morehead, KY 40351