Date: Fri, 21 Nov 1997 22:43:54 -0600


Subject: Re: vernacular

The definitions in the two dictionaries are similar although not

necessarily in the same order:

Merriam dictionaries use historical order, and Random Housee dictonaries

use most common order.

As to the point about the level of variation, I remember that

William Labov claimed in the 70s that the "ordinary" language (or

dialect) was more regular, less variable, than the language of

the professional (or the middle class, or whatever). He stressed

this point in a lecture presented on our campus in 1976.

The term 'vernacular' is also used by scholars in the field of material

culture, as in 'vernacular architecture'. It has negative value only to

people who would consider shotgun houses or T- or L-houses built by lay

carpenters not to be worthy of scholarly attention. Similar to the

conditions under which negative values are assigned to 'vernacular

language'. "In the vernacular" is a way of putting down usages that are

associated with lack of education.

AS for regularity. An individual vernacular-only user might have less

variation in his/er language use than an educated "standard"-language-user.

I suspect this is what Labov was referring to. But if we look at variation

in vernacular(s) used in a community of any size, there might very well be

much more variation than we see in TIME Magazine, though TIME likes to use

cutesy vernacular vocabulary in sections dealing with pop culture.

Certainly more variation in vernacular tense-aspect forms than in standard,

I should think.