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William Labov

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William Labov (Template:IPA-en, Template:Respell[1]; born December 4, 1927) is an American linguist, widely regarded as the founder of the discipline of variationist sociolinguistics.[2] He has been described as "an enormously original and influential figure who has created much of the methodology" of sociolinguistics.[3] He is employed as a professor in the linguistics department of the University of Pennsylvania, and pursues research in sociolinguistics, language change, and dialectology.

Born in Rutherford, New Jersey, he studied at Harvard (1948) and worked as an industrial chemist (1949-61) before turning to linguistics. For his MA thesis (1963) he completed a study of change in the dialect of Martha's Vineyard, which was presented before the Linguistic Society of America to great acclaim. Labov took his PhD (1964) at Columbia University studying under Uriel Weinreich. He taught at Columbia (1964-70) before becoming a professor of linguistics at the University of Pennsylvania (1971), and then became director of the university's Linguistics Laboratory (1977). The methods he used to collect data for his study of the varieties of English spoken in New York City, published as The Social Stratification of English in New York City (1966), have been influential in social dialectology. In the late 1960s and early 1970s, his studies of the linguistic features of African American Vernacular English (AAVE) were also influential: he argued that AAVE should not be stigmatized as substandard but respected as a variety of English with its own grammatical rules. He has also pursued research in referential indeterminacy, and he is noted for his seminal studies of the way ordinary people structure narrative stories of their own lives.

More recently he has studied changes in the phonology of English as spoken in the United States today, and studied the origins and patterns of chain shifts of vowels (one sound replacing a second, replacing a third, in a complete chain). He finds two major divergent chain shifts taking place today: a Southern Shift (in Appalachia and southern coastal regions) and a Northern Cities Shift affecting a region from Madison, Wisconsin east to Utica, New York, as well as several minor chain shifts in smaller regions.

Among Labov's well-known students are John Baugh, Penelope Eckert, Gregory Guy, Beatrice Lavandera, John Myhill, Geoffrey Nunberg, Peter Patrick, Shana Poplack, John Rickford, Deborah Schiffrin, Malcah Yaeger-Dror.

Labov's works include Language in the Inner City: Studies in Black English Vernacular (1972), Sociolinguistic Patterns (1972), Principles of Linguistic Change (vol.I Internal Factors, 1994; vol.II Social Factors, 2001), and, together with Sharon Ash and Charles Boberg, The Atlas of North American English (2006).

NotesEdit

  1. Gordon, Matthew J. (2006). Interview with William Labov. Journal of English Linguistics 34: 332–51.
  2. E.g., in the opening chapter of The Handbook of Language Variation and Change (ed. Chambers et al., Blackwell 2002), J.K. Chambers writes that "variationist sociolinguistics had its effective beginnings only in 1963, the year in which William Labov presented the first sociolinguistic research report"; the dedication page of the Handbook says that Labov's "ideas imbue every page".
  3. Trask, R. L. (1997). A Student's Dictionary of Language and Linguistics, 124, London: Arnold.

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