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Semantic Variation: Meaning in Society and in Sociolinguistics

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The sociolinguistic turn of the 60's has been remarkably successful: variability of language is no longer an issue open to debate. But studies of variation have by and large been restricted to the level of expression. This volume offers a critique of present day sociolinguistics, arguing that since meaning is critical to all contexts of life in society, ignoring it has led to a number of serious problems, foremost among them a mis-conception of the nature of sociolinguistics itself. By examining the possibility of systematic variation at the level of meaning, the volume makes a positive contribution to opening up a debate about the possibility of the neglected/ misrepresented notion of semantic variation. Most chapters of the volume present an account of certain aspects of an empirical research which strongly supports the view that systematic variation in the choice of semantic features occurs across different social groups. Mothers and their young children less than four years old showed in their naturally occurring conversation a highly systematic, statistically significant, orientation to distinct styles of meaning, which correlated with their social positioning, and/or with the gender of the children. The comparison of kindergarten teachers' ways of meaning with those of mothers' provides empirical proof that teacher talk is an exaggerated version of middle class mothers' talk. The volume is relevant on the one hand to theoretical issues in linguistics and sociolinguistics and on the other, to any serious discourse about equitable education.

This volume is accompanied by supplementary material which may be downloaded for personal use only.

 A Brief Summary of the Research on Semantic Variation
 Conventions for Dialogue Transcription in the Included Sample
 Sample of Mother-child Dialogues
 Sample of Analysis
Identifying Patterns in Linguistic Behaviour by Carmel Cloran
Semantic Networks: the Description of Linguistic Meaning in SFL by Ruqaiya Hasan, Carmel Cloran, Geoffrey Williams, and Annabelle Lukin (2007)

Published: Jul 1, 2009


Section Chapter Authors
Acknowledgements Ruqaiya Hasan†, Jonathan J. Webster
Author's preface Ruqaiya Hasan†
Editor's introduction Jonathan J. Webster
I Introducing meaning in sociolinguistics
1 Wanted: a theory for integrated sociolinguistics Ruqaiya Hasan†
2 On semantic variation Ruqaiya Hasan†
II Questions and answers in sociolinguistic studies
3 A sociolinguistic interpretation of everyday talk between mothers and children [1990] Ruqaiya Hasan†
4 Language in the processes of socialisation: home and school Ruqaiya Hasan†
5 Semantic variation and sociolinguistics [1989] Ruqaiya Hasan†
6 Questions as a mode of learning in everyday talk [1991] Ruqaiya Hasan†
III Social hierarchies and the concept of rationality
7 Meaning in sociolinguistic theory [1992] Ruqaiya Hasan†
8 Rationality in everyday talk: from process to system [1992] Ruqaiya Hasan†
IV The world and the world of meanings
9 Contexts for meaning [1993] Ruqaiya Hasan†
10 Social factors in semantic variation Ruqaiya Hasan†
11 The ontogenesis of decontextualised language: some achievements of classification and framing [2001] Ruqaiya Hasan†
12 The world in words: semiotic mediation, tenor and ideology [2004] Ruqaiya Hasan†
End Matter
References Ruqaiya Hasan†
Index Ruqaiya Hasan†

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'Throughout her long and distinguished career Ruqaiya Hasan has been an ardent and eloquent proponent of the stance that semantics is an important, arguably the most important, area for sociolinguistics to investigate. Semantic variation is the mother of variation in general. This ought not to be a revolutionary perspective on contemporary sociolinguistics, but it is. That is why this collection of papers all of them lucid, all of them thorough, all of them replete with either fundamental theoretical arguments or significant empirical results (or both), should be required reading for anyone interested in the future of sociolinguistics.'

Frans Gregersen
Director, the LANCHART Centre at the University of Copenhagen