The Expressive Side of Language

Sapir Professor: Penelope EckertStanford University

Date: 7/18/2017

2017 Linguistic Institute Public Lecture

Current work on the meaning of sociolinguistic variation encourages us to examine how variation relates to the larger meaning system of language. Variation is a heterogeneous social-indexical system, but what is distinctive about variation is not so much the meanings it conveys, as the way in which it conveys them. The semantic system is primarily referential, while variation is purely indexical, and in between is a range of resources that balance reference and indexicality. A growing interest among semanticists in social/expressive meaning (e.g. Potts (2007); Acton 2014; Beltrama 2016; Burnett 2016; Jeong 2016) opens the door to integrating pragmatics and variation in a wider expressive system.

Sociolinguistic variation constitutes the most performative component of the broader system of expressivity in language. Tying variation to this broader system, I will examine the range of variables from morphosyntax to voice quality, providing evidence from a wide range of studies that different kinds of variables provide material for different kinds of meanings. I propose a continuum of interiority – a range of indexicality from public and enduring facts (e.g. class, ethnicity) to states associated with an “interior self” (e.g. affect).

LSA 2017 - Penelope Eckert - Public Lecture - July 18th


The 2017 Linguistic Institute at the University of Kentucky Lexington featured seven public lectures by leading linguists in a variety of fields. The videos of the lectures, courtesy of the Institute's techincal team and organizers, are available on the original Institute website and have been generously shared with the LSA.