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Licensed Unlicensed Requires Authentication Published by De Gruyter Mouton 2021

Linguistic, Social, and Individual Factors Constraining Variation in Spoken Swiss Standard German

From the book Intra-individual Variation in Language

  • Lars Bülow , Andrin Büchler , Nicolai Rawyler , Christa Schneider and David Britain


This chapter explores linguistic, social, and individual factors constraining spoken Swiss Standard German. The empirical focus of this study is on the variables (k) and (c), which are well-attested to vary both at the level of the Swiss German speech community as a whole and also at the level of individual speakers within the community. Our data are based on sociolinguistic interviews including informal conversations (comprehension-oriented) as well as reading and translation tasks (norm-oriented) from 16 adults ranging in age from 19 to 40 who were born and work in the city of Biel in North-West Switzerland. Results show that level of education and gender explain most of the variation present in the data, despite these factors not affecting (k) and (c) equally. Language internal constraints only play a minor role. However, no systematic stylistic variation was found regarding the communicative orientation of the different language production tasks. Based on these findings, this chapter furthermore addresses theoretical and methodological questions regarding systematic and non-systematic variation within individuals. In particular with respect to the results found at the level of the individual, it needs to be questioned whether (social) factors determining variation based on group averages can be generalised to individuals’ behaviour. Hence, we argue in this chapter that variationist sociolinguists should be more careful when it comes to drawing inferences based on group-derived estimates only.

© 2021 Walter de Gruyter GmbH, Berlin/Munich/Boston
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