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An Interdisciplinary Journal of the Language Sciences

Editor-in-Chief: van der Auwera, Johan

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Volume 51, Issue 2 (Mar 2013)


The social and linguistic in the acquisition of sociolinguistic norms: Caregivers, children, and variation

Jennifer Smith
  • Corresponding author
  • Email:
/ Mercedes Durham
  • Cardiff University
/ Hazel Richards
  • University of York
Published Online: 2013-03-15 | DOI: https://doi.org/10.1515/ling-2013-0012


Despite the assumption in early studies that children are monostylistic until sometime around adolescence, a number of studies since then have demonstrated that adult-like patterns of variation may be acquired much earlier. How much earlier, however, is still subject to some debate. In this paper we contribute to this research through an analysis of a number of lexical, phonological and morphosyntactic variables across 29 caregiver/child pairs aged 2;10 to 4;2 in interaction with their primary caregivers. We first establish the patterns of use – both linguistic and social – in caregiver speech and then investigate whether these patterns of use are evident in the child speech. Our findings show that the acquisition of variation is highly variable dependent: some show age differentiation, others do not; some show acquisition of style shifting, others do not; some show correlations between caregiver input and child output, others do not. We interpret these findings in the light of community norms, social recognition and sociolinguistic value in the acquisition of variation at these early stages.

Keywords: acquisition; children; caregivers; variation; sociolinguistic

About the article

English Language, School of Critical Studies, University of Glasgow, 12 University Gardens, Glasgow, G12 8QQ, United Kingdom

Published Online: 2013-03-15

Published in Print: 2013-03-14

Citation Information: Linguistics, ISSN (Online) 1613-396X, ISSN (Print) 0024-3949, DOI: https://doi.org/10.1515/ling-2013-0012.

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©[2013] by Walter de Gruyter Berlin Boston. Copyright Clearance Center

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