Jump to ContentJump to Main Navigation
Show Summary Details
More options …

Linguistics Vanguard

A Multimodal Journal for the Language Sciences

Editor-in-Chief: Bergs, Alexander / Cohn, Abigail C. / Good, Jeff

CiteScore 2018: 0.95

SCImago Journal Rank (SJR) 2018: 0.381
Source Normalized Impact per Paper (SNIP) 2018: 0.841

See all formats and pricing
More options …

The role of context in sociolinguistic perception

Katherine Hilton
  • Corresponding author
  • Stanford University, Department of Linguistics, Margaret Jacks Hall, Building 460 Rm. 127, Stanford, CA 94305, USA
  • Email
  • Other articles by this author:
  • De Gruyter OnlineGoogle Scholar
/ Sunwoo Jeong
Published Online: 2019-04-18 | DOI: https://doi.org/10.1515/lingvan-2018-0069


Previous research demonstrates that listeners make social inferences about people based on how they speak, and that these inferences vary depending on the linguistic and social context. An open question is exactly how contextual enrichment (i.e. information about the speaker and speaking situation) comes to influence sociolinguistic perception. This paper addresses this question by analyzing data from 10 perception experiments investigating three different linguistic phenomena: number agreement in existential there constructions, intonation contours in declarative sentences, and overlapping speech in conversation. We observe an overall trend that increasing contextual enrichment obscures the effects of linguistic forms. In contextually impoverished stimuli, number nonagreement and rising declaratives trigger perceptions that speakers are less educated and more polite, respectively, but show no effect on listener perceptions when embedded in more contextually rich stimuli. By contrast, overlapping speech shows robust effects on perceived interruptiveness, even in contextually rich stimuli. Drawing on theories from social psychology and linguistic anthropology, we argue that if listeners are able to form sufficient impressions of speakers before encountering the target linguistic feature, they will not modify their impressions to incorporate the social meanings conveyed by the target linguistic feature, unless these social meanings are highly enregistered.

This article offers supplementary material which is provided at the end of the article.

Keywords: sociolinguistic perception; experimental methods; social cognition; enregisterment; implicitness


  • Agha, Asif. 2003. The social life of cultural value. Language & Communication 23. 231–273.CrossrefGoogle Scholar

  • Beltrama, Andrea & Laura Staum Casasanto. 2017. Totally tall sounds totally younger: Intensification at the socio-semantics interface. Journal of Sociolinguistics 21(2). 154–182.CrossrefGoogle Scholar

  • Berinsky, Adam J., Michele F. Margolis & Michael W. Sances. 2016. Can we turn shirkers into workers? Journal of Experimental Social Psychology 66. 20–28.CrossrefGoogle Scholar

  • Bucholtz, Mary. 2001. The whiteness of nerds: Superstandard English and racial markedness. Journal of Linguistic Anthropology 11. 84–100.CrossrefGoogle Scholar

  • Bucholtz, Mary. 2011. White kids: Language, race, and styles of youth identity. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar

  • Campbell-Kibler, Kathryn. 2009. The nature of sociolinguistic perception. Language Variation and Change 21(1). 135–156.CrossrefGoogle Scholar

  • Campbell-Kibler, Kathryn. 2011. Intersecting variables and perceived sexual orientation in men. American Speech 86(1). 52–68.CrossrefGoogle Scholar

  • Chen, Jacqueline, Ishani Banerji, Wesley G. Moons & Jeffrey W. Sherman. 2014. Spontaneous social role inferences. Journal of Experimental Social Psychology 55. 146–153.CrossrefGoogle Scholar

  • Cheshire, Jenny. 1999. Spoken Standard English. In Tony Bex & Richard Watts (eds.), Standard English: The Widening Debate, 129–148. London: Routledge.Google Scholar

  • Crawford, William J. 2005. Verb agreement and disagreement: A corpus investigation of concord variation in existential there + be constructions. Journal of English Linguistics 33. 35–61.CrossrefGoogle Scholar

  • Curran, Paul G. 2016. Methods for detection of carelessly invalid responses in survey data. Journal of Experimental Social Psychology 66. 4–19.CrossrefGoogle Scholar

  • D’Onofrio, Annette. 2015. Persona-based information shapes linguistic perception: Valley Girls and California vowels. Journal of Sociolinguistics 19(2). 241–256.CrossrefGoogle Scholar

  • D’Onofrio, Annette. 2018. Personae and phonetic detail in sociolinguistic signs. Language in Society 47(4). 513–539.CrossrefGoogle Scholar

  • Eckert, Penelope. 2008. Variation and the indexical field. Journal of Sociolinguistics 12(4). 453–476.CrossrefGoogle Scholar

  • Eckert, Penelope. 2012. Three waves of variation study: The emergence of meaning in the study of sociolinguistic variation. Annual Review of Anthropology 41. 87–100.CrossrefGoogle Scholar

  • Farkas, Donka & Kim Bruce. 2010. On reacting to assertions and polar questions. Journal of Semantics 27. 81–118.CrossrefGoogle Scholar

  • Gawronski, Bertram, Yang Ye, Robert J. Rydell & Jan De Houwer. 2014. Formation, representation, and activation of contextualized attitudes. Journal of Experimental Social Psychology 54. 188–203.CrossrefGoogle Scholar

  • Gregg, Aiden P., Beate Seibt & Mahzarin R. Banaji. 2006. Easier done than undone: Asymmetry in the malleability of implicit preferences. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 90(1). 1–20.PubMedCrossrefGoogle Scholar

  • Hilton, Katherine. 2018a. Social meaning in a shifting grammatical landscape: The perception of nonagreement in existential there constructions. Journal of Sociolinguistics 22(2). 233–249.CrossrefGoogle Scholar

  • Hilton, Katherine. 2018b. What Does an Interruption Sound Like? Ph.D. dissertation. Stanford, CA: Stanford University.Google Scholar

  • Hirschberg, Julia & Gregory Ward. 1995. The interpretation of the high-rise question contour in English. Journal of Pragmatics 24. 407–412.CrossrefGoogle Scholar

  • Jeong, Sunwoo. 2018. Intonation and sentence type conventions: Two types of rising declaratives. Journal of Semantics 35(2). 305–356.CrossrefGoogle Scholar

  • Kang, Okim & Donald L. Rubin. 2009. Reverse linguistic stereotyping: Measuring the effect of listener expectations on speech evaluation. Journal of Language and Social Psychology 28(4). 441–456.CrossrefGoogle Scholar

  • Kortmann, Bernd. 2006. Syntactic variation in English: A global perspective. In Bas Aarts & April McMahon (eds.), Handbook of English Linguistics, 603–624. Malden, Massachusetts: Blackwell.Google Scholar

  • Krejci, Bonnie & Katherine Hilton. 2017. There’s three variants: Agreement variation in existential there constructions. Language Variation and Change 29. 187–204.CrossrefGoogle Scholar

  • Krosnick, Jon A. & Richard E. Petty. 1995. Attitude strength: An overview. In Richard E. Petty & Jon A. Krosnick (eds.), Attitude Strength: Antecedents and Consequences, 1–24. Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.Google Scholar

  • Labov, William, Sharon Ash, Maya Ravindranath, Tracey Weldon, Maciej Baranowski & Naomi Nagy. 2011. Properties of the sociolinguistic monitor. Journal of Sociolinguistics 15(4). 431–463.CrossrefGoogle Scholar

  • Levon, Erez. 2014. Categories, stereotypes, and the linguistic perception of sexuality. Language in Society 43(5). 539–566.CrossrefGoogle Scholar

  • Levon, Erez. 2016. Gender, interaction and intonational variation: The discourse functions of High Rising Terminals in London. Journal of Sociolinguistics 20(2). 133–163.CrossrefGoogle Scholar

  • Levon, Erez & Isabelle Buchstaller. 2015. Perception, cognition, and linguistic structure: The effect of linguistic modularity and cognitive style on sociolinguistic processing. Language Variation and Change 27. 319–348.CrossrefGoogle Scholar

  • Lewis, David. 1979. Scorekeeping in a language game. Journal of Philosophical Logic 8(1). 339–359.Google Scholar

  • Malamud, Sophia A. & Tamina Stephenson. 2015. Three ways to avoid commitments: Declarative force modifiers in the conversational scoreboard. Journal of Semantics 32(2). 275–311.CrossrefGoogle Scholar

  • McConnell-Ginet, Sally. 1978. Intonation in a man’s world. Signs: Journal of Women in Culture and Society 3(3). 541–559.CrossrefGoogle Scholar

  • McLemore, Cynthia Ann. 1991. The pragmatic interpretation of English intonation: Sorority speech. PhD dissertation. Austin, Texas: University of Texas at Austin.Google Scholar

  • Meechan, Marjory & Michele Foley. 1994. On resolving disagreement: Linguistic theory and variation – there’s brides. Language Variation and Change 6. 63–85.CrossrefGoogle Scholar

  • Nayakakuppam, Dhananjay, Joseph R. Priester, Jae Hwan Kwon, Leigh Anne Novak Donovan & Richard E. Petty. 2018. Construction and retrieval of evaluative judgments: The attitude strength moderation model. Journal of Experimental Social Psychology 76. 54–66.CrossrefGoogle Scholar

  • Pharao, Nicolai, Marie Maegaard, Janus Spindler Møller & Tore Kristiansen. 2014. Indexical meanings of [s+] among Copenhagen youth: Social perception of a phonetic variant in different prosodic contexts. Language in Society 43. 1–21.CrossrefGoogle Scholar

  • Podesva, Robert J. 2011. Salience and the social meaning of declarative contours: Three case studies of gay professionals. Journal of English Linguistics 39(3). 233–264.CrossrefGoogle Scholar

  • Podesva, Robert J., Jermay Reynolds, Patrick Callier & Jessica Baptiste. 2015. Constraints on the social meaning of released /t/: A production and perception study of U.S. politicians. Language Variation and Change 27(1). 59–87.CrossrefGoogle Scholar

  • Riordan, Brian. 2007. There’s two ways to say it: Modeling nonprestige there’s. Corpus Linguistics and Linguistic Theory 3. 233–279.Google Scholar

  • Rosen, Rebecca, Laura Staum Casasanto, Amritpal Singh & Daniel Casasanto. 2018. Black dialect activates violent stereotypes. Paper presented at the 40thAnnual Cognitive Science Society Meeting (CogSci). Madison, WI.Google Scholar

  • Sanbonmatsu, David M. & Russell H. Fazio. 1990. The role of attitudes in memory-based decision making. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 59(4). 614–622.PubMedCrossrefGoogle Scholar

  • Silverstein, Michael. 2003. Indexical order and the dialectics of sociolinguistic life. Language & Communication 23. 193–229.CrossrefGoogle Scholar

  • Squires, Lauren. 2011. Sociolinguistic priming and the perception of agreement variation: testing predictions of exemplar-theoretic grammar. Unpublished PhD dissertation. Ann Arbor, Michigan: University of Michigan.Google Scholar

  • Squires, Lauren. 2013. It don’t go both ways: Limited bidirectionality in sociolinguistic perception. Journal of Sociolinguistics 17(2). 200–237.CrossrefGoogle Scholar

  • Stalnaker, Robert. 1978. Assertion. Syntax and Semantics 9. New York: Academic Press. 315–332.Google Scholar

  • Tannen, Deborah. 1984. Conversational style: Analyzing talk among friends. Oxford: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar

  • Tannen, Deborah. 1996. Gender and discourse. Oxford: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar

  • Walker, James. 2007. There’s bears back there: Plural existentials and vernacular universals in (Quebec) English. English World-Wide 28. 147–166.CrossrefGoogle Scholar

  • Warren, Paul. 2005. Patterns of late rising in New Zealand English: Intonational variation or intonational change? Language Variation and Change 17(2). 209–230.Google Scholar

  • Winter, Laraine & James S. Uleman. 1984. When are social judgments made? Evidence for the spontaneousness of trait inferences. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 47(2). 237–252.CrossrefPubMedGoogle Scholar

  • Woolley, Kaitlin & Jane L. Risen. 2018. Closing your eyes to follow your heart: Avoiding information to protect a strong intuitive preference. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 114(2). 230–245.CrossrefGoogle Scholar

About the article

Received: 2018-11-24

Accepted: 2018-12-13

Published Online: 2019-04-18

Citation Information: Linguistics Vanguard, Volume 5, Issue s1, 20180069, ISSN (Online) 2199-174X, DOI: https://doi.org/10.1515/lingvan-2018-0069.

Export Citation

©2019 Walter de Gruyter GmbH, Berlin/Boston.Get Permission

Supplementary Article Materials

Comments (0)

Please log in or register to comment.
Log in