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The Linguistic Review

Editor-in-Chief: Hulst, Harry

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Volume 21, Issue 3-4 (Sep 2004)


The problem of variation

Gaetano Berruto
  • University of Turin.
Published Online: 2005-07-27 | DOI: https://doi.org/10.1515/tlir.2004.21.3-4.293


This paper discusses the problem of variation in linguistics and the ways in which linguists try to take it into account. First the notion of variation in linguistics is defined and the different levels of importance given to phenomena of variation by various groups of linguists is highlighted. Many linguists see these phenomena as irrelevant or negligible, whereas they are in fact fundamental to fully understand language. The relationship between theoretical models and variational data is then discussed, with examples of data (covering phonetics, verbal morphology, code switching, and derivation) that appear resistant to rigorous modelization; also discussed is the nature of the fundamentally functional and probabilistic models used to theorize about and analyze variation and the sociolinguistic objects in which it appears. Finally mention is made of the problem of incorporating variation into grammar, and a number of key concepts for a linguistic theory of variation are introduced (sociolinguistic variable, continuum, sociolinguistic levels of analysis).

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Published Online: 2005-07-27

Published in Print: 2004-09-13

Citation Information: The Linguistic Review, ISSN (Online) 1613-3676, ISSN (Print) 0167-6318, DOI: https://doi.org/10.1515/tlir.2004.21.3-4.293.

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