The status of frequency, schemas, and identity in Cognitive Sociolinguistics: A case study on definite article reduction

Willem B. Hollmann 1  and Anna Siewierska 1
  • 1 Lancaster University

Abstract

This article contributes to the nascent field of Cognitive Sociolinguistics. In particular, we are interested in how usage-based cognitive linguistics and variationist sociolinguistics may enrich each other. We first discuss some of the ways in which variationist insights have led cognitive linguists such as Gries (e.g. Multifactorial analysis in corpus linguistics: A study of particle placement, Continuum, 2003) and Grondelaers et al. (e.g. National variation in the use of er “there”. Regional and diachronic constraints on cognitive explanations, Mouton de Gruyter, 2008) to pay attention to language-external factors (such as medium, region, and register), thereby greatly enhancing the description and understanding of certain grammatical phenomena. The focus then shifts to cognitive linguistic work (by Hollmann and Siewierska, English Language and Linguistics 11: 407–424, 2007 and Clark and Trousdale, English Language and Linguistics 13: 33–55, 2009) which has implications for sociolinguistic theory. The two usage-based concepts that have proved especially relevant in this connection are frequency effects and schemas. The article explores and illustrates the role of these two factors in relation to linguistic variation by means of a new case study on definite article reduction (DAR) in Lancashire dialect, a variety spoken in the North West of England. A twofold conclusion is drawn: first, a symbiotic relation between cognitive and sociolinguistics seems possible, but second, in order for this relation to be truly mutually beneficial variationists should get involved in the Cognitive Sociolinguistic enterprise much more than is currently the case.

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