Labov: Systemic Variation and Knowledge

  • Feifei Zhou


As is made clear in previous chapters, both Bloomfieldian structural linguistics and Chomskyan generative grammar restrict the main object of linguistic study to either the hierarchical grammar or the linguistic device in the individual’s brain; other issues concerning language and language use are in turn dismissed as the remainder, the ghost, the noise, or the trash bin (Lecercle, 2002, p. 66). Against this backdrop, the founding father of sociolinguistics, William Labov can be seen to have made the first effort to investigate the ‘noise’ ignored by mainstream linguistics, that is, linguistic variation. His study of linguistic variation extends the Saussurean system into the field of ‘parole’ by mapping out the systematic correlations between linguistic features and social factors. One may read his work as an important attempt in linguistics to reconnect the system with the ‘outside’ noise. However, based on detailed analysis of his studies, in what follows I will argue that his theory is crippled by a problematic understanding of the individual speaker.


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© Springer Nature Singapore Pte Ltd. 2020

Authors and Affiliations

  • Feifei Zhou
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of EnglishLingnan UniversityHong KongChina

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