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William Labov

William Labov's life and career

Sara Bushra

on 17 November 2012

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Transcript of William Labov

William Labov William Labov is a famous American Linguist who is known for his contributions to the field of Linguistics particularly for his article "The Social Stratification of the letter R in the New York City". Career and Contributions to Linguistics. When he entered into the field of Linguistics, he had contributed a great amount to the field. In the late 1960s to the early 1970s, his studies of the linguistic features of African American Vernacular English (AAVE) were very prominent. He argued that American Vernacular English (AAVE) should not be stigmatized and referred to as substandard but respected as a variety of English with it's own grammatical rules. William Labov did research in referential indetermination( a linguistic term referring to situations in which people vary in naming objects) He studied this using illustrations of different drinking vessels to see what people would call "cups and what people would call "mugs." He also collected data for his study in the varieties of English spoken in New York city and based on that date, he published the book called "Social Stratification of English in the New York city", which was influential in social dialectology. William Labov also did seminal studies on the way regular people narrate their lives. The American linguist, a huge influential figure that constructed a lot of the methodology in sociolinguistics, William Labov was born in Rutherford, New Jersey. on December 4th of 1927. Currently, he is eighty-four years old. He studied at Harvard University in 1948. He first worked as an industrial chemist from 1949 to 1961 before making changes to his career path when he entered the field of linguistics. He pursued his MA thesis in 1963 in which, he studied the change of dialect in Martha's Vineyard. Martha's Vineyard is an island located south of Cape Cod in Massachusetts. His thesis was presented before the Linguistic Society of America. In 1964 William then took his PhD at Columbia University studying under Uriel Weinreich. He taught at that university from 1964 to 1970. He then moved on to become a professor of linguistcs at the University of Pennsylvania in 1971. William became the director of the university's Linguistics Labratory in 1977. William Labov had been married to sociologist, Teresa Gnasso Labov. However, after his marriage ended, he later remarried to another sociolinguist, Gillian Sankoff in 1993. William Labov acquired many positions throughout his years. He was a Gugganheim Fellow in 1970 to 1971 and 1987 to 1988, a member of the National Academy of Arts and Sciences since 1979 and a member of National Academy of Sciences since 1993. He is currently in a fellowship in the American Association for the Advance of Science since 1997.
WIlliam Labov's honorary degrees include: U. of Uppsala, 1985; U. of Liège, 1990, U. of York 1998, U. ofEdinburgh 2005, U. of Paris X, Nanterre 2007. Marthas vineyard Social Stratification of "r" in NYC •Willam Labov spent many years studying different dialects. A dialect he once studied was the African-American vernacular English. This was him discussing how different dialects affect African American students. Such as adding “-ed” to make a word past tense. An essay he wrote on this topic was called “Academic Ignorance and Black Intelligence” in June 1972. •William Labov’s Martha’s Vineyard research showed that accent/dialect features tend to be distributed systematically across a community. His study showed how people adapt to different accents and dialects over time and start to use it normally in their own speech. Martha’s Vineyard is an island with about 6000 as its population, but about 40, 000 visitors over the summer. So as more and more people came to the island, the people living on the island adapted to the speech of the visitors and started to use their accents normally when they spoke. They subconsciously imitated the way their visitors talked. For these people the new pronunciation was an innovation and as time went by the innovation gradually became the norm for those living on the island. He interviewed different generations living on the island and the younger the generation was the more they spoke like the visitors and less like the older generation. •All of his studies and research led him to believe that observing and recording sound changes is not enough to understand the process of change. One has to view that change within the context of the community in which it is being made, as it is being made. Labov's contribution to dialectology-
Two main studies of the dialects What is it?
-> Study in three New York department stores (easily discerned- social class and social stratification of their clients.)
- Differential use of (r) The three large department stores: Saks, Macys and S.Kleins
Ranked according to the following factors:
- locations
Saks: close to the center of high fashion shopping area (downtown) along with other high ranked stores like Henri bendel, Lord and taylor
Macy's: along with other medium ranged stores. In price and prestige.
S.Klein: near union sq. not far from lower east side.
-prices of items
Womans coats- Saks: 90$, Macys 79$, S.Klein 23$.
- structure
S: spacious, carpeted. Receptionist there to greet
K: maze, concrete floors, low celings
- working conditions and wages a)Highest ranking: Saks Fifth avenue
b)Middle ranking: Macy’s
c)Lowest ranking: Klein Method: Gather data through observations in public places

1. Ask for directions to certain department in fourth floor
Ex) where are the woman's shoes-> fourth floor

2.Ask again-> ‘excuse me.’
The respondent will answer Under in emphatic stress

3.If noticed, go to the fourth floor

4. 'what floor is this'

-264 interviews;
68 in Saks, 125 in Macys and 71 in Kleins. Made the interviewers say “Fourth Floor”
-Total interviewing time-> 6.5 hours Result: verified Labov’ s hypothesis

-Use of /r/ corresponded
- Increases of /r/ in careful speech.
- Saks used rhotic /r/ most, showing that the current popular form in NYC favored rhoticity.

More careful the speech => the more likely the /r/ was to be pronounced

Non rhotic- /r/ speaker
Rhotic- non /r/ speaker Why did he do the study?

-> to investigate on change in language that was made by different social factors; age, social class, and gender.

“Under pressure from of the new r-pronouncing norm, New York City speech is changing slowly” (Labov 1994)

->> Change is no longer slow, no longer formal Conclusion:
The social class will affect the manner of how English is spoken and pronounced Before William Labov turned to linguistics, he was an industrial chemist. He also had done some teaching. He taught at Columbia University after getting a PHD there. He then moved on to become a professor of linguistics at the University of Pennsylvania in 1971
. Labov was awarded the 2013 Benjamin Franklin Medal in Computer and Cognitive Science by the Franklin Institute for "establishing the cognitive basis of language variation and change and for the study of non-standard dialects with significant social and cultural implications. More recently he studied the phonology of English in the U.S.A and studied the origins and pattern of chain sifts of vowels. William and his co-authors of "In the Atlas of North American English(2006)" find three major chain shifts taking place today: a Southern Shift(in Appalachia and southern coastal regions), a Northern Cities Shift affecting a region from madison, Wisconsin, New York, and a Canadian Shift affecting most of Canada. William Labov has wrote many books. His work include:

The Study of Non-Standard English- this book looks at non standark english as a functioning part of the larger sociolinguistic structure of the English language.

Language in the Innercity:Studies in the Black English Vernacular-focuses on the speech among African Americans in the Inner city. Labov thinks that for the African American children and their relation of spelling and sound is different. He suggested that it is time to apply this knowledge to the teaching of reading.

Sociolinguistics Patterns (1972)- constitutes a systematic introduction to sociolinguistics, unmatched in the clarity and forcefulness of its approach, and to the study of language in its social setting.

Principles of Linguistic Change, Internal Factors-This book develops the general principles of linguistic change that form the foundations of historical linguistics, dialectology and sociolinguistics.

The Atlas of North American English- provides the first overall view of the pronunciation and vowel systems of the dialects of the U.S. and Canada. The End Office:
Linguistics Laboratory
3810 Walnut St.
Philadelphia, PA 19104
(215) 898-4912
(215) 573-2427
Office Hours:
Tuesday 1:00 - 3:00 PM
or by appointment Biography Social stratification:
Society ranking (upper class, middle class, lower class)
Divisions of power and wealth within a society. (Classification)

Purpose: Change in language over time,
by social factors (age, social class and gender)
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