**Summary**1.
General aspects
2.
Aims
3. Study variables
4.
Application of the Goldvarb statistical programme
5. Goldvarb in variationist
sociolinguistics
6. Bibliography
**1. General aspects**
Variationist
sociolinguistics has taken major steps towards perfecting quantitative analysis techniques
used to demonstrate the importance of social and linguistic contexts in variation. Hence,
the "probability theory to the data allows us to extract higher-order regularities
that govern variation in the community" (Labov, 1994:25). To this end, "the
variationist method aims to calculate the probability that a given linguistic feature will
appear in specific linguistic, sociological and contextual circumstances. On the basis of
frequency data gathered from a group of speakers, a theoretical model is created from the
probabilities of a certain phenomenon occurring when a number of circumstances converge.
Statistics marks the extent to which the calculated probabilities are likely and the
circumstances that, when occurring simultaneously, best explain a linguistic fact".
(Moreno, 1994:95)
Sociolinguistics
works with two types of statistics: a) descriptive statistics, which quantitatively counts
and orders data extracted from reality; and b) inference statistics, which applies the
results of descriptive statistics and adapts them to realities of a specific linguistic
community that have not been studied.
The main object of
study in inference statistics is the "dependent variable". This variable is
determined by independent or explanatory variables which, in language, are linguistic and
sociosituational elements. To establish the probability of a variable phenomena occurring
in certain ways, first of all, we need to know how many times it has occurred in terms of
all possible cases; this figure is obtained by counting the frequencies of appearance of a
certain feature in each of the envisaged conditions and in the discourses gathered from a
sample of speakers. Once the cases where a factor is present have been counted, we then
turn to look for the frequency with which the phenomenon occurs when different explanatory
factors coincide.
Probabilistic
analysis allows us to find out: 1) the extent to which different groups of explanatory
factors determine the variation of an element when all of these explanatory factors act
together; and 2) the general behaviour of a community, even though data is only collated
from a stratified sample of speakers. The probabilities are used to create a model of the
sociolinguistic competence of speakers in order to predict future trends.
The first
probabilistic model applied to linguistic analysis is based on an additive model; a
logistic-multiplicative model (1) is then reached using this
formula:
The mathematical
advances in sociolinguistics that took place between 1969 – with Labov’s work
(1969) – and 1978, were in turn complemented by computer applications that perform
statistical calculations. Two programmes that follow this line of research are: Varbrul
for the PC and Vax, which performs multinomial analyses, (2) and Goldvarb, for the Macintosh,
which calculates probability using a binomial dependent variable.
**2. Aims**
The aim of this
article is to explain briefly the way in which the Goldvarb calculation programme works by
studying a process of change in progress analysed in Alguaire (a town in the Segrià
region), and to evaluate the use of the programme in variationist sociolinguistics.
The process of
phonic variation analysed here forms part of the atonic vocalism of Lleidatà and involves
initial e- in absolute initial pretonic position in words such as enciam, escala or
eriçó. Diverse dialectological studies carried out during the twentieth century reveal
that this vowel was traditionally pronounced with the solution [a]; however, we are now
observing a process of phonic variation leaning towards replacement of the solution [a]
with another corresponding to written forms of language: [e]. The analysis focuses on
informants aged 3 to 80 years from the town of Alguaire and basically reveals the
influence of written language on the formal model of North-western Catalan, since the
phonic changes observed depend on the speaker’s knowledge of Catalan, the type of
education they had, and –linked to this– their age. (3) |