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Semantic Variation and Change in Present-day English

Robinson, Justyna Anna (2010) Semantic Variation and Change in Present-day English. PhD thesis, University of Sheffield.

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Sociolinguistics has rarely engaged in investigations of lexis arguing the unsuitability of its methods for studies of vocabulary (Labov 2001: 123, also cf. Labov 1978: 8). This thesis challenges these claims by testing the validity of a variationist construct of apparent time in the exploration of semantic change in progress. The data for this project come from interviews with seventy-two speakers from South Yorkshire. The results of the analysis indicate that the use of innovative or older senses systematically relates to the age of speakers, with gender and social class also playing some role. In order to provide further explanation for the observed variation, I also analyse perceptions of and attitudes to the language of different generations. The results indicate that semantic change is a salient phenomenon in a speech community and people are aware of generational distribution of different senses. However, speakers’ perceptions and attitudes to language of different generations are not as significant in accounting for the use of different meanings as compared to the age of speakers. Additionally, I suggest that positive or negative attitudes to change can influence the diffusion of change in progress. The overall findings of this research project lead to the conclusion that semantic change in progress is reflected in the socio-demographic structure of a speech community and therefore can be and should be further investigated within sociolinguistic-variationist frameworks. By challenging theoretical assumptions of variationist approaches (e.g., the restriction of the sociolinguistic variable to phonological and morpho-syntactic data) this thesis proposes that both of the disciplines — Semantics and Sociolinguistics — can greatly benefit from using each other’s methodologies.

Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Keywords: semantic variation, semantic change in progress, evaluative adjectives, apparent time, South Yorkshire English, perceptions and attitudes, cognitive sociolinguistics
Academic Units: The University of Sheffield > Faculty of Arts and Humanities (Sheffield) > School of English Literature, Language and Linguistics (Sheffield)
Depositing User: Dr Justyna Anna Robinson
Date Deposited: 12 Apr 2012 09:25
Last Modified: 08 Aug 2013 08:48
URI: http://etheses.whiterose.ac.uk/id/eprint/2232

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