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The Speech Community

Peter L. Patrick
Dept. of Language and Linguistics University of Essex Wivenhoe Park Colchester CO4 3SQ United Kingdom Email: patrickp@essex.ac.uk http://privatewww.essex.ac.uk/~patrickp/

This article will appear in JK Chambers, P Trudgill & N Schilling-Estes (eds.), Handbook of language variation and change. Oxford: Blackwell.

ABSTRACT:

empirical linguistics, is at the intersection of many principal problems in sociolinguistic theory and method. This paper traces its history of development contemporary and notions, divergence, and discusses surveys links general to problems key issues with in

The speech community (SpCom), a core concept in

investigating language variation and change. It neither offers a new and correct definition nor rejects the concept (both are seen as misguided efforts), nor does it exhaustively survey the applications in the field (an impossibly large task).

The Speech Community

General Problems with the Speech Community Every branch of linguistics that is concerned with representative samples of a population; that takes individual speakers or

experimental subjects as typical members of a group; that studies

langue as attributable to a socially coherent body (whether or not it professes interest in the social nature of that body); or that takes as primitive such notions as ‘native speaker’, ‘competence/performance’, ‘acceptability’, etc., which manifestly refer to collective behavior, rests partially on a concept equivalent to the SpCom. Linguistic systems are exercised by speakers, in social space: there they are acquired, change, are manipulated for expressive or communicative purposes, undergo attrition, etc. Whether linguists prefer to focus on speakers, varieties or grammars, the problem of relating a linguistic system to its speakers is not trivial. In studying language change and variation (geographical or social) it is inescapable, yet there is remarkably little agreement or theoretical discussion of the

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