Developing Discussion of Language Change Into a Three-Dimensional Model of Linguistic Phenomena

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The concepts of change from above (CFA) and change from below (CFB) have been employed by sociolinguists for decades: but ‘above’ and ‘below’ what exactly? Popularised by William Labov, these terms are most frequently used to describe complementary, highly distinct processes of language change. Subsequent interpretations have subtly altered the definitions of these terms, and as a result, CFA and CFB have been used to refer to different things by different people. Often, the resultant phenomena are not as complementary or distinct as they first seem. This article analyses the various interpretations of CFA and CFB with an aim to clarify how the terms have been used, and to propose a new and thorough taxonomical model for linguistic phenomena. Leading scholarly viewpoints are examined (Labov 1972, Crystal 1987, Ferguson 1987, Wolfram and Schilling-Estes 1998, Ellis 1999, Romaine 2003 inter alia), and three bifurcating axes are formed, revealing what ‘above’ and ‘below’ variously relate to. The axes of +/– metacommentary, +/– overt prestige and +/– planned will be explained and formed into a three-dimensional model of linguistic phenomena, thus constituting an innovative development in the ongoing debate surrounding CFA and CFB.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)176-190
Number of pages15
JournalLanguage and Linguistics Compass
Issue number4
Early online date3 Apr 2016
Publication statusPublished - 6 Apr 2016

Bibliographical note

Date of Acceptance: 03/12/2015


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