According to Eckert (2000), style is the locus of an individual’s internalisation of broader social distributions of variation. It is through these stylistic variables that Labov (1966) suggest the possible observation of linguistic change in progress.
For those who don’t understand gibberish, the style or manner of speech used reflects one’s conscious and unconscious interpretation of the different social strata and situations that exist as well as one’s own position within a social strata and situation. According to Kramsh (1998), social conventions, norms of social appropriateness, are the product of communities of language users. Kramsh says that people who identify themselves to a certain social group will somehow develop a common thought and way of viewing the world. These thoughts and views are further reinforced by one’s interaction and socialisation with members of an institution, formal ones like schools and the workplace, or informal ones like in a family.
The point here is, that these common beliefs or values are reflected in one’s speech- the choice of words, the style of speaking, the choice of speech style etc. Notice that the way you speak to a family member might differ from the manner you speak to your boss or a close friend? This is because we interact within different discourse communities (subsets that use common language style within own social group eg. Gangsta Style), even if we are in a much larger speech community (much bigger set that uses the same linguistic code eg. English Language).
Nonetheless, linguistic studies over the years have focused so much on the relationship between language and society and the lines that draw them together, that the study of the speaker’s strategies with regards to such a phenomenon has been somewhat sidelined (Rickford & Eckert, 2001). Labov’s 1996 New York City studies revealed that stylistic variation makes up a crucial core between the individual and the community. In other words, talking the talk decides which walk you walk, vice versa. A discussion of which comes first will lead into a very interesting area of Linguistic Relativity which I will reserve for another day. What is important to understand here is that sociolinguistic variables are socioeconomically stratified. Labov explains the social recognition of an individually (by shaped by society) perceived prestigious way of speaking, where people are careful about what they are saying, and a stigmatized form of speech with is more casual and unmonitored. The 1996 New York City study concludes that a speaker’s speech style strategies was directly influenced by where the speaker was, something which is very heavily reliant on the socioeconomic hierarchy.
Holmes (2001) conducted a continuous study on the speech style of women and realised that pattern revel that the speech style of women reflected their social aspirations. Women adopting the speech style of men, and the raising call for less sexist language suggests a reflectionof the way the world is today, where women are demanding greater access to education and employment, and representation in governments and world social organisations.
Many more studies have been conducted that reveal the stylistic strategies adopted by individuals in different contexts such as Labov’s study on Martha’s Vineyard and Trugill’s study on Norwich English. However, the concern here, as I have quoted before, there is a lack of ongoing research into a greater span of linguistic variables where stylistic and sociolinguistic variation is concerned. It is an interesting field which I am increasingly excited about (I am such a geek), my most of my resources are old. More linguist researchers should definitely take up this field.