Doctoral dissertation

Mikko Laasanen: Ongoing language change and linguistic variation: on the theory of variationist sociolinguistics

Tohtori
This dissertation of M.A. Mikko Laasanen concerns the theoretical foundations of variationist sociolinguistics with a focus on language change in progress and its study. The research topic is examined from four different points of view as follows: the concept of language adopted within sociolinguistic study of language change in progress, the apparent time method, the advancement of language change in progress from spoken language to written language and the effect of individual variation in native language proficiency to the study of language change in progress. The purpose of the study is to advance the theoretical foundations of variationist sociolinguistics.

Regarding the concept of language, the study examines Valentin Voloshinov’s critique aimed at the Saussurean conception of language. The purpose of the examination is to determine first whether Voloshinov’s critique is valid and second whether the Saussurean conception of language – which is widely accepted also in variationist sociolinguistics, can be replaced by the dialogical conception of language as represented by Voloshinov.

It is argued in the dissertation that Voloshinov’s critique is based on a structuralist reading of Saussure’s Course in General Linguistics and does not represent Saussure’s true views. Moreover, it is argued that the dialogical conception of language as represented by Voloshinov cannot replace the Saussurean conception of language as the latter presupposes the former. With respect to the concept of language, the conclusion of the study is that Voloshinov’s approach should be best regarded as an early representative of discourse linguistics.

With reference to the apparent time method, the study examines three background assumptions of the method which are first, that language change in progress can be separated from linguistic variation, second, that idiolects stabilize at some point before adulthood or during early adulthood and third, that the direction of language change can be predicted. The purpose of the examination is to prove that the background assumptions of the apparent time method deal with the same questions that have been discussed in linguistics at great length. It follows that the sociolinguistic study of language change in progress is an evolution of the study of language change – not a revolution. Concerning the apparent time method, the conclusion of the study is that the study of language is spiral in nature.

On the subject of spoken and written language, the study examines the relationship between spoken and written language and argues in favor of their fundamental sameness. The study also argues against views that claim that the study of language would not be possible without written language. As an empirical case study on the subject, the variation and development of the Finnish possessive suffix in written language is examined.

The purpose of the examination is to determine whether there are signs of decrease in use of the suffix in written Finnish, a development that has been observed in spoken Finnish. Based on the results of the study, there are no signs of this. Furthermore, the results indicate that the usage and changes to the usage of the suffix cannot be determined by focusing on only one genre, because the usage of the suffix varies between genres and style. Regarding the Finnish possessive suffix, the conclusion of the study is that the decrease in the use of the suffix progresses slowly from spoken to written language, and that it is also possible that the change will never progress to written language but rather is a permanent difference between the modalities.

In connection with the individual variation in native language proficiency, the study examines first, how the variation has been dealt with in sociolinguistic study of language change in progress and second, what kind of effects the variation can have on the results. As an empirical case study on the subject, the language proficiency of native, young Finnish speakers that have been equalized in reference to age and education is examined.

Based on the results of the study, the speakers vary in their language proficiency and especially in their derivational skills. It can be inferred that speakers that have not been equalized in reference to age and education vary even more, which can complicate the attempts to observe true change in progress. Regarding the variation in native language proficiency, the conclusion of the study is that more attention should be paid to language proficiency and language development in sociolinguistic studies of language change in progress, for example by applying experimental methods in addition to sociolinguistic methods.

The doctoral dissertation of M.A. Mikko Laasanen in the field of Finnish language titled Meneillään oleva kielenmuutos ja kielellinen vaihtelu: variationistisen sosiolingvistiikan teoriaa will be publicly examined at the Faculty of Information Technology and Communication Sciences of Tampere University at 12 o'clock on Thursday 17 June, 2021. The venue is Pinni building auditorium 1096, address: Kanslerinrinne 1, City centre campus. Docent, University lecturer Tommi Kurki from the University of Turku will be the opponent while Professor Anneli Pajunen will act as the custos.

The event can be followed via  remote connection.

The dissertation is available online at
http://urn.fi/URN:ISBN:978-952-03-1992-2

 

 

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