Space, diffusion and mobility

Britain, David (2013). Space, diffusion and mobility. In: Chambers, Jack; Schilling, Natalie (eds.) Handbook of Language Variation and Change. Blackwell Handbooks in Linguistics (pp. 471-500). Oxford: Wiley

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Given its origins in traditional dialectology, and given advances in our understanding of the social embedding of language variation, it is paradoxical that space should be one of the categories that has received least attention of all in variationist sociolinguistics. Until recently, space has largely been treated as an empty stage on which sociolinguistic processes are enacted. It has been unexamined, untheorized, and its role in shaping and being shaped by variation and change untested. One function of this chapter, therefore, is to assert that space makes a difference, and to begin, in a very hesitant way, to map out what a geographically informed variation analysis might need to address. It also examines variationist interactions with the related concept of mobility. It might be reasonable to think that human geographers would provide some clues on how to proceed. As we will see, they have engaged in a great deal of soul searching about the goals of their discipline, its very existence as a separate field of enquiry, and the directions it should take. Indeed there are remarkable parallels between the recent history of human geographic thought, and interest in language variation across space. Although space has been undertheorized in variation studies, a number of researchers, from the traditional dialectologists through to those interested in the dialectology of mobility and contact, have, of course, been actively engaged in research on geographical variation and language use. Their work will be contextualized here to highlight both the parallels with theory-building in human geography, but also some of the criticisms of earlier approaches which have fed through to human geography, but remain largely unquestioned in variationist practice. The chapter therefore presents a brief theoretical background to space and mobility, before exemplifying these concepts in variationist research through an examination of, for example, the spatial diffusion of linguistic innovations, the spatial configuration of linguistic boundaries and initial steps to examine the consequences of mobility for variationist research.

Item Type:

Book Section (Book Chapter)


06 Faculty of Humanities > Department of Linguistics and Literary Studies > Institute of English Languages and Literatures

UniBE Contributor:

Britain, David


800 Literature, rhetoric & criticism > 820 English & Old English literatures
400 Language > 420 English & Old English languages




Blackwell Handbooks in Linguistics






David Britain

Date Deposited:

06 Mar 2014 16:47

Last Modified:

06 Mar 2014 16:47


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