Interview with Sali A. Tagliamonte

SALI A. TAGLIAMONTE is Canada Research Chair in Language Variation and Change and a Full Professor and Chair of the Linguistics Department at the University of Toronto, Canada. She is a member of the Royal Society of Canada and a Fellow of the Linguistic Society of America. She is the author of six books, including: Making Waves, Variationist Sociolinguistics (Wiley-Blackwell 2012, 2015) and Analysing Sociolinguistic Variation, Roots of English and Teen Talk (CUP 2006, 2013, 2016). She has published on African American varieties, British, Irish and Canadian dialects, teen language and television across the major journals of the field. Her research has been funded by agencies in Canada, the US and UK. Her most recent research program is the Ontario Dialects Project, which focuses on cross-community and apparent time comparisons in corpora of spoken vernacular dialects to explore linguistic change. She is editor of the new book series, Studies in Language Variation and Change, published by Cambridge University Press. Cambridge Xtra asked her about the inspiration behind the series. Interview by Andrew Winnard.

 AW: What motivated you to establish the book series?

ST: I started noticing that there was no serious, advanced venue for publication of a cohesive research program in Language Variation and Change. CUP’s journal Language Variation and Change publishes journal length articles on one linguistic variable or another or a specific topic, but at the time I started thinking about this there was no venue for work that had reached a point of synthesis. At the same time, the field was evolving in all kind of new directions and importantly, there was a whole generation of scholars reaching a point in their careers when they had made a significant contribution. I wanted to harness that intellectual energy and creativity and bring it into the field in a more comprehensive way. I wanted to convince scholars who were putting things together to write a book bringing their ideas into a coherent whole. I also think I had a mission in mind to make books that would set the new foundations of the field. So, I have started watching and listening and noticing when someone working in the field is ready to do that. Then, I ask them out for a coffee.

AW: What, broadly, is the concept behind the series?

ST:The concept in a nutshell is synthesis of a research program, by that I mean a book that is not simply about a linguistic feature or a language phenomenon of interest but a work that encompasses a research enterprise that has started to extrapolate beyond a single thing to make more general observations about language variation and change. When a scholar’s research reaches this stage, it has become something that Labov has always striven for — research that reaches beyond a series of analyses or a superficial reality to something that unifies and explains and makes sense in the world. A novel and I believe decisive component of the series is the requirement that all the books follow several general principles: 1) replicability of research findings; 2) consistent reporting; and critically, 3) a cogent discussion of the implications of the research for Sociolinguistic Theory. These three operating guidelines ensure that the series has a unifying component and builds informatively on existing foundations. The requirement of cutting-edge research of the field and this consistent ‘signature’ will give the series reliable value.

AW: What is the first book to appear in the series?

ST: Sociolinguistic Varation in Children’s Language, co-authored by Jennifer Smith and Mercedes Durham, synthesizing their decade long work on child language acquisition. The examples are absolutely hilarious! Several more books are in the pipeline, including an edited volume on studies in sociosyntax, syntactic variation in World English, game theory pragmatics and a book unifying linguistic variation with an historical linguistics perspective. There are many more possibilities. When I go to conferences, I strategically go to presentations that I think are about research that is on the cusp of having the key ingredients I am looking for —research ideas that are making connections to the bigger questions of language.

 

Upcoming titles in this series:

  • Explanations in Sociosyntax
    • Tanya Karoli Christensen, Torben Juel Jensen
  • Synchrony Meets Diachrony: Linguistic Variation and Linguistic Change
    • Alexandra D’Arcy
  • Syntactic Variation in World Englishes: Comparative Variation analysis
    • Benedikt Szmrecsanyi and Jason Grafmiller
  • Meaning, Identity, and Interaction:  Sociolinguistic Variation and Change in Game Theoretic Pragmatics
    • Heather S. Burnett

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