Dennis R. Preston is an Adjunct Professor at the University of Kentucky, a Regents Professor Emeritus, Oklahoma State University and University Distinguished Professor Emeritus, Michigan State University. He directed the 2003 LSA Institute and was President of the American Dialect Society. His is a sociolinguist/dialectologist and a fellow of the LSA and holds the Officer’s Cross of the Order of Merit of the Polish Republic.
The Perception of Language Varieties: What’s Been Going On?
Putting aside seminal work on the perception of language variety from The Netherlands and Japan, some of the earliest studies of folk perception were carried out on Brazilian Portuguese by researchers from Rio Grande do Sul, the southernmost state in the country. The approach and methodologies used then have changed considerably in subsequent work, and I want to provide an update of the principal advances. The initial question of “where do nonlinguists perceive speech boundaries to exist” has been expanded to include considerations of the linguistic and nonlinguistic foundations of those perceptions, giving rise to increasingly sophisticated experimental work and modes of representation and interpretation. 1) The area itself has been resituated within the more general concerns of “folk linguistics,” the study of what nonlinguists believe about and how they respond to language varieties, including studies of implicit as well as explicit evidence. 2) Even this more general area of folk linguistics has been resituated within a complex of related interests that include language ideology and language attitudes, a complex more recently labeled “language regard.” 3) Representations of space have been enhanced by GIS technology, and the elicitation of data has been sophisticated by new experimental techniques in language regard research, including IATs (Implicit Association Tests) and fMRI (“brain wave”) studies of respondent brain activity when exposed to varieties. 4) Discoursal data analysis, of both explicit and implicit responses, has made greater use of more sophisticated linguistic (e.g., pragmatic) resources. I conclude this paper with some reflections on the value of this work and some speculation about its future.