Labov defined the linguistic variable as a class of variants which are ordered along a continuous dimension and whose position is determined by an independent linguistic or extralinguistic variable (1966:15). A precondition for identifying surface forms as variants of a single variable is semantic, or truth-conditional, equivalence. This requirement proves hard to apply beyond (morpho)phonology, and was subsequently relaxed into one of functional equivalence. The focus of this article is pragmatic variation and how we should interpret functional equivalence to account for this. It is proposed that the variants of a pragmatic variable share a common procedural meaning, defined as a set of instructions guiding the inferential phase of utterance interpretation. Recasting the core meaning of pragmatic variables in procedural terms allows us to co-examine alternating forms that may express different referential meanings, remaining true to the spirit of Labov's proposal, who saw linguistic variables as socially motivated clusterings of forms. (Pragmatic variation, functional equivalence, procedural meaning, Relevance Theory).
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Language and Linguistics
- Sociology and Political Science
- Linguistics and Language