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Abstract Braun

On the one hand the notions of a pronunciation norm in German are still indebted to the regimentations of orthography (cf. Ammon 2005, Elspaß 2005). On the other hand the emergence of a standard pronunciation could be seen as a natural order (Keller 2003). As variation on the formal dimension of the linguistic sign cannot be accounted for system-atically by language-internal factors only, the impact of social factors upon phonetic variation, spreading of variants and phonetic change has to be identified. According to Labov’s (2001) „Constructive Nonconformity Principle“ (CNP) it is first of all the noncon-formist, socioeconomically upward-mobile women of the upper working class or lower middle class who prefer and spread phonetic “outliers”. However, from a sociological point of view, Labov’s insights are insofar unsatisfactory as they cannot explain why these population groups of all people disassociate from their class of origin. Contrary to Labov’s predictions, Bourdieu (2008) demonstrates that specific characteristics of behaviour and belief, which he classifies under the term “Habitus“, prevail in all social classes and prove resistant to socioeconomic changes in personal circumstances.

Although Bourdieu does not go explicitly into the question of pronunciation phe-nomena, it seems obvious – following Eckert’s (2008) so called third wave of sociolinguistics – to explain Labov’s principles of linguistic change by mechanisms on the microlevel, which lead to situational phonetic variation. Therefore we prefer a deductive approach to formulate hypotheses, which can help to clarify the interrelation between linguistic nonconformity on one side and socioeconomic status, upward-mobility and gender on the other side, as observed by Labov. Within this kind of reasoning social contact is the central factor. From a sociological perspective it is society’s expectations regarding the behaviour of the individual which is of special importance in contact situations. Thus, it is self-suggestive that e.g. a change of residence will influence the current characteristics of standard pronunciation through learning processes. It thus seems likely that the loss or gain of dialectal features has mostly to do with the real ‘costs’ of being understood, i.e. when certain dialectal variants lead to difficulties in comprehension. As a consequence of this, one might argue – in line with Coleman (1990) – that the particular social power position of individual agents (e.g. professor vs. student) allows them more or less to escape sanctions venturing such comprehension difficulties.

Starting with the discussion of diverging views of norms as represented by Young (2001) and Coleman (1990) this project aims at formulating an abstract behavioural model to account for the phonetic varieties of standard German pronunciation (cf. König 1989) – abstract, just because such a model must be radically reduced in order to maintain empirical testability regarding the variety of variables that might influence phonetic variance. This approach goes insofar beyond previous knowledge of variational sociolin-guistics as it allows e.g. to back up Labov’s CNP with the argument that the women he identifies as promoters of phonetic outliers work within the service sector (e.g. as shop assistants), where, by communicating with customers, they come into contact with pho-netic variants which are inevitably at variance with their social background. Experimenta-tion with these variants leads to the phonetic outliers observed by Labov.

In order to connect our microtheoretical considerations with the macrolevel we draw on Rudi Keller’s (2003) reasonings on language change. According to him the pro-nunciation of standard German could be understood as a spontaneous order resulting from the notion that individual agents follow the same principles independently when they adapt their particular phonetic signal to the signal of the contact person or deviate from it if need be. This project aims at discovering these principles left unspecified in Keller (2003). Against this background we would like to emphasise our assumption that nonconformity can only be accounted for with regard to social contact, scrutinizing the following hypotheses:

• H1: Socioeconomically better-off students realize as many dialectal non-standard forms as socioeconomically upward-mobile students receiving federal student support, if they are located in similar surroundings with regard to phonetic habits (in line with Bourdieu 2008, against Labov 2001).

• H2: Rhinelanders studying in Leipzig will lose those dialectal variants (cf. Chambers 1992) which cause special understanding costs, depending on the duration of their residential change; the same holds for Saxon students in Cologne.

Tying in with H2 it would be possible to determine the direction of assimilation within the same sample to examine whether the former political East-West border continues to exist as a linguistic border or not. Eichinger & Stahlberg (current IDS-project), who have identified Saxon as the most unpopular German dialect, raise the assumption that westward-mobile Saxon students will assimilate to West German pronunciation standards to a higher degree than vice versa.



Ammon, U. (2005), „Standard und Variation: Norm, Autorität, Legitimation“, in: L. M. Eichin-ger, W. Kallmeyer, eds., Standardvariation. Wie viel Variation verträgt die deutsche Sprache?, Berlin: de Gruyter, 28-40.

Bourdieu, P. (2008), Die feinen Unterschiede: Kritik der gesellschaftlichen Urteilskraft, Frank-furt: Suhrkamp.

Chambers, J. (1992), “Dialect Acquisition”, Language 68, 673-705.

Coleman, J. (1990), Foundations of Social Theory, Harvard: Harvard University Press.

Eckert, P. (2008), “Variation and the indexical field”, Journal of Sociolinguistics 12/4, 453-476. 

Eichinger, L. M., C. Stahlberg (current IDS-Projekt), „Erkundung und Analyse aktueller Spracheinstellungen in Deutschland“. URL:

Elspaß, S. (2005), “Language norm and languge reality. Effectiveness and limits of prescrip-tivism in New High German”, in: N. Langer, W. V. Davies, eds., Linguistic Purism in the Germanic Languages, Berlin: de Gruyter, 20-45.

Keller, R. (2003), Sprachwandel: Von der unsichtbaren Hand in der Sprache, Stuttgart: UTB.

König, W. (1989), Atlas zur Aussprache des Schriftdeutschen in der Bundesrepublik Deutsch-land, Bd. 1: Text. Bd. 2: Tabellen und Karten, München: Hueber.

Labov, W. (2001), Principles of Linguistic change. Volume II: Social Factors, Oxford: Wiley-Blackwell.

Young, P. (2001), Individual Strategy and Social Structure: An Evolutionary Theory of Institu-tions, Princeton: Princeton University Press.