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Style-shifting is a term in sociolinguistics referring to alternation between styles of speech included in a linguistic repertoire of an individual speaker. As noted by Eckert and Rickford,[1] in sociolinguistic literature terms style and register sometimes have been used interchangeably. Also, various connotations of style are a subject of study in stylistics.

Style-shifting is a manifestation of intraspeaker (within-speaker) variation, in contrast with interspeaker (between-speakers) variation. It is a voluntary act which an individual effects in order to respond to or initiate changes in sociolinguistic situation (e.g., interlocutor-related, setting-related, topic-related).

William Labov, while conducting sociolinguistic interviews, designated two types of spoken style, casual and formal, and three types of reading style (a reading passage, a word list, and a minimal pair list). Analysing style-shifting Labov postulated that "styles can be arranged along a single dimension, measured by the amount of attention paid to speech" (1972, as quoted in[2]), casual style requiring the least amount of conscious self-monitoring. Such style-shifting is often referred to as responsive (produced in response to normative pressures).[2]

In recent developments of stylistic variation analysis scholars such as Allan Bell, Barbara Johnstone, Natalie Schilling-Estes have been focusing on initiative dimension of style-shifting, which occurs when speakers proactively choose among various linguistic resources (e.g. dialectal, archaic or vernacular forms) in order to present themselves in a specific way. In initiative style-shifting speakers actively engage in social practices to construct social meaning.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Eckert, Penelope; Rickford, John (2001). Style and sociolinguistic variation. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press. ISBN 0-521-59789-7. 
  2. ^ a b Milroy, Lesley; Gordon, John (2003). Sociolinguistics: method and interpretation. Cambridge, MA: Blackwell Pub. ISBN 0-631-22225-1.  Cite error: Invalid <ref> tag; name "isbn0-631-22225-1" defined multiple times with different content (see the help page).

Further reading[edit]

  • Bell, A. (2001) Back in style: Reworking audience design. In P.Eckert and J. Rickford (eds.), Style and Sociolinguistic Variation. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
  • Johnstone, B. (1999) Uses of southern-sounding speech by contemporary Texas women. Journal of Sociolinguistics, 4 (3), 505-22.
  • Labov, W. (1972) Sociolinguistic Patterns. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press.
  • Schilling-Estes, N. (1998) Self-conscious speech in Ocracoke English. Language in Sosciety, 27(1), 53-83.