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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. 

Further reading[edit]

  • Bell, Allan (2002). "Back in style: Reworking audience design". In Eckert, Penelope; Rickford, John R. Style and Sociolinguistic Variation. Cambridge University Press. pp. 139–169. doi:10.1017/CBO9780511613258.010. ISBN 9780521591911. 
  • Labov, Walter (1972). Sociolinguistic Patterns. University of Pennsylvania Press. ISBN 0-8122-1052-2.