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American Speech 75.2 (2000) 208-214

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Linking Linguistics and Literature

Susan Meredith Burt *

Codes and Consequences: Choosing Linguistic Varieties Edited by Carol Myers-Scotton New York: Oxford University Press, 1998. Pp. x + 219

My department doesn't understand me. As the token linguist in an English department, I frequently face the challenge of bridging the disciplinary gap between linguistics and the approaches to language taken by my colleagues in literature and composition. Now, however, help is at hand in Codes and Consequences, edited by Carol Myers-Scotton; this volume contains an accessible introduction to a powerful and attractive sociolinguistic theory, and nine articles written more or less within that theory's framework, covering topics in second-language acquisition, choices in varieties of spoken English, and, significantly, literary stylistics. Because it combines this breadth of representation with a unifying approach, this is a volume that could serve admirably in an interdisciplinary graduate course in English studies.

The volume is divided into four parts: two introductory articles provide an overview and introduction to the Markedness Model; the second section contains five articles in literary stylistics; the third section has three articles on stylistic variations in spoken American English; and the fourth section contains one article on second-language acquisition.

The Markedness Model

Myers-Scotton's "Introduction" (3-17) situates the volume with respect to pragmatic theory in general and to her own Markedness Model in particular. Markedness is here defined as characterizing as marked those linguistic choices that are not predicted by community norms, that are less likely to be expected for the situation. Knowledge of the markedness status of a linguistic item enables speakers to choose between linguistic items with some guess as to how the communication will be received and understood. Myers-Scotton's goal for this volume is to extend this model, which heretofore has been used in discussions of codeswitching between languages [End Page 208] (Myers-Scotton 1983, 1988, 1993, 1997), to stylistic choices within English, both written and spoken.

In "The Markedness Model" (18-38), Myers-Scotton continues the explanation of her model, arguing that it falls into the category of "Rational Actor models" (19) of philosopher Jon Elster (1979, 1989, 1991). Briefly, language varieties are associated with groups and contexts in speakers' minds, and speakers can exploit these associations by choosing to speak a certain way, counting on the addressee to recognize their intention to link to the known association. Specifically, language varieties may index "RO sets" (23), or sets of rights and obligations between participants; different language varieties are likely to index different RO sets. Speakers make choices as rational actors, that is, persons intending to enhance benefits and minimize costs to themselves in their choice of actions, including their choice of what to say and what language to say it in. Speakers can distinguish between more or less marked choices relative to situations and can recognize that those choices will elicit different reactions in hearers.

The Markedness Model is explicitly pragmatic in that hearers are expected to do more than decode messages; hearers also make inferences to obtain further meaning beyond that available through decoding, and speakers are assumed to expect hearers to do this. Following Grice (1975), this model includes several maxims that elucidate hearers' inferences. Myers-Scotton contrasts this particular approach with correlationist sociolinguistics and with theories such as Speech Accommodation Theory/Communication Accommodation Theory. Rather than seeing either background or situation as a sufficient determiner of linguistic behavior, the Markedness Model (following Elster) sets up a series of filters that act to constrain speaker choices. The speaker's linguistic repertoire, or the "speaker's opportunity set" (34), for example, is the first filter. The Markedness Evaluator, which establishes a markedness value for a linguistic choice, is a second filter, and a third filter constrains the speaker to choose the most feasible choice for the situation. The goals of the model are to explain speaker choices, not predict them, and to predict and explain hearer reactions to speaker choices.

Markedness in Stylistic Studies of Literature

The articles in the second section of the book look to...


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pp. 208-214
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Archived 2005
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