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WIREs Cogn Sci
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Sociolinguistic variables and cognition

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Abstract Sociolinguistics has examined mental organization of language only sporadically. Meanwhile, areas of linguistics that deal with cognitive organization seldom delve deeply into language variation. Variation is essential for understanding how language is structured cognitively, however. Three kinds of evidence are discussed to illustrate this point. First, style shifting demonstrates that language users develop detailed associations of when to produce specific linguistic forms, depending on the pragmatic context. Second, variation in fine‐grained phonetic cues shows that cognitive organization applies to linguistic forms not otherwise known to be under speakers' control. Finally, experiments on dialect comprehension and identification demonstrate that listeners have detailed cognitive associations of language variants with groups of people, whether or not they can produce the same variants themselves. A model is presented for how sociolinguistic knowledge can be viewed in relation to other parts of language with regard to cognitive and neural representations. WIREs Cogni Sci 2011 2 701–716 DOI: 10.1002/wcs.152 This article is categorized under: Linguistics > Language in Mind and Brain

Tapping and deletion of coronal stops in permitted contexts by a male speaker from central Ohio.

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A model for the cognitive integration of sociolinguistic knowledge into structural aspects of language.

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Durational patterns of word‐initial /ð/ assimilation by three Anglo male speakers from a southern Texas community.

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Compression and truncation patterns for the /ai/ diphthong by two female speakers from central Ohio. The solid regression line refers to speaker G05 and the dashed regression line to speaker G14. The differential patterns of the two speakers are not due to whether the diphthong is followed by a voiceless consonant.

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