The coming together of linguistics and sociology in the 1960's, most notably via the work of William Labov, marked a revolution in the study of language and provided a paradigm for the understanding of variation and change. Labovian quantitative methods have been employed successfully in North America, the UK, Scandinavia and New Zealand, but have had surprisingly little resonance in France, a country which poses many challenges to orthodox sociolinguistic thinking. Why, for example, does a nation with unexceptional scores on income distribution and social mobility show an exceptionally high degree of linguistic levelling, that is, the elimination of marked regional or local speech forms? And why does French appear to abound in 'hyperstyle' variables, which show greater variation on the stylistic than on the social dimension, in defiance of a well-established theory than such variables should not occur? This volume brings together leading variationist sociolinguists and sociologists from both sides of the Channel to ask: what makes France'exceptional'?
In addressing this question, variationists have been forced to reassess the accepted interdisciplinary consensus, and to ask, as sociolinguistics has come of age, whether concepts and definitions have been transposed in a way which meaningfully preserves their original sense and, crucially, takes account of recent developments in sociology. Sociologists, for their part, have focused on the largely neglected area of language variation and its implications for social theory. Their findings therefore transcend the case study of a particularly enigmatic country to raise important theoretical questions for both disciplines.
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