a1 Temple University, Philadelphia
Over the past ten years the study of language in its social context has become a mature field with a substantial body of method and empirical results. As a result of this work we are arriving at new insights into such classical problems as the origin and diffusion of linguistic change, the nature of stylistic variation in language use, and the effect of class structure on linguistic variation within a speech community. Advances in sociolinguistics have been most evident in the study of co-variation between social context and the sound pattern of speech. The results reported in numerous monographs have laid the basis for substantial theoretical progress in our understanding of the factors that govern dialect variation in stratified communities, at least in its phonological aspect. The formulation of theories of the causes of phonological variation that go beyond guesswork and vague generalities appears at last to be possible. Therefore, we offer the following discussion, based on the material that is now available, as a contribution to the development of an explanatory theory of the mechanisms underlying social dialect variation. Although we shall state our views strongly, we know that they are far from definitive. We present them, not as positions to be defended at all costs, but as stimuli to further theoretical reflection in a field that has been, thus far, descriptively oriented.