I get excited by variation in language: cases where we have more than one way of saying the same thing. For instance:
If you regret missing a party, would you say I should’ve gone or I should’ve went?
Is the plural of house ‘hou[z]es’ with a [z] sound or ‘hou[s]es’ with an [s]?
Speakers of English sometimes use contractions, as in My roof’s leaking, and sometimes don’t (My roof is leaking). What drives their choice?
Research in sociolinguistics has shown that speakers’ choices in cases like these aren’t random. Instead, they’re systematically shaped by a number of factors. These factors reflect social characteristics of the speaker and of the setting, and linguistic characteristics of the utterance itself. My research documents and analyzes this contextual sensitivity in order to answer two main questions:
How are variable phenomena stored and produced by the linguistic system?
How do changes progress through a language, through a community, and through space?