Modeling meaning-driven register variation (SFB Register A05)

A05 is a subproject in area A "Register and Grammar" of the DFG-funded Collaborative Research Center 1412 “Register”: Language Users’ Knowledge of Situational-Functional Variation.

While register phenomena frequently involve alternative forms that differ in interpretation, as is already mentioned in the frame text, work in variationist sociolinguistics has largely focused on variables whose variants are plausibly semantically equivalent. This project investigates situationally and functionally driven intra-individual variation involving alternatives that differ in their core logical or truth-conditional content. We take the position that studying such phenomena will be directly revelatory for the central question underlying Area A of the CRC 1412 Register – how register knowledge relates to grammatical aspects of linguistic knowledge – by in particular addressing the following two sub-questions: i) how existing alternatives are recruited for register purposes and ii) how language users choose among register variants. Furthermore, the limits on the extent of such meaning-driven variation may hold key information for understanding the representation of register within grammar.  We set aside variation that is transparently due to meaning-situation correlations and focus on meaning-driven variation that is enregistered in the sense of Agha (2003). We pursue two complementary perspectives on enregistered meaning-driven variation, one bottom-up, building multi-factorial models of specific domains of variation, and one top-down, looking for generalizations across domains.

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