12:00 am Leibniz-Centre General Linguistics (ZAS), Berlin, Germany

Social Meaning Berlin 2023,

The social meaning of a linguistic form is the set of socially relevant properties, identities, ideologies, attitudes and stances that it communicates about the speaker, the  hearer or the utterance situation itself. Social meaning has long been a prominent topic of study in sociolinguistics, which has as one of its central goals the exploration of how social structures are reflected, constructed, and transmitted through language use, and how interpretations and social meanings come about through ideological dispositions of language users. Foundational work in the third wave of variation research (Eckert 1989, 2008, 2012) laid the groundwork for the study of social meaning
and individual stylistic variation. Within this tradition, indexical meanings associated with phonological variation have been studied especially intensively (e.g. Campbell-Kibler 2007, Levon 2014, Podesva et al. 2015, Zhang 2005); but social meaning has been found to attach to variation at all linguistic levels, including syntax (Levon & Buchstaller 2015, Moore 2021, Robinson 2022), semantics/pragmatics (Beltrama & Casasanto 2017), language choice (Blom & Gumperz 1972, Kheir 2023) as well as nonverbal communication (Hess 2023).
Recently, there has been an upsurge in interest in social meaning also among scholars working in other subdisciplines of linguistics beyond sociolinguistics and sociophonetics. Within semantics and pragmatics in particular, it has been increasingly recognized that social meaning is not entirely separate from the sorts of meaning traditionally studied in those disciplines, but rather overlaps with and interacts with such content (see e.g. Acton 2019 on the definite determiner; Beltrama 2018 on intensification; Beltrama, Solt & Burnett 2022 on imprecision; Glass 2015 on necessity modals; Liu, Schwab & Hess 2023 on emotive markers and facial expressions; McCready 2014 on honorification). Furthermore, social meanings can be analyzed using the same formal tools applied to other semantic/pragmatic phenomena, an example being the Social Meaning Games framework of Burnett (2017, 2019). From the point of view of morphosyntax, an open question is the role social meanings play in variation, given the abstract nature of syntactic and morphological features. A widely held view is that variation in such features is qualitatively different from lexical, phonetic and phonological variation in that it is less subject to social evaluation (Labov 2001, i.a.) and more easily explainable in terms of grammar-internal dynamics (Adger 2006). However, other work suggests that abstract morphosyntactic variables do carry social meanings in a way that is similar to other kinds of variation, with implications for the way morphosyntactic patterns are represented in grammar (Paolillo 2000, Bender 2007).
The objective of the present workshop is to bring together researchers from these very diverse disciplines to discuss our common interests around the topic of social meaning. What can we learn from one another? What questions do we have in common? And where do our interests,
assumptions and goals diverge?
We are very pleased to announce the following invited speakers at the workshop:
  • Eric Acton (Eastern Michigan University) 
  • David Adger (Queen Mary University of London) 
  • Ursula Hess (Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin) 
  • Norma Mendoza-Denton (UCLA) 
  • Melanie Weirich (Friedrich-Schiller-Universität Jena) 

In addition, we invite abstract submissions for talks and poster presentations on topics relating to social meaning from any theoretical perspective and methodological approach, including (but not limited to) formal, experimental, phonetic, sociolinguistic, psychological, morphosyntactic, semantic and/or pragmatic. Abstracts should be a maximum of one (1) A4 page in length (12-point type, 1-inch margins), with examples, data, figures and/or references on a second page, and must be anonymous. Early-stage work and research in progress is welcome.

Abstracts are to be submitted to the workshop e-mail address

Link to the program.

Key dates:

  • Abstract submissions due: August 27, 2023
  • Notification of acceptance: September 17, 2023
  • Workshop: November 14-15, 2023
  • Location: Leibniz-Centre General Linguistics (ZAS), Berlin Germany
  • Organizers: Stefanie Jannedy (ZAS), Mingya Liu (HU), Antonio Machicao y Priemer (HU)), Stephanie Rotter (HU), Stephanie Solt (ZAS), Giuseppe Varaschin (HU)