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Lecture | Sociolinguistics & Discourse Studies Series

Stancetaking and morphosyntactic variation: Insights from two case studies of complementizer (that)

Monday 12 February 2024
Sociolinguistics & Discourse Studies Series
P.J. Veth
Nonnensteeg 1-3
2311 VJ Leiden


Recent work has shown that speaker positionality, often referred to as stance, can o5er unique insights into individuals’ linguistic choices (Barnes, 2018; Nycz, 2018; inter alia). However, since stance is negotiated in interaction, it has been notoriously di5icult to capture quantitatively. In this talk, I will present a framework for coding stance that I developed in collaboration with colleagues from the University of Toronto (Gadanidis et al., 2023). This framework is based on pragmatic tests and captures four di5erent aspects of stance (based on Kiesling 2016, 2020): Evaluation, investment, alignment, and hierarchy. To illustrate the framework, I will discuss two case studies of complementizer (that), a morphosyntactic feature which has previously been thought to be primarily constrained by linguistic factors (Tagliamonte & Smith, 2005; Torres-Cacoullos & Walker, 2009). Both case studies reveal that the use of overt complementizer that is favored in contexts with high speaker investment, i.e., when individuals are emotionally involved or display a high degree of certainty regarding what they are talking about. This suggests that morphosyntactic features have more socio-indexical potential than previously assumed, highlighting the need to pay more attention to social meaning above and beyond the level of phonology. I will close the talk by discussing potential reasons why complementizer that can be used to express heightened emotional investment as well as potential applications of and modifications to the framework.


Barnes, S. (2018). Copula variation in Asturian Spanish and the multidimensionality of stancetaking in interaction. Journal of Sociolinguistics, 22(1), 29–54.

Gadanidis, T., Kiss, A., Konnelly, L., Pabst, K., Schlegl, L., Umbal, P. & Tagliamonte, S. A. (2023). Integrating qualitative and quantitative analyses of stance: A case study of English that/zero variation. Language in Society, 52(1), 27-50.

Kiesling, S. (2016). Stance: Theory and practice in sociolinguistics. Pittsburgh, PA: University of Pittsburgh. Manuscript. Online: https://www.academia.edu=13000752=Stance_and_Stancetaking_Theory_and_Practice_in _Sociolinguistics.

Kiesling, S. (2020). Investment in stancetaking: I mean and just sayin’. Language Sciences 82, 1–15.

Nycz, J. (2018). Stylistic variation among mobile speakers: Using old and new regional variables to construct complex place identity. Language Variation and Change, 30(2), 175–202.

Tagliamonte, S. A., & Smith, J. (2005). No momentary fancy! The zero complementizer in English dialects. English Language and Linguistics, 9(2), 289–309.

Torres Cacoullos, R. & Walker, J. A. (2009). On the persistence of grammar in discourse formulas: A variationist study of that. Linguistics, 47(1), 1–43.

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