VARIATION means 1) different ways of expressing a language unit in terms of its modification, variety or deviation from a norm; 2) a term characterizing the structure and functioning of language units and language system as a whole.

V. is the fundamental feature of a language system (and any other semiotic system) and of all language units, which is analyzed through the corresponding notions of ‘variant’ (unstable constituents of the language system or structure), ‘invariant’ (stable language system or language structure components), and ‘variability’ (the process of change). To detect the invariant system components is not always possible. For instance, although there exist three distinct phonetic variants for the Past Indefinite tense inflexion in English, that is /-t/, /-d/, /-ed/, one general invariant can not be traced. The idea of language V. is conditioned by the communicative orientation of the language process, its richness of content and semantic integrity.

The term V. was introduced into sociolinguistics by E. Hermann [Hermann 1929] and W. Labov [Labov 1963, 1972] where it referred to the stylistic modifications of the language units. Generative grammar and formal semantics apply the term V. to describe the category variables (for instance, a property or a variable X belongs to the categories of Noun, Adjective, Pronoun, but does not belong to some other categories), see in [Tarski 1933 (1935, 1986)].

V. is intrinsic to any existing languages and appears in all functioning levels. In morphological and syntactic levels one and the same grammatical form can be applied to express different meaning or content, and also one and the same meaning can appear in different language forms. In phonetic or phonological levels the choice of the pronunciation models is influenced by linguistic and extra linguistic factors such as register and accent.

In general, V. falls into several subtypes: sociolinguistic V. (the impact of social changes and mobility, the level of social or official relations on the linguistic forms choice), discourse V. (the interaction of genre, subject and linguistic expressions, discourse eventuality and means of conveying information), regional V. (differences and similarities of regional types of a language, including language contacts), individual variation (ethnic, age, gender V.), temporal (the historical or diachronic development of the system of language).

V. is common for all existing languages, appearing in both verbal and gesture forms. For instance, American Sign Language (ASL) demonstrates the following V. types: regional, phonological, registrar, tonic, ethnic, age / historical, contextual, gender, social [Lucas at al 2001].

Cognitive V. manifests itself in perceptual schemas, patterns of knowledge construal, memory organization, the structure of linguocultural concepts and conceptual categories [Lloyd 2009].



Ярцева В.Н. Проблема вариативности и взаимоотношение уровней грамматической системы языка // Вопросы языкознания. — 1983. — № 5. — С. 17–24.

Lucas C., Bayley R., Valli C. Sociolinguistic Variation in American Sign Language. – Gallaudet: Gallaudet University Press, 2001.

Hermann E. Lautveranderungen in der individualsprache einer Mundart. Nachrichten der Gesellsch. der Wissenschaften zu Gottingen, № 11, 1929. – P. 195-214.

Labov W. The social motivation of a sound change // Word 19, 1963. – P. 273-309.

Labov W. Sociolinguistic patterns. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1972.

Lloyd G. Cognitive Variations: Reflections on the Unity and Diversity of the Human Mind. – Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2009.

Tarski A. The concept of truth in formalized languages // Logic, Semantics, Metamathematics. – Indianapolis: Hackett Publishing Company, 1986. – P. 152-278. (First edition by Oxford University Press, 1956, Revised translation of Tarski 1933, 1935

I.Timofeeva, M. Kiose