Rethinking Weinreich, Labov & Herzog from a usage-based perspective | Amsterdam University Press Journals Online
Volume 67, Issue 2
  • ISSN: 0039-8691
  • E-ISSN: 2215-1214



In the late sixties, Weinreich, Labov & Herzog (1968) discussed five empirical problems that together defined the subject matter of sociolinguistics. The research program they initiated has been very influential in sociolinguistics, but is not well known outside of it. In the branches of linguistics primarily focused on describing and accounting for the linguistic knowledge possessed by the individual speaker, branches often referred to as ‘general linguistics’ or ‘theoretical linguistics’, issues of variation and change have not attracted much theoretical attention up until recently. This has changed now that the tradition of ‘usage-based linguistics’ has appeared on the scene. This article examines the commonalities between the concerns of usage-based linguistics and those of Weinreich, Labov & Herzog (1968). It concludes that combining the cognitive orientation of the usage-based approach and the social-interactional orientation of sociolinguistics holds promises for the development of an improved understanding of language change. This is illustrated with examples from language contact, more specifically using data from Dutch-Turkish contact, including the results of recent studies that have implemented some methodological innovations necessitated by the confrontation of usage-based with sociolinguistic frameworks.


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