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Wolof Noun Classification: The Social Setting of Divergent Change

Judith T. Irvine
Language in Society
Vol. 7, No. 1 (Apr., 1978), pp. 37-64
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/4166973
Page Count: 28
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Since scans are not currently available to screen readers, please contact JSTOR User Support for access. We'll provide a PDF copy for your screen reader.
Wolof Noun Classification: The Social Setting of Divergent Change
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Abstract

Ongoing change in Wolof noun classification is traced by comparing nineteenth-century linguistic evidence with modern sociolinguistic data. On the rural scene, the noun class system today displays competing generalizations, associated with different social groups. Upwardly mobile middle-aged men of high caste tend to reduce the system, whereas other speakers tend to elaborate it. The source of both tendencies can be found in Wolof cultural assumptions relating social rank to norms of verbal conduct. In particular, an idea that linguistic 'error' can be appropriate for high-ranking persons underlies the reductionist tendencies of upwardly mobile speakers. Although the two tendencies compete on one level, on another they combine to form a more general systemic trend toward the incorporation of social features into Wolof syntax.

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