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ABSTRACT: On lexical sociolinguistics, lots of porridge, and the Cumberland Gap

Lexical sociolinguistics is the study of how words move around in physical space, social space, and perceived space over time (Britain 2002, 2010), accruing and losing sociolinguistic properties as they go.  Spatial practice is concerned with speakers’ movement in and around a space (Lefebvre 1974), as spatial relationships dictate who comes into contact with who.  From the seventeenth century onwards the English language had a rich onomasiological set for the concept ‘dish made from boiled oatmeal’ containing burgoo, flummery, gruel, grits, loblolly, rockahominy, samp, skilly, washbrew amongst too many other porridge words to mention listed in the Oxford English Dictionary’s historical thesaurus.  In this talk I shall focus on a subset of these which had also developed meanings in ‘stew’ as they arrived in the United States, where they went on to acquire regional and sociolinguistic properties.  My questions are: who used this word in which kind of social and physical space, and also how did they come to lose said sociolinguistic properties; that is, what was it that conditioned loss, or shift, as well as acquisition.


Britain, D. (2002). Space and spatial diffusion. In: The Handbook of Language Variation and Change (ed. J.K. Chambers, P. Trudgill and N. Schilling-Estes), 603-637. Oxford: Blackwell. 

Britain, D. (2010). Conceptualisations of geographic space in linguistics. In: Language and Space: an International Handbook of Linguistic Variation (ed. A. Lameli, R. Kehrein and S. Rabanus), 69-97. Berlin: Mouton de Gruyter. 

Lefebvre, H. (1974 [1991]). The Production of Space (trans. D. Nicholson-Smith). Oxford: Blackwell.

Oxford English Dictionary.

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