Change from above

In linguistics, change from above refers to conscious change to a language. That is, speakers are generally aware of the linguistic change and use it to sound more dominant, as a result of social pressure.[1] It stands in contrast to change from below.

Change from above usually enters the speech of educated people, not the vernacular dialects.[2] This change usually begins with speakers in higher social classes and diffuses down into the lower classes. Upper classes use these new linguistic forms to differentiate themselves from the lower classes, while lower classes use these forms to sound more educated and similar to the upper class. However, the concepts of change from above and below refer to consciousness and not social class.[3]


Diffusion is a major kind of change. It includes changes of words, sounds, mergers, and reassignment of words to different categories. A person picks up these changes over a lifetime.[4] Women usually tend to lead in these kinds of variation and in change from above in general. This is also the case for change from below.[5]


  1. ^ Ash, Sharon. "Social Class."" The Handbook of Language Variation and Change, 402-422. Malden, Mass: Blackwell.
  2. ^ Labov, William. "Transmission and Diffusion." Language.Volume 83, Number 2, June 2007, 344-387. Linguistic Society of America.
  3. ^ Wolfram,Walt and Schilling-Estes, Natalie. American English: Dialects and Variation. Blackwell Publishers. p.4. 1998.
  4. ^ http://linguistics.berkeley.edu/~levmichael/pubs/l_michael_soc_lang_chng_web.pdf
  5. ^ http://linguistics.berkeley.edu/~levmichael/pubs/l_michael_soc_lang_chng_web.pdf

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