This page adresses what linguistic variables are, as well as items connected to linguistic variables.
A Variable, to put it simply, is something which varies in a socially significant way (coates)
A linguistic variable is a linguistic unit with various realisations, or variants. An example of a linguistic variable in contemporary British English is (t) (note that round brackets are used to indicate that we are talking about a variable, not a sound - [t] - or a letter - <t>). When (t) occurs between vowels in a phrase like bit of it has got two variants.
- The voiceless alveolar plosive [t] /bɪʈəʋ/
- The glottal stop [ʔ] /bɪʔəʋ
Linguistic variables can be phonological like in the example above, grammatical or lexical. Not all linguistic units are variables, of course
We are interested in linguistic variables because they don't vary randomy, they vary systematically with other variables such as social class, age & gender.