«Towards a comprehensive view of variation in language: the absolute variable» by Miguel Ángel Aijón Oliva and María José Serrano is already published in Language & Communication (Elsevier), a journal devoted to the interdisciplinary study of language and communication. It is indexed on Journal Citation Reports with a 1,037 year impact factor.
Approaches to variation in syntax usually consider formal variants as complementary, on the assumption that they share the same descriptive meaning and are manifestations of a structural variable which may be correlated with social and situational factors. However, such a concept of variable, which will here be termed relative, favors a deterministic and automated view of linguistic choice. After discussing the main theoretical and methodological restrictions of the traditional model of variation, in this paper a different analytical frame will be outlined, based on absolute variables.
Syntactic structures are meaningful in themselves and not just by their alleged opposition to others. Thus, instead of quantifying their rates of appearance against supposed alternatives, their overall frequencies can be calculated according to some independent measure, such as the word number of texts. This implies seeing language use not as a mere succession of choices among two or more forms in opposition, but rather as a process involving the parallel construction of textual form and notional meaning.
The need has often been stressed to unify the quantitative and qualitative sides of linguistic description within a global theory. Today we are just starting to hint at the possibilities offered by cognitive approaches to language, in which a view of variation as the creation of meaning in interaction seems to fit quite naturally. Methodological tools such as relative and absolute variables can undoubtedly be a great help to the development of a general theory of language and communication.