This study takes a quantitative approach to exploring topic-based morphosyntactic variation in African American Language (AAL). Using data from 45 speakers from the DCA component of the Corpus of Regional African American Language (CORAAL), stratified for age, gender, and socioeconomic status, this study uses a dialect density measure to compare the rate of AAL morphosyntactic feature use across the topics introduced in these classic sociolinguistic interviews. Chi-square testing and multiple linear regression of the rates of features per utterance reveals significant effect of topic on morphosyntactic feature use rate overall and reveals additional effects of gender, age, and socioeconomic status within topics. The results indicate that topic-based shifting does occur and suggests that certain types of topics are more likely to expose a given individual’s range of stylistic variation. Ultimately, it provides evidence for the validity of taking a style-driven approach to data collected using classic sociolinguistic methods pioneered during the first wave of language variation studies.

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