Sociolinguistics

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Sociolinguistics is the descriptive study of the effect of any and all aspects of society, including cultural norms, expectations, and context, on the way language is used, and the effects of language use on society. Sociolinguistics differs from sociology of language in that the focus of sociolinguistics is the effect of the society on the language, while the sociology of language focuses on language's effect on the society. Sociolinguistics overlaps to a considerable degree with pragmatics. It is historically closely related to linguistic anthropology and the distinction between the two fields has even been questioned recently.[1]

It also studies how language varieties differ between groups separated by certain social variables, e.g., ethnicity, religion, status, gender, level of education, age, etc., and how creation and adherence to these rules is used to categorize individuals in social or socioeconomic classes. As the usage of a language varies from place to place, language usage also varies among social classes, and it is these sociolects that sociolinguistics studies.

The social aspects of language were in the modern sense first studied by Indian and Japanese linguists in the 1930s, and also by Louis Gauchat in Switzerland in the early 1900s, but none received much attention in the West until much later. The study of the social motivation of language change, on the other hand, has its foundation in the wave model of the late 19th century. The first attested use of the term sociolinguistics was by Thomas Callan Hodson in the title of his 1939 article "Sociolingistics in India" published in Man in India..[2][3] Sociolinguistics in the West first appeared in the 1960s and was pioneered by linguists such as William Labov in the US and Basil Bernstein in the UK. In the 1960s, William Stewart[4] and Heinz Kloss introduced the basic concepts for the sociolinguistic theory of pluricentric languages, which describes how standard language varieties differ between nations (e.g. American/British/Canadian/Australian English;[5] Austrian/German/Swiss German;[6] Bosnian/Croatian/Montenegrin/Serbian Serbo-Croatian[7]).

Applications of sociolinguistics[edit]

For example, a sociolinguist might determine through study of social attitudes that a particular vernacular would not be considered appropriate language use in a business or professional setting. Sociolinguists might also study the grammar, phonetics, vocabulary, and other aspects of this sociolect much as dialectologists would study the same for a regional dialect.

The study of language variation is concerned with social constraints determining language in its contextual environment. Code-switching is the term given to the use of different varieties of language in different social situations.

William Labov is often regarded as the founder of the study of sociolinguistics. He is especially noted for introducing the quantitative study of language variation and change,[8] making the sociology of language into a scientific discipline.

Traditional sociolinguistic interview[edit]

Sociolinguistic interviews are an integral part of collecting data for sociolinguistic studies. There is an interviewer, who is conducting the study, and a subject, or informant, who is the interviewee. In order to get a grasp on a specific linguistic form and how it is used in the dialect of the subject, a variety of methods are used to elicit certain registers of speech. There are five different styles, ranging from formal to casual. The most formal style would be elicited by having the subject read a list of minimal pairs (MP). Minimal pairs are pairs of words that differ in only one phoneme, such as cat and bat. Having the subject read a word list (WL) will elicit a formal register, but generally not as formal as MP. The reading passage (RP) style is next down on the formal register, and the interview style (IS) is when an interviewer can finally get into eliciting a more casual speech from the subject. During the IS the interviewer can converse with the subject and try to draw out of them an even more casual sort of speech by asking him to recall childhood memories or maybe a near death experience, in which case the subject will get deeply involved with the story since strong emotions are often attached to these memories. Of course, the most sought after type of speech is the casual style (CS). This type of speech is difficult if not impossible to elicit because of the Observer's Paradox. The closest one might come to CS in an interview is when the subject is interrupted by a close friend or family member, or perhaps must answer the phone. CS is used in a completely unmonitored environment where the subject feels most comfortable and will use their natural vernacular without overtly thinking about it.

Fundamental concepts in sociolinguistics[edit]

While the study of sociolinguistics is very broad, there are a few fundamental concepts on which many sociolinguistic inquiries depend.

Speech community[edit]

Main article: Speech community

Speech community is a concept in sociolinguistics that describes a distinct group of people who use language in a unique and mutually accepted way among themselves. This is sometimes referred to as a Sprechbund.

To be considered part of a speech community, one must have a communicative competence. That is, the speaker has the ability to use language in a way that is appropriate in the given situation. It is possible for a speaker to be communicatively competent in more than one language.[9]

Speech communities can be members of a profession with a specialized jargon, distinct social groups like high school students or hip hop fans, or even tight-knit groups like families and friends. Members of speech communities will often develop slang or jargon to serve the group's special purposes and priorities.

Community of Practice allows for sociolinguistics to examine the relationship between socialization, competence, and identity. Since identity is a very complex structure, studying language socialization is a means to examine the micro interactional level of practical activity (everyday activities). The learning of a language is greatly influenced by family but it is supported by the larger local surroundings, such as school, sports teams, or religion. Speech communities may exist within a larger community of practice.[10]

High prestige and low prestige varieties[edit]

Crucial to sociolinguistic analysis is the concept of prestige; certain speech habits are assigned a positive or a negative value, which is then applied to the speaker. This can operate on many levels. It can be realised on the level of the individual sound/phoneme, as Labov discovered in investigating pronunciation of the post-vocalic /r/ in the North-Eastern USA, or on the macro scale of language choice, as realised in the various diglossias that exist throughout the world, where Swiss-German/High German is perhaps most well known. An important implication of sociolinguistic theory is that speakers 'choose' a variety when making a speech act, whether consciously or subconsciously.

The terms acrolectal (high) and basilectal (low) are also used to distinguish between a more standard dialect and a dialect of less prestige.[11]

Social network[edit]

Understanding language in society means that one also has to understand the social networks in which language is embedded. A social network is another way of describing a particular speech community in terms of relations between individual members in a community. A network could be loose or tight depending on how members interact with each other.[12] For instance, an office or factory may be considered a tight community because all members interact with each other. A large course with 100+ students would be a looser community because students may only interact with the instructor and maybe 1–2 other students. A multiplex community is one in which members have multiple relationships with each other.[12] For instance, in some neighborhoods, members may live on the same street, work for the same employer and even intermarry.

The looseness or tightness of a social network may affect speech patterns adopted by a speaker. For instance, Sylvie Dubois and Barbara Horvath found that speakers in one Cajun Louisiana community were more likely to pronounce English "th" [θ] as [t] (or [ð] as [d]) if they participated in a relatively dense social network (i.e. had strong local ties and interacted with many other speakers in the community), and less likely if their networks were looser (i.e. fewer local ties).[13]

A social network may apply to the macro level of a country or a city, but also to the inter-personal level of neighborhoods or a single family. Recently, social networks have been formed by the Internet, through chat rooms, MySpace groups, organizations, and online dating services.

Differences according to class[edit]

Further information: Linguistic insecurity

Sociolinguistics as a field distinct from dialectology was pioneered through the study of language variation in urban areas. Whereas dialectology studies the geographic distribution of language variation, sociolinguistics focuses on other sources of variation, among them class. Class and occupation are among the most important linguistic markers found in society. One of the fundamental findings of sociolinguistics, which has been hard to disprove, is that class and language variety are related. Members of the working class tend to speak less standard language, while the lower, middle, and upper middle class will in turn speak closer to the standard. However, the upper class, even members of the upper middle class, may often speak 'less' standard than the middle class. The looseness or tightness of a social network may affect speech patterns adopted by a speaker. For instance, Sylvie Dubois and Barbara Horvath found that speakers in one Cajun Louisiana community were more likely to pronounce English "th" [θ] as [t] (or [ð] as [d]) if they participated in a relatively dense social network (i.e. had strong local ties and interacted with many other speakers in the community), and less likely if their networks were looser (i.e. fewer local ties) This is because not only class, but class aspirations, are important.

Class aspiration[edit]

Studies, such as those by William Labov in the 1960s, have shown that social aspirations influence speech patterns. This is also true of class aspirations. In the process of wishing to be associated with a certain class (usually the upper class and upper middle class) people who are moving in that direction socio-economically will adjust their speech patterns to sound like them. However, not being native upper class speakers, they often hypercorrect, which involves overcorrecting their speech to the point of introducing new errors. The same is true for individuals moving down in socio-economic status.

In any contact situation, there is a power dynamic, be it a teacher-student or employee-customer situation, this power dynamic results in a hierarchical differentiation between languages.[14]

Social language codes[edit]

Basil Bernstein, a well-known British socio-linguist, devised in his book, 'Elaborated and restricted codes: their social origins and some consequences,' a social code system he used to classify the various speech patterns for different social classes. He claimed that members of the middle class have ways of organizing their speech that are fundamentally very different from the ways adopted by the working class.

Restricted code[edit]

In Basil Bernstein's theory, the restricted code was an example of the speech patterns used by the working class. He stated that this type of code allows strong bonds between group members, who tend to behave largely on the basis of distinctions such as 'male', 'female', 'older', and 'younger'. This social group also uses language in a way that brings unity between people, and members often do not need to be explicit about meaning, as their shared knowledge and common understanding often bring them together in a way that other social language groups do not experience. The difference with the restricted code is the emphasis on 'we' as a social group, which fosters greater solidarity than an emphasis on 'I'. The time when "restricted-code" matters is the day when children start school where the standard variety of language is used. Moreover, the written form of a language is already very different from the everyday form. Children with restricted-code, therefore, struggle at school more than those who speak an "elaborated-code". The type of communication used by the working class reminds Paivio's dual code theory. According to Paivio, there are two types of codes; verbal and non-verbal. The dual coding theory proposed by Paivio attempts to give equal weight to verbal and non-verbal processing. Paivio (1986) states: "Human cognition is unique in that it has become specialized for dealing simultaneously with language and with nonverbal objects and events. Moreover, the language system is peculiar in that it deals directly with linguistic input and output (in the form of speech or writing) while at the same time serving a symbolic function with respect to nonverbal objects, events, and behaviors. Any representational theory must accommodate this dual functionality." (p. 53). The use of context by members of working class to imply what they mean, therefore, may be a "non-verbal code". However, this type of communicative skills may not be understood by other children who belong to other classes. What's more, children with restricted-code may have difficulty in understanding the teacher, the only source of information for them at school. Therefore, it is suggested that working-class children should have pre-school training within their early childhood period. Early schooling may provide them with opportunities to acquire a manner of speaking that is considered appropriate at school.

Elaborated code[edit]

Basil Bernstein also studied what he named the 'elaborated code' explaining that in this type of speech pattern the middle and upper classes use this language style to gain access to education and career advancement. Bonds within this social group are not as well defined and people achieve their social identity largely on the basis of individual disposition and temperament. There is no obvious division of tasks according to sex or age and generally, within this social formation members negotiate and achieve their roles, rather than have them there ready-made in advance. Due to the lack of solidarity the elaborated social language code requires individual intentions and viewpoints to be made explicit as the 'I' has a greater emphasis with this social group than the working class.

The following table illustrates differences in language associated with social position:

Non-standard dialect
(associated with lower classes)
Standard dialect
(associated with higher classes)
It looks like it ain't gonna rain today. It looks as if it isn't going to rain today.[15]
You give it to me yesterday. You gave it to me yesterday.[16]
Y'gotta do it the right way. He cannot talk in a slipshod manner.[17]

It is also notable that, at least in England and Australia, the closer to standard English a dialect gets, the less the lexicon varies by region, and vice versa.[citation needed]

Covert prestige[edit]

It is generally assumed that non-standard language is low-prestige language. However, in certain groups, such as traditional working-class neighborhoods, standard language may be considered undesirable in many contexts. This is because the working class dialect is generally considered a powerful in-group marker, and especially for non-mobile individuals, the use of non-standard varieties (even exaggeratedly so) expresses neighborhood pride and group and class solidarity. There will thus be a considerable difference in use of non-standard varieties when going to the pub or having a neighborhood barbecue (high), and going to the bank (lower) for the same individual.

Sociolinguistic variables[edit]

Studies in the field of sociolinguistics typically take a sample population and interview them, assessing the realisation of certain sociolinguistic variables.

A commonly studied source of variation is regional dialects. Dialectology studies variations in language based primarily on geographic distribution and their associated features. Sociolinguists concerned with grammatical and phonological features that correspond to regional areas are often called dialectologists.

There are several different types of age-based variation one may see within a population. They are: vernacular of a subgroup with membership typically characterized by a specific age range, age-graded variation, and indications of linguistic change in progress.

Variation may also be associated with gender. Men and women, on average, tend to use slightly different language styles. These differences tend to be quantitative rather than qualitative. That is, to say that women use a particular speaking style more than men do is akin to saying that men are taller than women (i.e., men are on average taller than women, but some women are taller than some men).

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ John J. Gumperz and Jenny Cook-Gumperz, "Studying language, culture, and society: Sociolinguistics or linguistic anthropology?". Journal of Sociolinguistics 12(4), 2008: 532–545.
  2. ^ Paulston, Christine Bratt and G. Richard Tucker, eds. Sociolinguistics: The Essential Readings. Malden, Ma.: Wiley-Blackwell, 2003.
  3. ^ T. C. Hodson and the Origins of British Socio-linguistics by John E. Joseph Sociolinguistics Symposium 15, Newcastle-upon-Tyne, April 2004
  4. ^ Stewart, William A (1968). "A Sociolinguistic Typology for Describing National Multilingualism". In Fishman, Joshua A. Readings in the Sociology of Language. The Hague, Paris: Mouton. p. 534. OCLC 306499. 
  5. ^ Kloss, Heinz (1976). "Abstandsprachen und Ausbausprachen" [Abstand-languages and Ausbau-languages]. In Göschel, Joachim; Nail, Norbert; van der Els, Gaston. Zur Theorie des Dialekts: Aufsätze aus 100 Jahren Forschung. Zeitschrift fur Dialektologie and Linguistik, Beihefte, n.F., Heft 16. Wiesbaden: F. Steiner. p. 310. OCLC 2598722. 
  6. ^ Ammon, Ulrich (1995). Die deutsche Sprache in Deutschland, Österreich und der Schweiz: das Problem der nationalen Varietäten [German Language in Germany, Austria and Switzerland: The Problem of National Varieties] (in German). Berlin & New York: Walter de Gruyter. pp. 1–11. OCLC 33981055. 
  7. ^ Kordić, Snježana (2010). Jezik i nacionalizam [Language and Nationalism]. Rotulus Universitas (in Serbo-Croatian). Zagreb: Durieux. pp. 77–90. ISBN 978-953-188-311-5. LCCN 2011520778. OCLC 729837512. OL 15270636W. Archived from the original on 8 July 2012. Retrieved 17 July 2012. 
  8. ^ Paolillo, John C. Analyzing Linguistic Variation: Statistical Models and Methods CSLI Press 2001, Tagliamonte, Sali Analysing Sociolinguistic Variation Cambridge, 2006
  9. ^ Deckert, Sharon K. and Caroline H. Vikers. (2011). An Introduction to Sociolinguistics: Society and Identity. Page 59
  10. ^ Deckert, Sharon K. and Caroline H. Vikers. (2011). An Introduction to Sociolinguistics: Society and Identity. Page 74-76
  11. ^ Nordquest, Richard. "Acrolect vs. Basilect". http://grammar.about.com/od/ab/g/acrolectterm.htm. 
  12. ^ a b Wardhaugh, Ronald (2006), An Introduction to Sociolinguistics, New York: Wiley-Blackwell 
  13. ^ Dubois, Sylvie and Horvath, Barbara. (1998). "Let's tink about dat: Interdental Fricatives in Cajun English." Language Variation and Change 10 (3), pp 245–61.
  14. ^ Deckert, Sharon K. and Caroline H. Vikers. (2011). An Introduction to Sociolinguistics: Society and Identity. Page 44
  15. ^ Gumperz, John (1964). "Linguistic and social interaction in two communities". American Anthropologist 66 (6, part 2). 
  16. ^ Trudgill, Peter (1974). The Social Differentiation of English in Norwich 13. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. p. 56. 
  17. ^ Labov, William (1966). The Social Stratification of English in New York City. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. p. 66. 

Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]