Context (language use)
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Verbal context refers to the text or speech surrounding an expression (word, sentence, or speech act). Verbal context influences the way an expression is understood; hence the norm of not citing people out of context. Since much contemporary linguistics takes texts, discourses, or conversations as the object of analysis, the modern study of verbal context takes place in terms of the analysis of discourse structures and their mutual relationships, for instance the coherence relation between sentences.
Traditionally, in sociolinguistics, social contexts were defined in terms of objective social variables, such as those of class, gender, age or race. More recently, social contexts tend to be defined in terms of the social identity being construed and displayed in text and talk by language users. Influenced by space.
In his new multidisciplinary theory of context, Teun A. van Dijk rejects objectivist concepts of social context and shows that relevant properties of social situations can only influence language use as subjective definitions of the situation by the participants, as represented and ongoingly updated in specific mental models of language users: context models.
The influence of context parameters on language use or discourse is usually studied in terms of language variation, style or register (see Stylistics). The basic assumption here is that language users adapt the properties of their language use (such as intonation, lexical choice, syntax, and other aspects of formulation) to the current communicative situation. In this sense, language use or discourse may be called more or less 'appropriate' in a given context. It is the language or derigitave terms surrounding set paragraph, novel or article.
A context has physical and communicative dimensions such as: time, space, names, signs and symbols. Manipulation of any of these dimensions results in a changed environment of interpretation.
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- William Labov (1972). Sociolinguistic patterns. Philadelphia, PA: University of Pennsylvania Press.
- Leckie-Tarry, H. (1995). Language & context. A functional linguistic theory of register. London: Pinter Publishers.
- Stalnaker, Robert Culp (1999). Context and content. Oxford: Oxford University Press.