|Areas of study|
In sociolinguistics, prestige is the level of respect normally accorded to a specific language or dialect within a particular speech community, relative to other languages or dialects. Sociolinguistic prestige is therefore one manifestation of, or analogous to, the more general phenomenon of social stratification – especially class. In general, a language or dialect associated with an upper class has positive prestige, while a language or dialect associated with a lower class has "negative prestige". Historical examples of prestige languages include the court languages used by royal elites. At the opposite extreme, members of underclasses have often communicated in particular forms of cant.
Prestige languages/dialects are often tied closely to a standardized language/dialect, in that the latter is usually considered more prestigious within a speech community, than a language/dialect that diverges significantly from linguistic norms. However, there are many exceptions to this rule, such as Arabic, in which Egyptian Arabic is widely used in mass media aimed at international audiences, while Literary Arabic (also known as Standard Arabic) is a more prestigious form.
Sociolinguistic prestige is especially visible in situations where two or more distinct languages are in use, and in diverse, socially stratified urban areas, in which there are likely to be speakers of different languages and/or dialects interacting frequently.
The prevailing view among contemporary linguists is that regardless of perceptions that a particular dialect or language is "good/better" or "worse/bad" than its counterparts, when dialects and languages are assessed "on purely linguistic grounds, all languages — and all dialects — have equal merit".
- 1 Causes
- 2 Effects on attitudes towards language
- 2.1 Language or dialect?
- 2.2 Class and prestige
- 2.3 Connection with "standard" language
- 3 In language contact situations
- 4 Effects on language structure
- 5 See also
- 6 Notes
- 7 References
- 8 External links
Different languages and dialects are accorded prestige based upon factors which include "rich literary heritage, high degree of language modernization, considerable international standing, or the prestige of its speakers". Having many of these attributes will likely mean the language is viewed as being of high prestige; likewise, a language or dialect with few or none of these attributes will be considered to be of low prestige. The phenomenon is not limited to English-speaking populations. In Western Europe, multiple languages were considered to be of high prestige at some time or another, including "Italian as the Mediterranean lingua franca and as the language of the Renaissance; and the 17th-18th century French of the court culture".
There is a strong correlation between the prestige of a group of people and the prestige accorded to the language they speak, as "language is intertwined with culture". Linguist Laurie Bauer's description of Latin's prestige exemplifies this phenomenon:
|“||The prestige accorded to the churchmen, lawyers and scholars who used Latin was transferred to the language itself. Latin was held to be noble and beautiful, not just the thoughts expressed in it or the people who used it. What is called 'beauty' in a language is more accurately seen as a reflection of the prestige of its speakers.||”|
Walt Wolfram, a professor of linguistics at North Carolina State University, notes that he "can't think of any situations in the United States where low-prestige groups have high-prestige language systems".
Effects on attitudes towards language
Language or dialect?
Prestige influences whether a language variety is considered a language or a dialect. In discussing definitions of language, Dell Hymes wrote that "sometimes two communities are said to have the same, or different, languages on the grounds of mutual intelligibility, or lack thereof", but alone, this definition is often insufficient.
This continuum means that despite the fact that standard German and standard Dutch are not mutually intelligible, the speech of people living near the border between Germany and the Netherlands will more closely resemble that of their neighbors across the border than the standard languages of their respective home countries. Even so, speakers near the border would describe themselves as speaking a variety of their respective standard languages, and the evolution of these dialects tends to mirror that of the standard languages as well.
That they are classified as such reflects the fact that "language differences are not only marks of differential group membership, but also powerful triggers of group attitudes". Such fuzziness has resulted in the aphorism "A language is a dialect with an army and a navy." That is, speakers of some language variety with political and social power are viewed as having a distinct language, while "'dialect' is [...] a term that suggests lower-class or rural speech".
A canonical example of this is the Scandinavian languages, including Danish, Swedish, and Norwegian, where language differences "constitute barriers to but do not wholly block communication", but are considered distinct languages because they are spoken in different countries.
Class and prestige
While some differences between dialects are regional in nature, there are also social causes for differences in dialects. Very often, the "public prestige dialect of the elite in a stratified community differs from the dialect(s) of the non-elite strata (working class and other)". In fact, in an article which in part tried to motivate the study of sociolinguistics, Raven McDavid wrote that "the importance of language as a mirror of culture can be demonstrated by dialect differences in American English". Thus the relation between the way speakers use a language and their social status is a long recognized tool in sociolinguistics.
In 1958, one of the earliest studies of the relationship between social differences and dialect differences was published by John Gumperz, who studied the speech patterns in Khalapur, a small, highly stratified village in India. In all, the village has 31 castes, ranging from Brahmins and Rajputs at the top, to Chamars and Bhangis at the bottom, and 90% of the overall population was Hindu, with the remaining 10% Muslim.
Gumperz observed that the different castes were distinguished both phonologically and lexically, with each caste having a vocabulary specific to their subculture. Remarkably, the speech differences between Hindus and Muslims "are of the same order as those between individual touchable castes and certainly much less important than the variation between touchables and untouchables".
Gumperz also observed that the lower prestige groups sought to imitate the higher prestige speech patterns and that over time, it had caused the evolution of the prestige away from the regional standard, as higher prestige groups sought to differentiate themselves from lower prestige groups.
Social stratification of New York City
One notable example of the relationship between dialect and social stratification in English is William Labov's 1966 study of the variable pronunciation of r in New York City. Labov went to three New York City department stores that catered to three clearly delineated socioeconomic groups—Saks (high), Macy's (middle), and S. Klein (low)—and studied how their employees pronounced the phrase "fourth floor". His results demonstrated that the employees at Saks pronounced r most often, Macy's employees pronounced r less often, and at S. Klein, seventy-nine percent of the respondents said no r at all. Another trend Labov noticed was that at all three of the stores, but Macy's in particular, when prompted to say "fourth floor" a second time, employees were much more likely to pronounce the r.
Labov attributed his findings to the perceived prestige of each dialect. He noted that New York City's "dropped 'r' has its origins in posh British speech", but after World War II, "with the loss of Britain's imperial status 'r'-less British speech ceased to be regarded as 'prestige speech'". In 1966, when Labov performed his study, pronouncing words like car and guard with r was then considered an element of prestige speech. This resulted in middle-class employees, once made conscious of having to pronounce "fourth floor", altering their pronunciation in order to match that of the high prestige dialect. The prestige given to r was also evident in the hypercorrection observed in lower-class speech. Knowing that r-pronunciation was a prestigious trait, many of the lower-class speakers in another Labov study—in which speakers were asked to read from word lists—added -r to words that did not have an r at all. The difference between this study and the "fourth floor" study was the fact that speakers were closely monitoring their speech, not speaking spontaneously, and were thus careful to add r in an attempt to mimic a higher social class.
Gender and covert prestige
Non-standard dialects are usually considered low-prestige, but in some situations dialects "stigmatized by the education system still enjoy a covert prestige among working-class men for the very reason that they are considered incorrect". These situations occur when the speaker wants to gain recognition, acceptance, or solidarity with a specific—and non-prestigious—group of people, or to signal to other speakers their identification with that group. The idea of covert prestige was first introduced by William Labov, who noticed that even speakers who used non-standard dialects often believed that their own dialect was "bad" or "inferior". Labov realized that there must be some underlying reason for their use of the dialect, which he identified as a signal of group identity. One example is a 1998 study on the use of word-final -ing versus -in among college fraternity men in the United States. The fraternity men used "-in" rather than "-ing," from which the author concluded that the men used -in to demonstrate what they saw as working-class behavioral traits, such as 'hard-working' and 'casual,' thus creating a specific identity for themselves.
Likewise, in studies of the speech patterns in British English, Peter Trudgill observed that more working class women spoke the standard dialect than men. Farida Abu-Haidar performed a similar study in Baghdad of prestige in the Arabic language, after which she concluded that in Baghdadi Arabic, women are more conscious of prestige than are men. Other areas in which this has been observed include New Zealand and Guangdong in China. As explanation, Trudgill suggests that for men, there is covert prestige associated with speaking the working class dialect. In fact, he observed men claiming to speak a less prestigious dialect than that which they actually spoke. According to this interpretation then, "women's use of prestige features simply conforms to the ordinary sociolinguistic order, while men deviate from what is expected." Elizabeth Gordon, in her study of New Zealand, suggested instead that women used higher prestige forms because of the association of sexual immorality with lower-class women. Whatever the cause, women across many cultures seem more likely than men to modify their speech towards the prestige dialect.
Though women use prestige dialects more frequently than do men, the same gender preference for prestige languages does not seem to exist. A study of diglossic societies by John Angle and Sharlene Hesse-Biber showed that the men were more likely to speak the prestige language than were women. One explanation put forth for this is that men are more likely to have the means of acquiring a second language than are women.
Connection with "standard" language
The notion of a "standard" language in a speech community is related to the prestige of the languages spoken in the community. In general, "greater prestige tends to be attached to the notion of the standard, since it can function in higher domains, and has a written form." While there are some counterexamples, such as Arabic, "prestigious and standard varieties coincide to the extent that the two terms can be used interchangeably." This has a consequence that in countries like the United States, where citizens speak many different languages and come from a variety of national and ethnic groups, there is a "folk linguistic" belief that most prestigious dialect is the single standard dialect of English that all people should speak. Linguist Rosina Lippi-Green believes that this belief in a standard language justifies and rationalizes the preservation of the social order, since it equates "nonstandard" or "substandard" language with "nonstandard or substandard human beings." Linguists believe that no language, or variety of language, is inherently better than any other language, for every language serves its purpose of allowing its users to communicate.
Racial harmony and language standardization in Singapore
One example of the interplay between standard languages and prestige is Singapore. Racial harmony is a stated policy of the Singaporean government, and a racial harmony day is even celebrated. One element of policy designed to promote racial harmony is the usage of four official governmental languages: Standard Mandarin Chinese, Malay, Tamil, and English. Bilingualism is also officially promoted in accordance with the belief that the ethnic language is the "carrier of culture" while English is the "language of commerce", a choice motivated by the fact that English had historically been the language of the colonial administration, while being the native language of few Singaporeans at the time of the policy's implementation. With English as the lingua franca, no one ethnicity is favored, but the cultures are preserved. The idea behind this policy is that treating all languages as standard and thus equally prestigious will result in the speakers of each language being treated equally.
While the Singaporean government promotes "Standard English" as a lingua franca, it heavily discourages the usage of Singlish, a Chinese- and Malay-influenced, English-based creole language, widely spoken by Singaporeans, but virtually unintelligible to foreign speakers of English. Singapore's current prime minister, Lee Hsien Loong, and both its former prime ministers, Lee Kuan Yew and Goh Chok Tong, have each campaigned against the usage of Singlish, declaring it an obstacle to communication with the rest of the English-speaking world, and a substandard, "broken English", that ought not be part of Singapore's identity. Annually, the government launches a Speak Good English campaign, "to encourage Singaporeans to speak grammatically correct English that is universally understood", while urging citizens to purge Singlish from their speech. In line with government policy, schools emphasize standard English, and try to minimize the usage of Singlish in the classroom, holding that Singlish hinders the learning of "proper" English. The Media Development Authority, a statutory board of the government, urges Singaporean mass media to use as little Singlish as possible, declaring it appropriate only for "interviews, where the interviewee speaks only Singlish". Despite these policies, however, the usage of Singlish outside formal, institutional contexts remains widespread.
Similar to its policies regarding the English language, the Singaporean government also promotes a single, standardized form of Chinese, discouraging the usage of dialects. While the Chinese community of Singapore historically spoke several different, mostly mutually unintelligible varieties of Chinese, such as Cantonese, Teochew, and Hokkien, the government has promoted Mandarin, both as a means of unifying Chinese Singaporeans under a common language, and to facilitate communication with Chinese people from outside Singapore. Since 1979, the Speak Mandarin Campaign has promoted use of Mandarin, spurred of then-Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew's promotion of Mandarin as more suited communication than non-Mandarin dialects are, as it is spoken by a larger number of people worldwide.
In language contact situations
When different languages or language varieties come in contact with one another, a variety of relationships can form between the two, all typically influenced by prestige. When the two contact languages have equal power or prestige, they form adstratum, as exemplified by Old English and Norse, which shared elements with each other more or less equally.
Far more common is for the two languages to have an unequal power relationship, as is the case of many colonial language contact situations. Languages that have a higher status in relation to a certain group often manifest themselves in word borrowing. One example is in English, which features a large number of words borrowed from French, as a result of the historical prestige of French. Another potential result of such contact relationships includes the creation of a pidgin or eventually creole through nativization. In the case of pidgins and creoles, it is usually noted that the low prestige language provides the phonology while the high prestige language provides the lexicon and grammatical structure.
In addition to forming of a new language, known as a creole, language contact can result in changes to the languages in contact, such as language convergence, language shift or language death. Language convergence is when two languages have been exposed for a long period of time and they begin to have more properties in common. Language shift is when a speaker shifts from speaking a lower prestige dialect to a higher prestige dialect. Language death is when speakers of a language die off, and there are no new generations learning to speak this language. The intensity of the contact between the two languages and their relative prestige levels influence the degree to which a language experiences lexical borrowing and changes to the morphology, phonology, syntax, and overall structure of the language.
Effects on language structure
When two languages with an asymmetrical power relationship come into contact, such as through colonization or in a refugee situation, the creole that results is typically largely based on the prestige language; as noted above, linguists have observed that the low-prestige language usually provides the phonology while the high-prestige language provides the lexicon and grammatical structure. Over time, continued contact between the creole and the prestige language may result in decreolization, in which the creole begins to more closely resemble the prestige language. Decreolization thus creates a creole continuum, ranging from an acrolect (a version of the creole that is very similar to the prestige language), to mesolects (decreasingly similar versions), to the basilect (the most “conservative" creole). An example of decreolization described by Hock and Joseph is African American Vernacular English (AAVE), in which older, more conservative versions preserve features such as the completive marker done while newer, less conservative versions do not.
Some instances of contact between languages with different prestige levels have resulted in diglossia, a phenomenon in which a community uses a high prestige language or dialect in certain situations, usually for newspapers, in literature, on university campuses, for religious ceremonies, and on television and the radio, but uses a low prestige language or dialect for other situations, often in conversation in the home or in letters, comic strips, and in popular culture. Linguist Charles A. Ferguson's 1959 article "Diglossia" listed the following examples of diglossic societies: in Switzerland, Swiss Standard German and Swiss German; in the Middle East and North Africa, Standard Arabic and vernacular Arabics; in Haiti, Standard French and Haitian Creole; in Greece, Katharevousa and Dhimotiki; and in Norway, Bokmål and Nynorsk.
In diglossic societies, the prestigious language tends to be very conservative and resist change over time while the low-prestige language, the local vernacular, undergoes normal language change. For instance, Latin, the high prestige language of Europe for many centuries, underwent minimal change while the everyday low prestige languages which were spoken evolved significantly. If, however, the two languages are spoken freely, the prestige language may undergo vernacularization and begin to incorporate vernacular features. An example is Sanskrit, an ancient prestige language that has incorporated the vernacular pronunciations of [tʃ] and [b] for word-initial y- and v-.
The prestige language may also change under the influence of specific regional dialects in a process known as regionalization. For example, in medieval times, Ecclesiastical Latin developed different forms in various countries where it was used, including Italy, France, Spain, Portugal and other catholic countries, notably in pronunciation – see Latin regional pronunciation. Some of these differences were minor, such as c before i and e being pronounced [tʃ] in Italy but [s] in France, but after English underwent the Great Vowel Shift between 1200 and 1600, the vowel system in England became nearly unrecognisable to its European ecclesiastic counterparts.
The dictionary definition of prestige at Wiktionary
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