Sociolinguistics: Dialect Continuum and Language

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Sociolinguistics

1. Subject matter of sociolinguistics

SL concentrates on the diversity of language in society according to various factors such as geographical distribution, age group, ethnic group, socioeconomic class, gender, etc. A broad definition of SL is “the study of language in relation to society”. SL is relatively young discipline, which became recognized as a separate branch of language study in the late1960’s and early 1970’s. The traditional view in linguistics is that language should be studied as an abstract theoretical system with its vocabulary and grammar, after which SL could be added for more comprehensive account of the practical application of the language system. According to this traditional view since speech is social behavior it should be studied more comprehensively by superimposing the SL theory separately onto “pure linguistics”. Briefly the traditional view is that “pure linguistics” should be kept apart from SL. Another more modern view states that SL is an indispensible part –n – parcel of linguistics in general and the study of language without SL is nonsensical. This view is supported by the fact that even the definition of a given language is a social notion and the “language X” can only be defined in relation to a group of people who speak “X”. Ex. Italian language is spoken by Italians. Another reason for accepting this view is that speech has a social function both as a means of communication but also as a way of identifying social groups. Ex. The Queen’s English. Therefore to study speech without reference to a society using that language means to exclude the possibility of finding social explanations for the vocabulary items and structures used. From this prospection the traditional strict divisions between “pure” and SL is justified only on theoretical grounds for making the description more structured and simple. Some major areas of study in SL are: slang, dialect and other varieties of language related to geography and different social strata (sloi) by age, economic state, gender, etc.; the correlation between language, culture and thought – linguistic relativity (Sapir-Wharf) hypothesis – language determines thinking. One of the most significant discoveries of SL is that language variation, according to different factors – class, age, sex, etc. can be measured and analyzed and on that basis certain patterns can be outlined. Variation can be measured using certain sound and syntactic patterns called “linguistic variables”. Ex. There may be regions which differ in the pronunciation of plus and minus [r] as in [w└t│] / [w└t│r] or there may be a difference in syntactic pattern +/- object-indirect in expressions like “I am going to buy (me) a sandwich.” The dividing line between one region, (+me) and another region (-me) is called isogloss. The quantitative study of speech involves, recording interviews with groups of informants such as the inhabitants of a village or a region. When a linguistic variable is correlated to with sociological factors, such as economic class, profession, gender, etc. we say that stratification is observed. Thus the two main factors for variation of language can be: -1- Geography (regions, villages, towns, etc.); -2- Social stratification. A scholar who contributed greatly to establishing these parameters for the analysis of language variation is the American William Labov who studied New York City dialect in the mid 1960’s. Major issues in SL: there are two pivotal points related to language variation – A. The relation between individuals on the one hand and communication as a whole on the other B. The SL development of children as a new addition to the community Concerning A above - individual vs. community - it should be born in mind that the individual is the basic unit constituting the speech community. Unlike biological cells, individual speakers are shaped by their unique experience based on...
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