Sociolinguistics lane 422
Language and society
• Language has a social function: it helps us to
establish and maintain relationships.
• Convey information about the speaker.
Language vs. dialect regional vs. social
Dialect vs. accent
no clear-cut boundaries: dialect continuum
Language continuum, eg. German and dutch
spoken along the Netherlands-Germany
Criteria to Language
• Linguistic criteria Mutual intellegibility &
language, e.g Dutch and German
• Political and cultural criteria
1. autonomy and heteronomy (German and Dutch:
non-standard dialects in Germany, Austria and Switzerland)
• Discreteness and continuity
• Dialect: grammar, vocabulary and
• Language is closely tied p with the social
structure and value systems of society;
therefore different dialects and accents are
evaluated in different ways.
• e.g. non pre-vocalic /r/: car, cart England, not
New York, prestigious
• Value judgments are arbitrary, and based on social connotations • Subjective attitudes towards language are important for the study of language change, explain why dialects change and how, e.g. /r/ in New York (Labov)
• The use of non pre-vocalic /r/ by upper middle class in New York • Labov’s study of Marth’s Vineyard, house , mouth
subjective attitudes towards the native linguistic form: favorable or unvavorable
Linguistic change is not always in the direction of a prestigious form.
• The Sapir-Whorf Hypothesis
• The effect of society on language: how
physical environment is reflected in language
• the social environment, kinship terms.
• The values of society affect language, e.g
taboo words, the word but not the concept.
• Language is variable, is not used in the same
manner by all people in all situations.
Key sociolinguistic concepts
• Variety: a neutral term to refer to any form of language (languages & dialects)
• Speech community: controversial concept:
a community of people who share a linguistic variety as their own and share social norms.
shared linguistic norms , shared communicative competence
and shared social norms. (can be a city, neighborhood, region, nation)
• Communicative (Sociolinguistic) competence:
speaker’s underlying knowledge of rules of grammar and rules for their use in socially appropriate circumstances. (learned through socialization), e.g. please, thank you. Greeting formally, informally.
• Social knowledge is essential for membership in speech
• boundaries between speech communities are
social rather than linguistic. speech
community language community: e.g Papua
New Guinea mutual intelligibility
• Gaelic\English communities in Scotland (rely
on their communicative: the shared norms of
interactions in the community.
• Can we claim the existence of a homogenous
speech community with the attested
heterogeneity in cities and countries?
Variation and Language
• The variable : an abstract representation of
the source of variation, realised by two or
more variants, e.g ‘think’ // : , [f].
• the variants are the actual realization of a
• Constraints on variation: linguistic & social
factors determine the use of variants.
• Free variation
• Variation is predicable but not with 100 % certainty
Fischer’s 1958 study of the use of (ng) in New England.
singing vs. singin’
Fischer’s 1958 study of the use of (ng) in New
• 12 boys, 12 girls aged 3-10.
• Boys used more [in] than girls.
• The use of [in] increases with the formality of
situations. The use of [in] increased when relaxed.
• [in] is used more with verbs that describe everyday
activities ,e.g ‘hit’ ; [ing] is used with formal verbs, e.g ‘criticize’.
Labov (1966) study of (r) in New . 2
To investigate the incidence of final and post- •
/ vocalic /r
While most American accents are rhotic, New York (and...
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