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SOCIOLINGUISTICS

SOCIOLINGUISTICS The branch of knowledge which studies the social aspects of LANGUAGE, including how the use and norms of language vary from one society to another (in relation, for example, to ACCENT, DIALECT, and GRAMMAR), and the way in which attitudes influence perceptions of the characteristics and abilities of speakers. These attitudes are clearly social in origin: for example, speakers of the prestigious BrE accent known as RECEIVED PRONUNCIATION (RP) are often perceived to be more competent and intelligent than speakers with regional accents, this view arising from the high social status of RP. Similarly, some accents of English are regarded as being more or less aesthetically pleasing than others. This, too, can be shown to be the result of the social connotations that different accents have for listeners. Americans, for example, do not find the accent of the West Midlands of England ugly, as many British people do, which has much to do with the fact that they do not recognize these accents as being from the West Midlands.

Accent, dialect, region, and class

The relationship between accent and dialect, on the one hand, and social class background on the other, is an issue of considerable sociolinguistic importance. For example, dialects and accents of BrE vary both geographically and socially. The high status of RP is traditionally associated with the British upper class and the public schools (a group of private boarding-schools), and, although often associated with southern England, it shows no regional variation. The further one goes down the social scale, however, the more regional differences come into play, with lower-class or ‘broad’ accents having many regional features. One of the major advances of modern sociolinguistics has been the introduction of quantitative techniques, following the lead of the American sociolinguist William Labov, which enables investigators to measure exactly and gain detailed insight into the nature of the relationship between language and social class.

In a sociolinguistic study in Bradford, Yorkshire, Malcolm Petyt showed that the percentage of hs ‘dropped’ by speakers correlated closely with social class as measured by factors such as occupation and income. While lower working-class speakers on average dropped 93% of all hs in words like house, upper working-class speakers dropped 67%, lower middle-class speakers 28%, and upper middle-class speakers only 12%. This study provides information about the source of some of the language attitudes mentioned above. H-dropping is widely regarded in Britain as ‘wrong’. Teachers and parents have often tried to remove this feature from children's speech, sometimes claiming that since the h appears in the spelling it must be wrong to omit it in speech. This is obviously a rationalization: no one makes this claim about the h of hour, or the k of knee. The real reason for this condemnation of h-dropping is its correlation with social class and its low social status.

Language change

Such quantitative techniques enable linguists to investigate some of the processes involved in LANGUAGE CHANGE. Large amounts of tape-recorded data (obtained in such a way as to ensure as far as possible that speakers are speaking naturally) can be used to plot the spread of changes through the community and through the language. For example, Labov was able in the 1960s to show that in NEW YORK City the consonant r was being reintroduced in the pronunciation of words like form and farm by comparing the number of rs used by older speakers to the number used by younger speakers. He was also able to show that this change was being spear-headed by speakers from the lower middle class, probably because saying ‘forrm’ rather than ‘fawm’ is considered prestigious (and therefore ‘correct’) in US society, and because speakers from this class are more likely to be both socially ambitious and insecure about the worth of their dialects.

Language planning

Sociolinguistics can be concerned with observing the details of individual behaviour in, for example, face-to-face conversation. It can also be involved in the larger-scale investigation of linguistic behaviour in communities the size of New York City. It can furthermore be concerned with the relationship between language and society in even larger-scale units such as entire nations. Sociolinguists working in areas such as the sociology of language and LANGUAGE PLANNING are concerned with issues like the treatment of language minorities, and the selection and codification of languages in countries which have hitherto had no standard language. In nations such as Britain, Ireland, the US, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand, English is the majority language, in a relationship of dominance with numerically much smaller and officially much less well-supported languages, such as GAELIC and WELSH in Britain and Maori in New Zealand. Sociolinguists study such relationships and their implications for education. In the case of Britain, they also attempt to obtain information on more recently arrived languages such as Gujarati, Punjabi, Maltese, and Turkish. Elsewhere, they note that there are countries in which native speakers of English are in a minority, as in Nicaragua, Honduras, South Africa, and Zimbabwe.

Switching languages and styles

In multilingual situations, developments occur which are important for linguists, including the growth of pidgin and CREOLE languages. Sociolinguists study the behaviour of bilinguals, investigating the way in which they switch from one language to another depending on social context. Speakers in all human societies possess large verbal repertoires, which may include different languages, different dialects, and different (less or more formal) styles. Varieties of language will be selected from this repertoire depending on features of the social context, such as the formality of the situation and the topic of conversation. Stylistic variation occurs in all English-speaking communities, signalled for the most part by vocabulary: for example, one might say somewhat foolish or rather silly or a bit daft depending on who one is talking to, what one is talking about, the situation one is in, and the impression one wants to create. Some English-speaking communities, like many Scots and members of overseas Caribbean communities, are bidialectal, having access to more than one dialect as well as different styles.

Conclusion

Sociolinguistics of all types is concerned with language as a social phenomenon. Some aspects of this subject may be more sociological in emphasis, others may be more linguistic. It is characteristic of all work in sociolinguistics, however, that it focuses on English and other languages as they are used by ordinary people to communicate with one another and to develop and maintain social relationships. See CODE-MIXING AND CODESWITCHING, DIALECTOLOGY, LINGUISTICS.

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"SOCIOLINGUISTICS." Concise Oxford Companion to the English Language. . Encyclopedia.com. 24 Jun. 2017 <http://www.encyclopedia.com>.

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"SOCIOLINGUISTICS." Concise Oxford Companion to the English Language. . Retrieved June 24, 2017 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/humanities/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/sociolinguistics

sociolinguistics

sociolinguistics, the study of language as it affects and is affected by social relations. Sociolinguistics encompasses a broad range of concerns, including bilingualism, pidgin and creole languages, and other ways that language use is influenced by contact among people of different language communities (e.g., speakers of German, French, Italian, and Romansh in Switzerland). Sociolinguists also examine different dialects, accents, and levels of diction in light of social distinctions among people. Although accent refers strictly to pronunciation, in practice a dialect can usually be identified by the accent of its speakers as well as by distinctive words, usages, idiomatic expressions, and grammatical features. Dialects reflect and may reinforce class, ethnic, or regional differences among speakers of the same language. In some cases difference of dialect shades into difference of language. Where the line between them is not clear, groups that are linguistically distinct are considered to speak different dialects of the same language if they can generally understand each other, although what constitutes this mutual intelligibility is itself not always clear. For example, someone speaking Mandarin may not be able to understand the spoken form of another Chinese dialect but can read it, since the written form of all Chinese dialects is universal; Serbs and Croats, on the other hand, speak essentially the same language but use different alphabets to write it. Individuals sometimes deliberately change their dialect as a means of improving their social status. Speakers of any dialect or any language may modulate their vocabulary and level of diction according to social context, speaking differently in church, for example, than on the playground; social activities that tend to shape the language of those engaging in it are sometimes called registers.

See R. A. Hudson, Sociolinguistics (1980); P. Trudgill, Dialects in Contact (1986); H. Giles and N. Coupland, Language: Contexts and Consequences (1991).

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sociolinguistics

so·ci·o·lin·guis·tics / ˌsōsēōlingˈgwistiks/ • pl. n. [treated as sing.] the study of language in relation to social factors, including differences of regional, class, and occupational dialect, gender differences, and bilingualism. DERIVATIVES: so·ci·o·lin·guist / -ˈlinggwist/ n. so·ci·o·lin·guis·tic adj. so·ci·o·lin·guis·ti·cal·ly / -ik(ə)lē/ adv.

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"sociolinguistics." The Oxford Pocket Dictionary of Current English. . Encyclopedia.com. 24 Jun. 2017 <http://www.encyclopedia.com>.

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"sociolinguistics." The Oxford Pocket Dictionary of Current English. . Retrieved June 24, 2017 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/humanities/dictionaries-thesauruses-pictures-and-press-releases/sociolinguistics

sociolinguistics

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"sociolinguistics." A Dictionary of Sociology. . Encyclopedia.com. 24 Jun. 2017 <http://www.encyclopedia.com>.

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"sociolinguistics." A Dictionary of Sociology. . Retrieved June 24, 2017 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/social-sciences/dictionaries-thesauruses-pictures-and-press-releases/sociolinguistics