Monday, January 30, 2012


NPM   : 10211210373
Subject            : Writing in professional context 2
3rd Semester evening

Meaning of Sociolinguistics
Sociolinguistics is the descriptive study of the effect of any and all aspects of society, including cultural norms, expectations, and context, on the way language is used, and the effects of language use on society. Sociolinguistics differs from sociology of language in that the focus of sociolinguistics is the effect of the society on the language, while the latter's focus is on the language's effect on the society. Sociolinguistics overlaps to a considerable degree with pragmatics. It is historically closely related to linguistic anthropology and the distinction between the two fields has even been questioned recently.
It also studies how language varieties differ between groups separated by certain social variables, e.g., ethnicity, religion, status, gender, level of education, age, etc., and how creation and adherence to these rules is used to categorize individuals in social or socioeconomic classes. As the usage of a language varies from place to place, language usage also varies among social classes, and it is these sociolects that sociolinguistics. For example, a sociolinguist might determine through study of social attitudes that a particular vernacular would not be considered appropriate language use in a business or professional setting. Sociolinguists might also study the grammar, phonetics, vocabulary, and other aspects of this sociolect much as dialectologists would study the same for a regional dialect. The study of language variation is concerned with social constraints determining language in its contextual environment. Code-switching is the term given to the use of different varieties of language in different social situations. William Labov is often regarded as the founder of the study of sociolinguistics. He is especially noted for introducing the quantitative study of language variation and change, making the sociology of language into a scientific discipline.
Sociolinguistic interviews are an integral part of collecting data for sociolinguistic studies. There is an interviewer, who is conducting the study, and a subject, or informant, who is the interviewee. In order to get a grasp on a specific linguistic form and how it is used in the dialect of the subject, a variety of methods are used to elicit certain registers of speech. There are five different styles, ranging from formal to casual. The most formal style would be elicited by having the subject read a list of minimal pairs (MP). Minimal pairs are pairs of words that differ in only one phoneme, such as cat and bat. Having the subject read a word list (WL) will elicit a formal register, but generally not as formal as MP. The reading passage (RP) style is next down on the formal register, and the interview style (IS) is when an interviewer can finally get into eliciting a more casual speech from the subject. During the IS the interviewer can converse with the subject and try to draw out of them an even more casual sort of speech by asking him to recall childhood memories or maybe a near death experience, in which case the subject will get deeply involved with the story since strong emotions are often attached to these memories. Of course, the most sought after type of speech is the casual style (CS). This type of speech is difficult if not impossible to elicit because of the Observer's Paradox. The closest one might come to CS in an interview is when the subject is interrupted by a close friend or family member, or perhaps must answer the phone. CS is used in a completely unmonitored environment where the subject feels most comfortable and will use their natural vernacular without overtly thinking about it. While the study of sociolinguistics is very broad, there are a few fundamental concepts on which many sociolinguistic inquiries depend. Speech community is a concept in sociolinguistics that describes a more or less discrete group of people who use language in a unique and mutually accepted way among themselves.Speech communities can be members of a profession with a specialized jargon, distinct social groups like high school students or hip hop fans, or even tight-knit groups like families and friends. Members of speech communities will often develop slang or jargon to serve the group's special purposes and priorities.Crucial to sociolinguistic analysis is the concept of prestige; certain speech habits are assigned a positive or a negative value which is then applied to the speaker. This can operate on many levels. It can be realised on the level of the individual sound/phoneme, as Labov discovered in investigating pronunciation of the post-vocalic /r/ in the North-Eastern USA, or on the macro scale of language choice, as realised in the various diglossias that exist throughout the world, where Swiss-German/High German is perhaps most well known. An important implication of sociolinguistic theory is that speakers 'choose' a variety when making a speech act, whether consciously or subconsciously.
Understanding language in society means that one also has to understand the social networks in which language is embedded. A social network is another way of describing a particular speech community in terms of relations between individual members in a community. A network could be loose or tight depending on how members interact with each other.[4] For instance, an office or factory may be considered a tight community because all members interact with each other. A large course with 100+ students would be a looser community because students may only interact with the instructor and maybe 1-2 other students. A multiplex community is one in which members have multiple relationships with each other.[4] For instance, in some neighborhoods, members may live on the same street, work for the same employer and even intermarry. The looseness or tightness of a social network may affect speech patterns adopted by a speaker. For instance, Sylvie Dubois and Barbara Horvath found that speakers in one Cajun Louisiana community were more likely to pronounce English "th" [θ] as [t] (or [ð] as [d]) if they participated in a relatively dense social network (i.e. had strong local ties and interacted with many other speakers in the community), and less likely if their networks were looser (i.e. fewer local ties).A social network may apply to the macro level of a country or a city, but also to the inter-personal level of neighborhoods or a single family. Recently, social networks have been formed by the Internet, through chat rooms, MySpace groups, organizations, and online dating servicDifferences according to class
Sociolinguistics as a field distinct from dialectology was pioneered through the study of language variation in urban areas. Whereas dialectology studies the geographic distribution of language variation, sociolinguistics focuses on other sources of variation, among them class. Class and occupation are among the most important linguistic markers found in society. One of the fundamental findings of sociolinguistics, which has been hard to disprove, is that class and language variety are related. Members of the working class tend to speak less standard language, while the lower, middle, and upper middle class will in turn speak closer to the standard. However, the upper class, even members of the upper middle class, may often speak 'less' standard than the middle class.The looseness or tightness of a social network may affect speech patterns adopted by a speaker. For instance, Sylvie Dubois and Barbara Horvath found that speakers in one Cajun Louisiana community were more likely to pronounce English "th" [θ] as [t] (or [ð] as [d]) if they participated in a relatively dense social network (i.e. had strong local ties and interacted with many other speakers in the community), and less likely if their networks were looser (i.e. fewer local ties) This is because not only class, but class aspirations, are important.
Studies in the field of sociolinguistics typically take a sample population and interview them, assessing the realisation of certain sociolinguistic variables.A commonly studied source of variation is regional dialects. Dialectology studies variations in language based primarily on geographic distribution and their associated features. Sociolinguists concerned with grammatical and phonological features that correspond to regional areas are often called dialectologists.There are several different types of age-based variation one may see within a population. They are: vernacular of a subgroup with membership typically characterized by a specific age range, age-graded variation, and indications of linguistic change in progress.Variation may also be associated with gender. Men and women, on average, tend to use slightly different language styles. These differences tend to be quantitative rather than qualitative. That is, to say that women use a particular speaking style more than men do is akin to saying that men are taller than women (i.e., men are on average taller than women, but some women are taller than some men).connected discourse, spoken or written is one of the most promising and rapidly developing areas of linguistics. Traditional linguistics has concentrated on the analysis of single sentence or isolated speech acts. In this important new book Michael Stubbs shows that linguistic concepts can be extended to analyse spontaneous and informal talk in the home, classroom or factory, and, indeed, written narrative. Using copious examples drawn from recorded conversations, field work observations, experimental data and written texts, he explores such questions as how far discourse structure is comparable to sentence structure; whether it is possible to talk of 'well formed' discourse as one does of 'grammatical' sentences; and whether the relation between question and answer in conversation is syntactic, semantic or pragmatic. He also demonstrates some of the limitations of contemporary linguistics and speech act theory which neglect key aspects of native speaker fluency and communicative competence. Although written from a predominantly linguistic perspective, the book is informed by insights from sociology and anthropology. Theoretical debate is accompanied by discussion of real life implications, particularly for the teacher. A Final Chapter offers clear and practical guidelines on methods of data collection and analysis for the student and researcher; and the book includes a full bibliography and suggestions for further reading.
The process of learning sociolinguistic competence is challenging even in one’s first language. Evidence of this can be found in the popularity of "Miss Manners" columns. If we all had perfect sociolinguistic competence, we wouldn’t need advice about the proper way to send wedding invitations or give a dinner party. Having good sociolinguistic competence means knowing how to "give every person his or her due." It means knowing when to be quiet, and when to talk, when to give compliments to others, and when to apologize. It also means being able to read situations and know what is the right thing to say or do. There are an infinite number of combinations of roles, tasks, contexts, and feelings that govern what is appropriate in any given encounter. For example, the job of persuading a friend to go with you to a concert will require completely different skills than trying to persuade the president of the company to begin selling a new product line.
Good sociolinguistic skills in a second language are important because if you make serious mistakes in this type of competence, people will not simply think that you are ignorant (which they may think if you have poor grammar); rather, they will think that you are ill-mannered, dishonest, insincere, rude, pushy, etc. If your grammar is excellent, you will be judged all the more severely for sociolinguistic gaffes. Misunderstandings result in amusement, contempt, disappointment, shock, bewilderment, serious insult, or ethnic stereotypes.Improving sociolinguistic competence needs to be a part of the language learning process from the beginning. Many language schools and language learning programs focus almost exclusively on language components such grammar, vocabulary, and pronunciation, and very little attention is paid to helping students understand how to be appropriate in a new cultural context. An assumption is often made that language learners will pick up sociolinguistic competence simply by being exposed to the culture. Unfortunately, this is not often the case. The following are some suggestions for increasing one’s sociolinguistic competence. These suggestions are applicable not just for those living abroad, but also for those who need to interact and work with people from other cultural backgrounds:
1. Learners need to take individual responsibility for seeing that this dimension of the language learning process is included in their program of study from the beginning. When an individual takes responsibility for this part of the language learning process, he or she is in a good position to develop meaningful relationships with members of the target culture. These relationships can lay a foundation for meaningful language learning for years to come. By taking language learning into their own hands, language learners are assured that their learning will not end when their formal instruction comes to a close (often long before learners are fluent in their target languages).
2. Language learners need to remember that sociolinguistic competence is part of a larger system. When learning new grammatical structures, the learner should immediately try to practice the new structures with the goal of testing sociolinguistic appropriateness. Some learners have even gone so far as to deliberately say something wrong so that native speakers would correct them, and they would learn something new about what was appropriate.
3. As language learners become more proficient in a second language, they also need to be increasingly committed to becoming observers of the interactions of native speakers around them. They should watch how people stand when talking to each other. They should watch for the kinds of physical touching people do (handshaking, kissing, gentle punches on the shoulder, etc.) Are such things influenced by the gender of the speakers? How does language change when someone important enters a room? By knowing what to look for, learners can discover a great deal through observation.
4. Another suggestion for developing sociolinguistic competence is to keep a language journal which records questions, problems, and discoveries. If there is some feature of the target language which is troubling or frustrating to a language learner, it may be the key to an insight about the communication process. For example, what led to Berry’s (1994) study of backchannel behavior and turn-taking was an unsettling feeling that all Spanish speakers were rude to her, never letting her complete a sentence or express a thought without interruption. Her initial reaction was a judgment that Spanish speakers were rude, but because that was an unacceptable conclusion for her, she pursued the topic until she realized that Spanish speakers expect co-speakers to begin speaking before they finish as a means of demonstrating interest. Far from being rude and pushy, the listeners were trying to show their engagement in the conversation. It is, of course, possible that a few people intend to be rude, but when it seems like everyone, including friends, are acting rude, it is time to explore one’s definition of rudeness to see if an underlying sociolinguistic expectation is not being met. In general, if it seems as though some characteristic of the way speakers of the target language are communicating is routinely offensive, one should begin looking for a sociolinguistic explanation. There is a good chance that the reverse is also true—what seems natural in the learner’s first language may be offensive to speakers of the target language.
5. The process of building sociolinguistic competence will not go far without the language learners establishing relationships with a few people who are native speakers of the target language and have lived most if not all of their lives in the target culture. These people will be essential to discovery of the sociolinguistic dimensions of language. When language learners acquire new lexical items and grammatical forms. It is vital that they examine with their language helpers the kinds of changes which would be made to the new language data as a result of changes in the context. If they have learned something new, they can ask a language helper, "Could I say this to a man? Towoman? Would I say this to a teacher? to a neighbor?" etc. Or, if the language helper is also sensitive to the kinds of restrictions which might apply to a given utterance, a more general question might be sufficient: "Should I avoid saying this with any particular group of people or in any context?" Also, if language learners are able to find more than one helper, and if they are fairly confident in the appropriateness of an utterance, they might try out the utterance on a number of different individuals to see if there is any adverse reaction. The importance of language helpers as a resource for building sociolinguistic competence cannot be over stressed. In many cases, the only way to understand what is happening sociolinguistic ally will be through the insights of language helpers. However, one should try to avoid being frustrated when it seems that language helpers offer contradictory advice on sociolinguistic issues. It is essential to test the language one is learning in different contexts with different kinds of people, and it is very helpful to get feedback from language helpers who can offer differing insights and interpretations, but it should not be surprising that in an enterprise as dynamic and human as using language, generalizations may be more complicated than they initially appear. If contradictory explanations of appropriate behavior seem to be emerging, one explanation for it may be that the language learner has not recognized some higher-level generalization or framework which encompasses both contradictory statements. For example, if one helper says that an utterance is acceptable without qualifications and another finds what is said to be highly offensive, then there must be a variable at work which explains the apparent contradiction. Perhaps the two helpers come from different regions of the same country, and in one region the utterance is acceptable, while in the other it is not. The helper who comes from the area in which the utterance is acceptable may be completely unaware that the utterance in question is offensive elsewhere. Along similar lines, it is also important to recognize that within any society, even a society which shares only one language, there is always variation in the speech produced by individual speakers. This variation, in itself, can account for differences in the advice language helpers might give.
Another explanation for contradictory explanations may be found in the imaginations of different helpers. When a person is asked for a comment about the appropriateness of a given utterance, he or she usually tries to form a scenario in his or her mind in which the utterance would be used. If two (or more) helpers imagine a scenario for the same utterance, they will almost certainly come up with scenarios which are different, and the differences in their imagined scenarios will influence their perception of the appropriateness of the utterance. For example, if one takes a sentence like, "You’re getting so skinny!", it is possible for one helper to imagine a case in which this sentence is spoken in an American context to a friend who is trying to lose weight, in which case it might be viewed as an appropriate comment. On the other hand, if a helper imagined the sentence being spoken to someone in an American context who had a serious problem with trying to gain weight (i.e., he or she was too thin already), this expression could be viewed as an insult. Because decisions of appropriateness are so contextually constrained, it is very easy to get contradictory advice from different language helpers. A fourth consideration in this vein is the possibility that the language helper may be lacking in sociolinguistic competence in his or her own first language. Native speakers of any language have different levels of sensitivity to sociolinguistic considerations. If it seems as though one language helper consistently gives different answers from the rest of a language learner’s contacts, it is possible that the different language helper is either not as competent as the others or is simply not able to perceive such issues as accurately. Of course, it is possible that the one who differs is the only one with insight, but if one finds that the advice of one particular helper consistently results in awkward or painful situations, it is probably best to seek for help in other quarters.
6. As one way to bring together the suggestions made above, language learners should make a focused effort to learn the speech acts they need in order to function in the target language. (Speech acts are the things people do with language such as apologize, invite, accept and refuse invitations, compliment, sympathize, and complain.) They should then assess the kinds of variables which will influence the performance of specific speech acts, and discuss the speech acts with their language helpers. Finally, working with their helpers, they can practice the language and skills they are learning.
Conclusion of Sociolinguistics is the study of the relation between language and society. There are some sociolinguistic factors such as, social factors, social dimensions, and explanation factors. Every person has a unique way of speaking called as idiolects, and dialects which are grammatically (and perhaps lexically) as well as phonologically different from other varieties. The language in contact consists of Lingua Franca, Bilingualism, Pidgin and Creol. The language education can be seen in second-language teaching method. Language in use includes styles and jargons.


  1. Sociolinguistics implies the inquiry of how the folks around you and your legacy can update the way you speak.

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