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Sociolinguistics - Essay Example

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Latin word "Communs", meaning commonness of experience forms the basis of the word 'Communication'. All living beings use Communication to transfer their thoughts, ideas and messages using verbal or non-verbal communication. Languages form the all important part of verbal communication…
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Sociolinguistics (Language variation according to gender, ethni and socio-economic Latin word "Communs", meaning commonness of experience forms the basis of the word 'Communication'. All living beings use Communication to transfer their thoughts, ideas and messages using verbal or non-verbal communication. Languages form the all important part of verbal communication. Languages vary from one place to another depending upon a range of factors, providing enough scope to philologists to study the variations and establish causal relationships accordingly. Such a variation often results in establishing a correlation with the structure of the society, characteristics of the speaking community. Lower geographical distances and large population sizes often results in increased social contact between two locations and the chance that the respective dialects are influenced by each other (Heeringa, 2006). Therefore by establishing language variation theories more information can be gathered about the speakers, their representations, about the structures of the society and interactions (Berruto, 2004). The scientific study of language is called linguistics. Formal models are often constructed which allow us to understand the functioning of various modules of the linguistic grammar function1. These modules include study of variations in phonetics, phonology, morphology, syntax and semantics. In fact there's a school of thought which says that, "In the absence of variation, languages would no longer be the versatile, flexible semiotic instruments they are, malleably following the flow of time and history. This capacity for variation would appear to be co-essential to natural languages" (Berruto, 2004). Variations in language can be;
Internal: This signifies the property of the languages having different ways of expressing the same meaning.
Language variety: Such variations arise out of the differences between languages like English and French, Japanese and Chinese etc.
Dialect: This is a somewhat complex concept. Dialect is considered a collection of attributes (phonetic, phonological, syntactic, morphological, semantic) that make one group of speakers noticeably different from another group of speakers of the same language
Therefore while on the one hand there are variations in the languages like English, French, Spanish etc., there are wide variations in a language spoken in different parts of the world, for example, the two varieties of English, such as New York City English vs. Appalachian English or UK English vs. Creole Caribbean English. Such differentiation is often based on the class, socio-economic, gender and ethnic composition of the population. Milroy and Gordon (2003) and Rickford (1986) point towards studies which show 'bipolar' variation, for example in the speech of villagers on a plantation in Guyana, where a social divide is reflected linguistically. Variations also exists depending upon the age profile of the speaker. Infants, for example, generally show the evidence of phonetic categorization and of perceptual parsing of the speech stream before they actually learn to speak, before they have large vocabularies, and possibly before they even understand that words are referential (Pierrehumbert, 2003). This becomes possible with the early development of some parts of the speech processing system in the babies.
Variations on the basis of gender: Clive Grey2 documents some publications pointing out how the society viewed women and linguistic behaviour since the early sixteenth century. These publications called upon the 'women' to improve their linguistic behaviour while not much evidence was found to suggest the existence of corresponding publications where men are the audience for a book on 'improving' linguistic behaviour. Trudgill (1972) studied the effect of gender on variations3 in word-final -ing in words like running (runnin') and swimming (swimmin'). He found that women tend to use more standard language features than men, while men tend to use more vernacular forms in their speech. Labov, William. (1990)4 also found out that;
Women tend to use prestigious standard forms more often than men, like the pronunciation of th in English, s-dropping in Spanish e.g. los libros 'the books' etc.
Women tend to be more innovative than men as they adopt new prestigious forms faster than men while they also promoting the use of new forms that are not prestigious
Variations on the basis of Ethnicity: Linguists often define 'speech communities' based on a group of people who speak a common dialect. Some extra-linguistic factors are associated with the ethnic composition of the populace. Such variations result on account of day-to-day contact within a community/ group and less often interactions amongst the nearby groups. For example, Chaudenson (2003) contends that the process of creolization of languages appear to be along these lines. Chaudenson figure out that the majority of exogenous creoles, varieties that emerged in colonial societies where all or most of the population came from somewhere else, are found on islands; this is especially true of French creoles (Cayenne, in French Guiana, is an island, and it could be said,
Variations on the basis of Socio Economic class: Language variations are more pronounced on the basis of socio-economic class. Such variations arise out the education level, grooming environment, available resources, economic conditions and social perceptions. The US researcher, William Labov (1990), pioneered research5 in this area. Labov figured out some pronunciation features which varied within a community. In one such study carried out in New York, it was studied whether or not speakers pronounced the 'r' in words like part - considered a high status pronunciation in New York. He interviewed a sample of speakers belonging to a variety of social compositions and groups. He tried to elicit the informal speech more, and less of formal speech. Findings of the study pointed out that, speakers from higher social classes pronounced 'r' more often, but also that all speakers used this pronunciation more frequently in formal speech. A relationship was therefore established to show that social class has an effect on the language variations. This type of variation is found to be lexical in nature, basically depending upon the vocabulary items, morphemes of a language and pronunciations. Set of Lexical rules in different languages modify the argument structures of lexical items, like verbs, in order to alter their properties in totality.
References:
1. Berruto, Gaetano (2004). 'The problem of variation'. The Linguistic Review 21 (2004), 293-322.
2. Chaudenson, Robert (2003), Creolistics and sociolinguistic theories, Int'l. J. Soc. Lang. 160.
3. Gender & Variation: Stability and Language Change, available online at http://www.indiana.edu/lggender/variation.html (Feb 13, 2007)
4. Heeringa, Wilbert (2006). 'Measuring Language Variation'. University of Groningen, Faculty of Arts, Humanities Computing. Available online at http://www.let.rug.nl/heeringa/dialectology/present/salz06.pdf (Feb 10, 2007)
5. Kerswill, Paul (2006) Socio-economic class. In Carmen Llamas & Peter Stockwell (eds.) The Routledge Companion to Sociolinguistics. London: Routledge. http://www.ling.lancs.ac.uk/staff/kerswill/pkpubs/Kerswill2006Socio-economicClass.pdf (Feb, 13, 2007)
6. Labov, William (1990). "The intersection of sex and social class in the course of linguistic change". Language Variation and Change 2,2.
7. Milroy, Lesley and Matthew Gordon (2003). Sociolinguistics. Method and interpretation. Oxford: Blackwell.
8. Pierrehumbert, Janet B. (2003). Phonetic Diversity, Statistical Learning, and Acquisition of Phonology. Northwestern University. Language and Speech, 2003, 46 (2-3).
9. Rickford, John (1986). The need for new approaches to social class analysis in sociolinguistics. Language and Communication 6(3).
10. sociolinguistics, available online at http://www.unc.edu/gerfen/Ling30Sp2002/sociolinguistics.html (Feb 13, 2007)
11. Trudgill, Peter (1972):"Sex, Covert Prestige and Linguistic Change in the Urban British English of East Anglia". Language in Society 1. Read More
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