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Why is linguistic competence often used as a measure and scale of social categorization - Essay Example

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Social categorization is a tool that is used by sociologists to help understand the complexities of human social existence. While some categories such as gender, age, class, ethnicity and economic position are relatively easy to define and use, there are nevertheless a number of complicating factors which make it difficult to understand the connections which may exist between such categories…
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Why is linguistic competence often used as a measure and scale of social categorization
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Download file to see previous pages In some cases these categorizations even appear to contradict each other, and so more subtle means of categorization would be useful to researchers in illuminating the differences and similarities that exist in and between different social groups. This paper examines the variable of linguistic competence, and suggests why it is so often used in combination with other measures and scales of categorization in studies of complex modern communities. In the last few hundred years, the world has become increasingly connected, due to factors such as industrialisation, urbanisation and now the advent of the internet and an international and largely capitalist market characterised by globalisation. People travel more, and there is significantly more interaction between different groups, especially in urban areas which attract people because of the possibility of employment and economic success. In more isolated and rural societies, social categorization is a fairly straightforward process. Categories are more enduring, and people can be allocated quite distinctly into separate analytical spheres. Nowadays most Western societies and increasing numbers of developing countries have seen a huge shift to urban lifestyles, and connections are now much more extensive, with the result that sociologists have difficulty in finding frameworks of analysis which explain exactly how society is changing over time. It is important, therefore, to find new categories which take account of greater diversity in populations, and help to see the order that exists within an apparently chaotic situation. One key insight was contributed by Labov, who realised that language variation is a socially regular phenomenon, and that this is true both in smaller, homogeneous societies, and in large, linguistically heterogeneous cities. (Labov, quoted in Milroy and Milroy, 1992, p. 1.) While social class is a useful categorization, especially for large scale political and economic processes, it has limitations when it comes to the detail of how people interact at a personal level. Milroy and Milroy take the view that a smaller scale and finer approach is to be found in the analysis of linguistic and social variation which occurs within networks that people construct in their day to day lives. The study of linguistic variation is a tool can be used to describe how people express their affinity with certain groups, and their separateness from other groups. This more refined approach does not negate the macro level social class distinctions of classical sociology, but rather enhances and complements them, with a view to finding out more specific types of information that tends to get lost in these larger categories. A complicating factor in this field is the differing conceptions that researchers have of society itself. It is possible, for example, to integrate sociolinguistic theories into the views of Marx, positing an eternal struggle going on between hegemonic forces and resistant forces. Social class plays a big role in this world view, because higher class groups exercise power over others and can exploit those who are economically weaker. This political understanding can explain some of the variations that can be observed over longer periods of time. It illuminates why people can be categorized in groups of according to their compliance with dominant norms, for example in some countries such as Italy and Germany there is a distinction between standard language and regional dialect language which is related to social class. In these countries there is a relation of ...Download file to see next pagesRead More
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