Chapter 11: Aspects of Sociolinguistics

Chapter 11: Aspects of Sociolinguistics
 … a convergence of “all the earlier efforts in anthropology, sociology, social psychology, and
linguistics [in order] to relate language systematically to society and culture.” (218)
3 main directions in sociolinguistics
1. A redirection of general or theoretical linguistics into a study of language in society.
2. Extending the concept of the native speaker’s linguistic competence into the concept of
communicative competence.
3. The study of speech communities (‘sociology of language’)
Direction 1: The study of language in its social context
 While Saussure opted for the study of langue and Chomsky for the study of competence,
Labov believed that linguistics was the study of language within the context of a speech
 The basic language data for the sociolinguist was “language as it is used by native speakers
communicating with each other in everyday life”. (219)
 Assumption behind the study of language in its social context: “Speech varies in different
social circumstances” and “there are speech varieties within a speech community” (219)
 A sociolinguistic variable is: “a linguistic feature which can be systematically related to some
non-linguistic feature in a social context: the speaker, the addressee, the audience or the
setting” (219). E.g. the th in thing or thick was pronounced differently by New Yorkers
depending on the degree of formality (casual speech, careful speech, etc) and the social class
of the speaker (Labov)
 Problem before the teacher: What should be taught? -- An idealized standard variety (Task of
teaching simpler but student insensitive to differences among groups of speakers or the social
significance of these differences) OR Language as it is spoken (closer to life but variations
make teaching task more complex).
 Thus the study of language in its social context involves “a phonology, morphology, syntax,
and lexicology in which the distinctions in the use of language by different groups in society
and the individuals in different situations are not rubbed out” (220)
Direction 2: Ethnography of communication
 Basically defined as “the study of the individual’s communicative activity in its social
setting.” (220)
 What it did was to extend the concept of the native speaker’s linguistic competence into the
concept of communicative competence by changing the focus from the abstract study of
language, i.e., from the formal properties of utterances, to the concrete acts of language use,
i.e., to the study of the social contexts and of the participants in the acts of communication
 Regards the interpersonal speech act as the primary event and speech forms as secondary.
That is, the act of communication is seen as a “socially meaningful episode” (220) in which
the speech act is conditioned by social rules and functions (and is therefore secondary), rather
than an exchange of linguistic messages
 Task of ethnography of communication: To develop a conceptual scheme for the analysis of
speech events in their social setting. This was done in terms of
i) the constitutive elements of the speech act and,
ii) the functions of the speech act.
 The constitutive elements of the speech act -- Identified by sociolinguists like Jakobson,
Robinson and Hymes
1. Participants in the speech act: speaker/ listener, writer/reader or in more general terms,
addresser/ addressee, performer/receiver. BUT all speech acts are not dyadic (Hymes), e.g.,
monologue, thinking aloud etc. Could also be triadic.
2. The message itself – usually a verbal utterance – but can include non-verbal act of
communication – smallest unit of speaking = speech act; the next larger unit (conversation,
discussion etc) = speech event. -- Speech acts can be performative or constative; locutionary
or illocutionary
3. A medium or channel is the third element – establishes a relationship between the
participants – e.g., air, paper, wire, etc. -- It could also imply a psychological role relationship;
the talk of a child (the medium) with his parents, a friend, a teacher varies according to the
role relationship.
4. Situation, setting, scene, extralinguistic situation are all words for the fourth element. -- The
situation, as interpreted by the participant, can determine the topic, verbal behaviour and
expectations of the participants. E.g., a classroom lesson, a committee meeting, a funeral, a
party, etc.
5. A message is distinguished by its topic or content -- Often related to the context/
extralinguistic situation, but need not always be so.
6. Participants select a particular variety of speech in a given situation – which may be a dialect,
language, code or register. -- The varieties of speech determined by social roles, situations or
functions are of particular importance in sociolinguistics.
7. Different speech acts have different functions. These purposes or functions constitute the
seventh element. -- Eight functions have been identified by various sociolinguists like Buhler,
Jakobson, Searle, Robinson and Halliday.
 Oldest and simplest classification of functions is Buhler’s: expressive, representational,
conative. Searle (1969) distinguishes five functions; Jakobson(1960) six; Halliday (1973) has
seven categories; Robinson’s scheme (1972) has fourteen; Wilkinson’s (1976) is similar. So
how many are there? Perhaps around eight.
 The functions of the speech act:
1. To “express the speaker’s personal state of mind or attitude” (223). E.g., a child’s cry,
exclamations (ouch!), grunts, etc. This function, according to Robinson, marks the
emotional state, personality and identity of the speaker.
2. “To bring the participants in contact or in relationship to each other” (225). Halliday calls
this the interactional function (1973 17). One aspect of this function is to open and
maintain social contacts – phatic communion (Malinowski) – phatic function (Jakobson)
3. The referential or representational function – relates the speech act specifically to the
context (Jakobson) or the non-linguistic world (Robinson) – uses a speech act to refer to
the real world around the speaker
4. The instrumental function makes the recipient do something – for e.g., requesting,
commanding, urging or regulating his/her conduct in some way – teaching/ instructing can
be seen as a communicative behavior intending the recipient to learn something
5. The performative function of speech acts is evident when speech act themselves are
action, e.g., advising, warning, congratulating, cursing or promising.
6. The use of language for enquiry or questioning is referred to as the heuristic function
(Halliday and Robinson)
7. The use of language for its own sake, i.e., to give pleasure, imaginatively and
8. The use of language to talk about language is the metalingual function (Jakobson and
Robinson) – e.g., Explanations and comments about speech acts themselves: ‘I repeat’, ‘I
must emphasize’, ‘What does this word mean?’ etc.
 Two neat summaries…
1) Jakobson
2) Searle
“… we tell people how things are, we try to get them to do things, we commit ourselves to
doing things, we express our feelings and attitudes and we bring about changes through our
utterances. Often, we do more than one of these at once in the same utterance.”
 Significance of these conceptual schemes:
1. The different elements represented by the above categories in a given culture are
interrelated in a rule-governed way. Therefore there are norms of interaction or
norms of interpretation which are appropriate to participants in a particular
2. The ethnography of communication aims to discover these rules and thus to extend
the systematic knowledge of language use.
 Example of research in ethnography of communication:
Focus on communication in everyday life -- Attempt to discover the ‘syntax of
communication’ -- Schegloff (1968) analyzed sequencing in conversational openings, esp.
telephone conversation -- Ring of phone is ‘summons’ – the called person/ answerer
speaks first – conversation continues according to rules of social communication
 Communicative competence
This term used as contrast and challenge to Chomsky’s ‘linguistic competence” -‘Linguistic competence’ is the speaker’s internalized rules of syntax, BUT this ignores the social
rules of language use -- ‘Communicative competence’ implies ‘linguistic competence’ but focuses
on intuitive grasp of social and cultural rules and meanings carried by any utterance. -- Definition
of ‘communicative competence’ -- “ The intuitive mastery that the native speaker possesses to use
and interpret language appropriately in the process of interaction and in relation to social context”
(229) – Hymes: It is a competence ‘when to speak, when not, and as to what to talk about with
whom, when, where, in what manner’ (Hymes)
 Problem with the concept of communicative competence:
1. Given the complexity of the entire rule system governing the use of language in its
social context, is it possible for anyone except a native speaker to acquire
communicative competence?
2. The communicative competence of the L2 learner is different from the
communicative competence of the L1 learner, i.e., the grammatical and
sociolinguistic competences of an L2 user are lesser than an L1 users’.
3. Therefore the L2 learner needs an additional competence – ‘strategic competence’
(Canale and Swain), i.e., the competence to conduct oneself as somebody with
limited sociocultural and grammatical competence (to know how to be a
‘foreigner’). However, ‘strategic competence’ approaches ‘communicative
competence’ when the grammatical and sociolinguistic competences of an L2 user
Implication of ethnography of communication for language pedagogy:
1. Language teaching should recognize the social, interpersonal and cultural
dimension of language and give it as much importance as grammar or phonology
2. The categorizations and studies in the ethnography of communication are likely to
play an important role in L2 curriculum development.
Direction 3: The sociology of language
Direction 1: the study of language in its social context, and Direction 2: the ethnography of
communication both operate at the micro level of language use and behaviour, while Direction
3: The sociology of language, operates at the macro level.
 The sociology of language focuses on speech communities and on languages as social
institutions. From this perspective, sociolinguistics looks at countries, regions, cities, and
relates social structures and social groups to languages and varieties of language used in that
 Reasons for the development of the sociology of language:
Pre- WW II view of language – characterized by standardization, uniformity,
homogeneity and unilingualism – multilingualism was considered an irritation. BUT
Post-WW II, profound social and political changes have led to multilingualism – all
over the world, linguistic, cultural, ethnic, religious minorities assert their language.
The sociology of language was the intellectual response to this situation
 Some reformulations of basic concepts in sociology of language
1. Speech community: NOT a community that shares the same language BUT a
group of people (face-to-face group, gang, region, nation) who regularly
communicate with each other. A speech community may be uniform/ homogenous
or diversified in its verbal repertoire.
2. Dialects are “regular regional varieties within a speech community”. (232)
3. Regional social variations of language are often referred to as social dialects or
sociolects. Sometimes one dialect can be used for literary/ educational/ official
purposes, while another is used for informal talk.
4. Some languages have developed a High and a Low form of the same language.
This is called diglossia.
All the above are different kinds of language situations.
The sociology of language has identified Language types in a multilingual community. They
are distinguished by four sociohistorical attributes (acc. to Stewart 1962,1968):
Historicity: I (has the language evolved through use?)
Standardization: II (does it have grammatical and lexical norms?)
Vitality: III (is it ‘alive’?)
Homogenecity: IV (has its basic lexicon/ structure developed from within?)
The seven language types (acc. to Stewart)
1. Standard (S): +I, +II, +III, +IV (E.g., English French spoken by educated native
2. Classical (C): Has three, but lacks vitality. (E.g. Latin).
3. Vernacular (V): Lacks standardization. (Tribal languages of America)
4. Creole (C): Has ‘historicity’ and ‘vitality’
5. Pidgin (P): Has only ‘historicity’.
6. Artificial (A): has standardization and homegenicity. E.g.: Esperanto
7. Marginal (M): Has only homogenicity. E.g. household languages or codes used in
small groups.
A note on Creoles and Pidgin
Creoles and Pidgin languages are ‘the result of the development of a secondary language
for wider communication in …contact situations where grammatical and lexical material from
different sources became fused’ (Stewart). A pidgin becomes a creole when it becomes a
native language (i.e., it gets ‘vitality’).
Seven societal language functions (again acc. to the same chap)
1. Official (o): E.g. language of government.
2. Group (g): Use by members of ethnic/ cultural group.
3. Wider communication (w): use of language for communication across language
boundaries (lingua franca).
4. Educational (e): for educational purposes
5. Literary (l)
6. Religious (r): use of language in connection with religious purposes.
7. Technical (t): for technical and scientific purposes.
With these concepts regarding type and function, it is possible to indicate briefly the language
position in a multilingual country.
The sociology of language also examines the sociology and social psychology of speech
communities and Language planning.
The sociology and social psychology of speech communities deals with:
1. …the intellectual and emotional response of the members of a society to the
languages and varieties in their social environment (part of communicative
competence is to identify the first language from other languages and other
language varieties)
2. The connection between the different languages or varieties of a language and the
deep-rooted emotional responses/ feelings/ stereotypes/ prejudices about people or
social/ ethnic/ religious groupings associated with these varieties – (these can lead
to language conflicts)
3. Psychological and social factors influencing second language learning in
individuals (‘acculturation’: Think: Why did the British not study any Indian
language while in India?)
Language planning consists of “organized efforts to find solutions to language problems in a
society” (238). – it is an application of sociolinguistic concepts and information to policy
decisions involving languages. E.g.: developing a writing system for an unwritten language;
introducing spelling reform; standardization of language use; expansion of vocabulary, etc
Contributions of sociology, anthropology and sociolinguistics to language pedagogy
 Sociology and anthropology provide tools for the study of societies/ cultures, which are the
contexts for a study of language. Both emphasize the close relationship between language and
culture/ society.
 Sociolinguistics provides concepts, mechanisms and systematic information for the study of
language in social, cultural and interpersonal contexts.
 Both the above have a bearing on curriculum objectives and content.