Sociolinguistics • In an article on the varieties of speech he found among the 1,700 or so speakers of Menomini, an Amerindian language of Wisconsin, Bloomfield (1927) mentioned a variety of skills that were displayed among some of the speakers he knew best: • a woman in her sixties who spoke ‘a beautiful and highly idiomatic Menomini’; • her husband, who used ‘forms which are current among bad speakers’ on some occasions and ‘elevated speech,’ incorporating forms best described as ‘spelling pronunciations,’ ‘ritualistic compound words and occasional archaisms’ on others;
Sociolinguistics • an old man who ‘spoke with bad syntax and meagre, often inept vocabulary, yet with occasional archaisms’; • a man of about forty with ‘atrocious’ Menomini, i.e., a small vocabulary, barbarous inflections, threadbare sentences; • and two half breeds, one who spoke using a vast vocabulary and the other who employed ‘racy idiom.’
Sociolinguistics • Value judgments of this kind sometimes emerge for reasons that are hard to explain. • For example, there appears to be a subtle bias built into the way people tend to judge dialects. • Quite often, though not always, people seem to exhibit a preference for rural dialects over urban ones. • In England the speech of Northumbria seems more highly valued than the speech of Tyneside and certainly the speech of Liverpool seems less valued than that of northwest England as a whole.
Sociolinguistics • In North America the speech of upstate New York does not have the negative characteristics associated with much of the speech of New York City. • Why such different attitudes should exist is not easy to say. • Is it a preference for things that appear to be ‘older’ and ‘more conservative,’ a subconscious dislike of some of the characteristics of urbanization, including uncertainty about what standards should prevail, or some other reason or reasons? • Sometimes these notions of ‘better’ and ‘worse’ solidify into those of ‘correctness’ and ‘incorrectness.’
Sociolinguistics • 3) concerning the latter notions: The popular explanation of ‘correct’ and ‘incorrect’ speech reduces the matter to one of knowledge versus ignorance. • There is such a thing as correct English. An ignorant person does not know the correct forms; therefore he cannot help using incorrect ones. • In the process of education one learns the correct forms and, by practice and an effort of will (‘careful speaking’), acquires the habit of using them. • If one associates with ignorant speakers, or relaxes the effort of will (‘careless speaking’), one will lapse into the incorrect forms . . . there is one error in the popular view which is of special interest.
Sociolinguistics • The incorrect forms cannot be the result of ignorance or carelessness, for they are by no means haphazard, but, on the contrary, very stable. • For instance, if a person is so ignorant as not to know how to say I see it in past time, we might expect him to use all kinds of chance forms, and, especially, to resort to easily formed locutions, such as I did see it, or to the addition of the regular past-time suffix: I seed it. • But instead, these ignorant people quite consistently say I seen it. Now it is evident that one fixed and consistent form will be no more difficult than another: • a person who has learned I seen as the past of I see has learned just as much as one who says I saw. • He has simply learned something different. • Although most of the people who say I seen are ignorant, their ignorance does not account for this form of speech.
Sociolinguistics • Many people hold strong beliefs on various issues having to do with language and are quite willing to offer their judgments on issues (see Bauer and Trudgill, 1998, Niedzielski and Preston, 1999, and Wardhaugh, 1999). • They believe such things as certain languages lack grammar, that you can speak English without an accent, that French is more logical than English, • that parents teach their children to speak, that primitive languages exist, that English is degenerating and language standards are slipping, that pronunciation should be based on spelling, and so on and so on. • Much discussion of language matters in the media concerns such ‘issues’ and there are periodic attempts to ‘clean up’ various bits and pieces, attempts that Cameron (1995) calls ‘verbal hygiene.’
Sociolinguistics • Most linguists studiously avoid getting involved in such issues having witnessed the failure of various attempts to influence received opinions on such matters. • As I have written elsewhere (1999, p. viii), ‘Linguists . . . know that many popular beliefs about language are false and that much we are taught about language is misdirected. • They also know how difficult it is to effect change.’ Language beliefs are well entrenched as are language attitudes and language behaviors. • Sociolinguists should strive for an understanding of all three because all affect how people behave toward others.
Sociolinguistics • As we have seen, many varieties of language exist and each language exists in a number of guises. • However, languages do not vary in every possible way. It is still quite possible to listen to an individual speaker and infer very specific things about that speaker after hearing relatively little of his or her speech. • The interesting problem is accounting for our ability to do that. • What are the specific linguistic features we rely on to classify a person as being from a particular place, a member of a certain social class, a representative of a specific profession, a social climber, a person pretending to be someone he or she is not, and so on?
Sociolinguistics • One possible hypothesis is that we rely on relatively few cues, e.g., the presence or absence of certain linguistic features. • We are also sensitive to the consistency or inconsistency in the use of these cues, • so that on occasion it is not just that a particular linguistic feature is always used but that it is used such and such a percent of the time rather than exclusively or not at all.
Sociolinguistics • However, we may actually perceive its use or non-use to be categorical, i.e., the feature to be totally present or totally absent. • This last hypothesis is an interesting one in that it raises very important questions about the linguistic capabilities of human beings, particularly about how individuals acquire the ability to use language in such ways. • If you must learn to use both linguistic feature X (e.g., -ing endings on verbs) and linguistic feature Y (e.g., -in’ endings on verbs) and how to use them in different proportions in situations A, B, C, and so on, • what does that tell us about innate human abilities and the human capacity for learning?
Sociolinguistics • The existence of different varieties is interesting in still another respect. • While each of us may have productive control over only a very few varieties of a language, we can usually comprehend many more varieties and relate all of these to the concept of a ‘single language.’ • That is, our receptive linguistic ability is much greater than our productive linguistic ability. • An interesting problem for linguists is knowing how best to characterize this ‘knowledge’ that we have which enables us to recognize something as being in the language but yet marked as ‘different’ in some way. Is it part of our competence or part of our performance in the Chomskyan sense? • Or is that a false dichotomy? The first question is as yet unanswered but, as the second suggests, it could possibly be unanswerable.
Sociolinguistics • Discussion 1. When might each of the following sentences be stylistically appropriate? a. Attention! b. I do hereby bequeath . . . c. Our Father, which art in Heaven . . . d. Been to see your Dad recently? e. Get lost! f. Now if we consider the relationship between social class and income . . . g. Come off it! h. Take care! i. Haven’t we met somewhere before?
Sociolinguistics • 2. What stylistic characteristics do you associate with each of the following activities: • talking to a young child; writing an essay for a professor; • playing a board game with a close friend; • approaching a stranger on the street to ask for directions; attending a funeral; • talking to yourself; getting stopped for speeding; burning your finger?
Sociolinguistics • 3. One of the easiest ways of persuading yourself that there are registers associated with different occupations is to read materials associated with different callings. • You can quickly compile register differences from such sources as law reports, hairdressing or fashion magazines, scholarly journals, recipe books, sewing patterns, instruction manuals, textbooks, and so on. • The supply is almost inexhaustible! You might compile lists of words from various sources and find out how long it takes one of your fellow students to identify the particular ‘sources’ as you read the lists aloud.
Sociolinguistics • 4. Hudson (1996) says ‘your dialect shows who (or what) you are, whilst your register shows what you are doing.’ • He acknowledges that ‘these concepts are much less distinct than the slogan implies’; • however, you might use them to sort out what would be dialect and register for a professor of sociology from Mississippi; • a hairdresser from Newcastle working in London; a British naval commander; a sheep farmer in New Zealand; • And a ‘street-wise’ person from any location you might choose
Sociolinguistics • 5. Wolfram and Fasold (1974) offer the following working definitions of what they called standard, super standard (or hypercorrect) and substandard (or nonstandard) speech. • They say of someone that: If his reaction to the form (not the content) of the utterance is neutral and he can devote full attention to the meaning, then the form is standard for him. • If his attention is diverted from the meaning of the utterance because it sounds ‘snooty,’ then the utterance is super standard. • If his attention is diverted from the message because the utterance sounds like poor English, then the form is substandard.
Sociolinguistics What are your reactions to each of the following? a. Am I not? b. He ain’t got none. c. May I leave now? d. Most everyone says that. e. It is I. f. It was pretty awful. g. Lay down, Fido! h. He wanted to know whom we met. i. Between you and I, . . . j. I seen him. k. Are you absolutely sure? l. Who did you mention it to?
Sociolinguistics • Try to apply Wolfram and Fasold’s definitions. • 6. What judgments might you be inclined to make about a person who always clearly and carefully articulates every word he or she says in all circumstances? • A person who insists on saying both between you and I and It’s I? • A person who uses malapropisms? A person who, in speaking rapidly in succession to a number of others, easily shifts from one variety of speech to another?
Sociolinguistics • 7. What do you regard as the characteristics of a ‘good’ speaker of English and of a ‘poor’ speaker? Consider such matters as pronunciation, word choice, syntactic choice, fluency, and style. • 8. There seems to be evidence that many people judge themselves to speak ‘better’ than they actually do, or, if not better, at least less casually than they do. • Do you know of any such evidence? If it is the case that people do behave this way, why might it be so? • 9. Find some articles or books on ‘good speaking,’ on ‘how to improve your speech,’ or on ‘how to impress others through increasing your vocabulary,’ and so on. • How valuable is the advice you find in such materials?
Sociolinguistics • 10. If you had access to only a single style and/or variety of language, • what difficulties do you think you might encounter in trying to express different levels of formality as the social situation changed around you, or to indicate such things as seriousness, mockery, humor, respect, and disdain? • Is the kind of variation you need a resource that more than compensates for the difficulties that result in teaching the language or arriving at some consensus concerning such concepts as ‘correctness’ or ‘propriety’?
Sociolinguistics • 11. Hudson (1996) says that ‘lay people’ sometimes ask linguists questions such as ‘Where is real Cockney spoken?’ They assume such questions are meaningful. • (Another is ‘Is Jamaican creole a kind of English or not?’) Hudson says that such questions ‘are not the kind of questions that can be investigated scientifically.’ • Having read this chapter, can you think of some other questions about language which are frequently asked but which might also be similarly unanswerable? • How about the following: Who speaks the best English? Where should I go to learn perfect Italian? Why do people write and talk so badly these days? Explain why each is unanswerable – by a linguist at least!
Sociolinguistics • 12. Cameron (1996) includes the following practices under ‘verbal hygiene’: ‘ “prescriptivism,” that is, the authoritarian promotion of elite varieties as norms of correctness, • . . . campaigns for Plain English, spelling reform, dialect and language preservation, non-sexist and non-racist language, Esperanto and the abolition of the copula, . . . self-improvement activities such as elocution and accent reduction, Neuro-linguistic Programming, assertiveness training and communication skills training.’ • How helpful – or harmful – do you consider such activities?
Sociolinguistics • 13. Muggle-stone writes as follows: ‘The process of standardization . . . can and will only reach completion in a dead language, • where the inviolable norms so often asserted by the prescriptive tradition (and the absolutes of language attitudes) may indeed come into being.’ • If variation sets limits to language standardization, • why do some people still insist that rigid standards should be prescribed (and followed)?
SociolinguisticsPidgins and Creoles • Among the many languages of the world are a few often assigned to a somewhat marginal position: • the various lingua francas, pidgins, and creoles. • To the best of our knowledge all have existed since time immemorial, but, in comparison with what we know about many ‘fully fledged’ languages, we know comparatively little about them. • There is a paucity of historical records; the history of serious study of such languages goes back only a few decades; • and, because of the circumstances of their use, they have often been regarded as being of little intrinsic value or interest.
Sociolinguistics • Until recently, pidgins and creoles have generally been viewed as uninteresting linguistic phenomena, being notable mainly for linguistic features they have been said to ‘lack,’ • e.g., articles, the copula, and grammatical inflections, rather than those they possess, and those who speak them have often been treated with disdain, even contempt.
Sociolinguistics • Hymes (1971, p. 3) has pointed out that before the 1930s pidgins and creoles were largely ignored by linguists, who regarded them as ‘marginal languages’ at best. • (Some linguists were even advised to keep away from studying them lest they jeopardize their careers!) • He points out that pidgins and creoles ‘are marginal, in the circumstances of their origin, and in the attitudes towards them on the part of those who speak one of the languages from which they derive.’ • They are also marginal ‘in terms of knowledge about them,’ even though ‘these languages are of central importance to our understanding of language, and central too in the lives of some millions of people.
Sociolinguistics • Because of their origins, however, their association with poorer and darker members of a society, and through perpetuation of misleading stereotypes . . . most interest, even where positive, has considered them merely curiosities.’ • He adds that much ‘interest and information, scholarly as well as public, has been prejudicial. • These languages have been considered, not creative adaptations, but degenerations; not systems in their own right, but deviations from other systems.
Sociolinguistics • Their origins have been explained, not by historical and social forces, but by inherent ignorance, indolence, and inferiority.’ • As languages of those without political and social power, literatures, and ‘culture,’ they could be safely and properly ignored, for what could they possibly tell us about anything that English and French or even Greek, Latin, and Sanskrit could not? • Fortunately, in recent years such attitudes have changed and, as serious attention has been given to pidgins and creoles, linguists have discovered many interesting characteristics about them, characteristics that appear to bear on fundamental issues to do with all languages, ‘fully fledged’ and ‘marginal’ alike.
Sociolinguistics • Moreover, pidgins and creoles are invaluable to those who use them. • Not only are they essential to everyday living but they are also frequently important markers of identity. • In an interview in 1978 a schoolboy in Belize had this to say about his language: ‘Well, usually in Belize you find the language, the main language you know is this slang that I tell you about, the Creole. • And you’d recognize them by that, you know. They usually have this, you know, very few of them speak the English or some of them usually speak Spanish’ (Le Page and Tabouret- Keller, 1985). • The study of pidgins and creoles has become an important part of linguistic and, especially, sociolinguistic study, with its own literature and, of course, its own controversies. With pidgins and creoles we can see processes of language origin and change going on around us.
Sociolinguistics • We can also witness how people are attracted to languages, how they exploit what linguistic resources they have, and how they forge new identities. • We do not have to wait a millennium to see how a language changes; a few generations suffice. • To some extent, too, the speakers of such languages have benefited as more and more of them have come to recognize that what they speak is not just a ‘bad’ variety of this language or that, but a language or a variety of a language with its own legitimacy, • i.e., its own history, structure, array of functions, and the possibility of winning eventual recognition as a ‘proper’ language.
SociolinguisticsLingua Francas • People who speak different languages who are forced into contact with each other must find some way of communicating, a lingua franca. • In a publication concerned with the use of vernacular languages in education published in Paris in 1953, UNESCO defined a lingua franca as ‘a language which is used habitually by people whose mother tongues are different in order to facilitate communication between them.’ • A variety of other terms can be found which describe much the same phenomenon. • Samarin lists four: a trade language (e.g., Hausa in West Africa or Swahili in East Africa); a contact language (e.g., Greek koiné in the Ancient World); an international language (e.g., English throughout much of our contemporary world); and an auxiliary language (e.g., Esperanto or Basic English).
Sociolinguistics • They usually develop as a consequence of population migration (forced or voluntary) or for purposes of trade. • Still another kind of lingua franca is a mixed language. Bakker (1997) describes one such language, Michif, a mixture of Cree and French spoken mainly in Canada by well under a thousand people of métis (aboriginal and French) ancestry. • Michif is sometimes characterized as a language that mixes Cree verbs and French nouns but probably more accurately is one that uses Cree grammar and French vocabulary. • It is a clear marker of group identity for those who use it and emerged to express ‘a new ethnic identity, mixed Cree and French. A new language was needed to express that identity.
Sociolinguistics • The most obvious way to form a new language was through mixing the two community languages, Cree and French’. • Winford adds that the Michif are an example of ‘newly emerged social groups who wanted a language of their own . . . [and] who saw themselves as distinct from either of the cultural groups from which they descended.’
Sociolinguistics • At one time or another, Greek koiné and Vulgar Latin were in widespread use as lingua francas in the Mediterranean world and much of Europe. • Sabir was a lingua franca of the Mediterranean (and later far beyond); originating in the Middle Ages and dating back at least to the Crusades, it survived into the twentieth century. • In other parts of the world Arabic, Mandarin, Hindi, and Swahili have served, or do serve, as lingua francas. Of these, Arabic was a lingua franca associated with the spread of Islam. • Today, English is used in very many places and for very many purposes as a lingua franca, e.g., in travel and often in trade, commerce, and international relations (see pp. 379–80).
Sociolinguistics • A lingua franca can be spoken in a variety of ways. Although both Greek koiné and Vulgar Latin served at different times as lingua francas in the Ancient World, neither was a homogeneous entity. • Not only were they spoken differently in different places, but individual speakers varied widely in their ability to use the languages. • English serves today as a lingua franca in many parts of the world: for some speakers it is a native language, for others a second language, and for still others a foreign language.
Sociolinguistics • However, in the last two categories abilities in the language may vary widely from native-like to knowledge of only some bare rudiments. • This is certainly the case in India, where even though Hindi is the official language, English, spoken in all kinds of ways, is widely used as a lingua franca. • Swahili is a lingua franca of East Africa. On the coast it has long been spoken as a native language. • As Swahili spread inland in Tanzania, it was simplified in structure, and even further inland, in Zaïre, it underwent still further simplification. • Such simplification was also accompanied by a reduction in function, i.e., the simplified varieties were not used for as many purposes as the fuller variety of the coast.
Sociolinguistics • In rural northern parts of Zaïre even more simplification resulted so that the Swahili spoken there became virtually unintelligible to coastal residents. • While the existence of this variety demonstrates that Swahili was being used as a lingua franca, what many people were actually using was a pidginized form, Zaïre Pidgin Swahili. • In this respect, those who used that variety were not unlike many today who use English as a lingua franca: they use local pidginized versions of English, not Standard English. Today, that Zaïre Pidgin English has become a creole, Restructured Swahili, and it is considerably different from the Swahili of the coast.
Sociolinguistics • In North America, Chinook Jargon was used extensively as a lingua franca among native peoples of the northwest, from British Columbia into Alaska, during the second half of the nineteenth century. • (‘Jargon’ is one of the original derogatory terms for a pidgin.) Speakers of English and French also learned it. • Today Chinook Jargon is virtually extinct. Its vocabulary came from various sources: principally, Nootka, Chinook, Chehalis (all Amerindian languages), French, and English. • The sound system tended to vary according to the native language of whoever spoke Chinook Jargon. • The grammar, ostensibly Chinook, was extremely reduced so that it is really quite difficult to say with conviction that it is more Chinook than anything else.
Sociolinguistics • Even though today hardly anyone can use Chinook Jargon, a few words from it have achieved limited use in English: e.g., potlach (‘lavish gift-giving’), cheechako (‘greenhorn’), and possibly high mucky-muck (‘arrogant official’). • There is an interesting distributional relationship between Chinook Jargon and another lingua franca used widely by native peoples, Plains Sign Language: • Chinook Jargon is basically a coastal phenomenon and Plains Sign Language an interior one on the plateau.