Introduction to Sociolinguistics Chapter One: Overview: What is sociolinguistics? What do sociolinguists study?
Defining sociolinguistics • Sociolinguistics is the study of the complex relationship between language and society • It is concerned with describing how people use language in social contexts • It is based on ‘real-life’ data of language use • Research in sociolinguistics often tries to address social problems such as miscommunication, bias, oppression, success and failure, effectiveness, conflicts, professional training.
No single or dominant ‘theory’ or method of analysis in sociolinguistics: diverse and eclectic field • Broad field of study, looking at language-in-use, based on analyses of naturally-occurring, ‘real-life’ empirical data materials (recordings, surveys, questionnaires, etc.)
Defining sociolinguistics • Sociolinguistics and the sociology of language (see Hudson, p. 12) • Macro- and micro-sociolinguistics (see Coulmas, p. 13) • Wardhaugh’s position on the relationship (p. 13) • Discussion p. 15, esp 1, 2, 4, 5 and 6
Relation between language and society • ‘Society’: a fuzzy notion in sociolinguistics. • It can mean ‘the national group’ (i.e. the conventional definition), but can also be more loosely defined as ‘community’, ‘group’ or ‘network’. • This collectivity may vary in size and be formed by such things as age, interest, family, gender, ethnicity, occupation, geography, social position, etc.
‘language’ and ‘society’ connections ... • Several possible connections, or relationships: • 1. Social structure (e.g., age, region, education, class, religion, occupation) determines linguistic structure • 2. Linguistic structure (a specific language) determines social structure (this is known as ‘The Sapir-Whorf Hypothesis’) • 3. Dialectical relationship between ‘language’ and ‘society’: state of flux • 4. No relationship (e.g. Chomskian view) worth studying
Knowledge of language use • A major theme in sociolinguistics is being able to discover, and describe, what it entails to use and understand language appropriately - within the group • Appropriacy is centrally concerned with the choices the people make: of codes, topics, turn-taking styles, ‘registers’, jargon, politeness markers, swear words, etc. (Holmes, p. 11)
Cultural knowledge • Cultural knowledge is therefore all-important • Cultural knowledge entails knowing how groups (family, friends, colleagues, fellow citizens, etc.) behave (or are likely to behave), what is ‘normal’ (and ‘abnormal’) behaviour (remember that using language is a form of behaviour!), what is ‘expected’ in a multiplicity of social settings.
Norms, values, attitudes (which are all cultural products and thus culturally constructed in different communities) are reflexively related to language; that is, they are all displayed through language, but also sustained, or changed, challenged and modified through language. • These are dynamic and collectively defined • Discussion, p. 12
Noam Chomsky • One of the most influential linguists of the 20th century • Interested in grammaticality: how humans use a finite set of structures and rules to produce an infinite number of grammatically correct sentences • We are ‘hard wired’ to learn abstract ‘deep structures’; this ability is innate to humans
Chomsky • Knowledge of language: ‘competence’ and ‘performance’ • But linguistics should concern itself with the former, rather than the latter, argued Chomsky (see p. 3) • Study of linguistics should focus on ‘Ideal speaker-listener, homogeneous speech community, possessing perfect knowledge of language’
Dell Hymes: Challenges Chomsky ideas on language .. • Dissatisfied with Chomsky’s definition of ‘competence’: too narrow, too abstract, too sterile, and most importantly: too asocial • Hymes broadened the ‘competence’ notion to include knowledge of appropriate language use in the social and cultural context (i.e. not only syntactic correctness, which Chomsky emphasized)
Hymes’ views (cont’d) • Knowing a language: not only grammar but also knowing about use in contexts, hence ‘communicative competence’ (major influence on foreign language teaching in 1970’s and 1980s) • Hymes: We need to merge ethnography (the study of humans in social and cultural groups) and linguistics (the study of language), to produce an ‘ethnography of speaking’ - the forerunner of sociolinguistics • A good deal of sociolinguistic research has adopted Hymes’ ‘ethnography of speaking’ approach
Ferdinand de Saussure (1857-1913) • Chomsky’s competence-performance distinction was taken from Ferdinand de Saussure’s distinction between langue (group knowledge) and parole (individual knowledge) • de Saussure: “the father of modern linguistics”, saw the study of language in new ways • Language is organic, (not atomistic) and should be studied as such • Diachronic and synchronic • Paradigmatic and syntagmatic
Major topics in sociolinguistic research (since the mid 1960’s) • Like linguistics, sociolinguistics is a broad and eclectic field: • Although sociolinguists are united by their interest in the social use of language, their fundamental belief in empirical data collections, and insist on focusing on how people USE language in the social contexts • there is nevertheless no single dominant analytic method or ‘theory’, no specific ‘goal’ or ‘leader’ figure in the field, no one dominant research topic
There is a cluster of major topics. These include: • Dialects and regional variation: What? Where? Why? Social significance? • Describing styles of talking (amongst certain groups in various contexts): informal, friendly chat, job interviews, doctor-patient consultations, teaching, etc. • Bilingualism and multilingualism: How learned? How used? Social meaning of using more than one language? • Networks and language use within the network: How are new members acculturated, sanctioned, what are the rules of the network, etc.
Major research areas, continued • Culture and language: how the two interrelate, and why (Sapir-Whorf Hypothesis) • Intercultural communication: problems and solutions • Politeness: How? Mapping and explaining gradations of politeness • Child language, sub-group discourse (elderly, teenagers, hiphoppers, truckers, gays, etc.) • Language and identity (how identity is accomplished via language) • Talk and conversation - how talk ‘works’: topics, beginnings, turns, ends .. • Gender and language - men and women interacting: differences? • Racism, sexism, ageism, and disadvantage - how language plays a role, and how it can alleviate problems • Language planning - for educators, teacher trainers, schools, nation states, regions, etc (What should be taught and what not? How? Why?)
Principles for sociolinguistic investigation (p. 18) • The cumulative principle • The uniformation principle • Principle of convergence • Subordinate shift • Styleshifting • Attention • Vernacular • Formality