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the descriptive study of the effect of any and all aspects of society, including cultural norms, expectations, and context, on the way language is used, and the effects of language use on society. The study of the relation between language and society--a branch of both linguistics and sociology. differs from sociology of language ; the focus of sociolinguistics is the effect of the society on the language, while the latter's focus is on the language's effect on the society.

overlaps to a considerable degree with pragmatics(subfield of linguistics which studies the ways in
which context contributes to meaning. Pragmatics encompasses speech act theory, conversational implicature, talk in interaction and other approaches to language behavior in philosophy, sociology, and linguistics).

It also studies how language varieties differ between groups separated by certain social variables, e.g., ethnicity, religion, status, gender, level of education, age, etc., and how creation and adherence to these rules is used to categorize individuals in social or socioeconomic classes.

Fundamental Concepts In Sociolinguistics

Speech Community
a concept in sociolinguistics that describes a more or less discrete group of people who use language in a unique and mutually accepted way among themselves. can be members of a profession with a specialized jargon, distinct social groups like high school students or hip hop fans, or even tight-knit groups like families and friends. Members of speech communities will often develop slang or jargon to serve the group's special purposes and priorities.
(Slang is the use of informal words and expressions that are not considered standard in the speaker's language or dialect but are considered more acceptable when used socially)

(Jargon is terminology which is especially defined in relationship to a

specific activity, profession, group, or event. )

High Prestige and Low Prestige Varieties

Crucial to sociolinguistic analysis is the concept of prestige; certain speech habits are assigned a positive or a negative value which is then applied to the speaker. speakers 'choose' a variety when making a speech act, whether consciously or subconsciously.

Social Network
Understanding language in society means that one also has to understand the social networks in which language is embedded. A social network is another way of describing a particular speech community in terms of relations between individual members in a community. A network could be loose or tight depending on how members interact with each other. Recently, social networks have been formed by the Internet, through chat rooms, MySpace groups, organizations, and online dating services.

Internal vs. External Language (based on Chomskian Linguistics)

internal language applies to the study of syntax and semantics in language on the abstract level; as mentally represented knowledge in a native speaker. External language applies to language in social contexts, i.e. behavioural habits shared by a community. Internal language analyses operate on the assumption that all native speakers of a language are quite homogeneous in how they process and perceive language. External language fields, such as sociolinguistics, attempt to explain why this is in fact not the case.
Many sociolinguists reject the distinction between I- and Elanguage on the grounds that it is based on a mentalist view of language.

Vernacular Languages
Generally refers to a language that has not been standardized or does not have an official status There hundreds of VL that have never been written down or described e.g. Buang in Papua New Guinea. In a multilingual society, the many different ethnic or tribal languages used by different groups are referred as VL. In normal circumstances, VL are usually first languages learned in multilingual communities and have a narrow range of informal functions.

3 components of meaning of VL
i. Uncodified or unstandardised variety ii. How it is acquired, i.e. at home as a first variety iii. Used for relatively circumscribed functions

Some academics refer VL as any language which is not the official language of a country. UNESCO in 1951 refers VL as the first language of a group socially or politically dominated by a group with a different language. E.g. refer to the Malaysian context. Vl generally refers to the most colloquial variety in a person s linguistic repertoire.

It also refers to as the language of solidarity between people from the same ethnic group. also used by sociolinguists when studying dialects It is used when in communication with close friends or when at home. Also indicates as a language used in everyday interaction, in informal domains Hebrew, was a language of ritual and religion with no native s speaker and was no one s parental tongue and never a VL. However, it is used as Israel s national language due to vernacularisation, and became a language used for everyday communication VL.

Standard Languages
Generally a language which is written and which has gone some degree of regularisation or codification (in grammar or dictionary) Recognised as a prestigious variety or code by a community Std. Eng. Emerged in 15th century from a variety of regional Eng. Dialects as it was used in the court and influential London merchants. This area covered a neat triangle, the court and 2 universities, Oxford and Cambridge. An area that was important for business, agriculture, trade and export hub, and a political, social and intellectual centre

The dialect in the triangle became the Std Eng. Std varieties are codified ones, usually achieved through grammar and dictionaries which record and prescribed the std forms of the Lg. Dictionary writers(Lexicographers) need to decide which words to include in the dictionary as part of the std variety; which forms to mark as dialectal; and which to omit. The criteria to do the above will be based on the usage of the educated or socially prestigious community members.

The codification process was accelerated with the introduction of the printing press. The development of Std Eng. Illustrates 3 important criteria which characterise a std. :
Influential and prestigious variety Codified and stabilised Served high variety functions as it was used in Court for communication, literature and administration.

In sum; a std lg. is a particular dialect which has gained a special position as a result of social, economic and political influences. A std dialect has no particular linguistic merits whether in pronunciation, grammar or vocabulary. It is basically the lg. of the powerful and socially prestigious.

Once a std dialect develops or is developed, it provides a useful mean of communication across areas of dialect diversity. Its status as a prestige variety guarantees it will spread. E.g. Std Eng. is serving as a useful variety of communication not only in Britain, but also countries that She had a colonial influence. Local varieties of Englishes have emerged e.g. in Singapore, India and Malaysia. In Malaysia and S pore, British English is regarded as the std Eng.

Lingua Francas
Generally it is a Lg. serving as a regular means of communication between different linguistic groups in a multilingual speech community. Is a Lg. used for communication between people whose first lg. differ. In some countries the most useful and widely used lingua franca is an official or the national lg. Eg. Tanzania- Swahili. In colonised countries, the lingua franca will be based on the former colonial power s lg. In multilingual communities the lingua franca may displace the vernacular lg.

Lingua francas often develop as trade lgs. (illustrating the influence of economic factors in lg change)

Many Eng speakers find pidgin languages humorous and babyish. However, pidgins and creoles are serious lgs. They are used for serious purposes, each has a describable and distinctive linguistic structure. A pidgin lg. has no native speakers Developed as a means of communication between people who do not have a common lg. Seems to arise when 2 groups with differing lgs. are communicating in a situation where a 3rd lg. is dominant.

In fact it is also described as the means of communication between traders. Developed with a narrow range of functions Considered as an addition The structure is not complicated Not used as a group identification or to express social distance are created as a combined effort from people of different languages Both sides contribute to the sounds, vocabulary, and grammatical features.

Simplified and small vocabulary Words generally do not have inflections, eg. In Eng. the plural or tense; and no affixes to mark gender. Minimal grammar, easy to learn Do not have high status or prestige Often have a short life as it is developed for restricted functions

Is a pidgin which has acquired native speakers Many pidgins have became creoles. They are learned by children as first lg. and used in a wide range of domains It is a pidgin which has expanded in structure and vocabulary to express the range of meanings and serve the range of functions required of a first language.

Its linguistic complexity is often not appreciated by outsiders. It does develop ways of systematically signalling meanings such verb tenses and these may develop into inflections or affixes over time. Many present day creoles are spoken by descendants of African slaves. Creoles have became accepted standard and even national and official lgs. There are suggestions that the process of pidginisation and creolisation may be universal processes which reveal a great deal about the origins of lg. and the ways it develops.

Creolisation also is the mixing of the "old" and "traditional," with the "new" and "modern." Furthermore, creolisation occurs when participants actively select cultural elements that may become part of or inherited culture. Robin Cohen states that Creolisation is a condition in which "the formation of new identities and inherited culture evolve to become different from those they possessed in the original cultures," and then creatively merge these to create new varieties that supersede the prior forms.


The term dialect (from the Greek Language word dialektos is used in two distinct ways, even by linguists. One usage refers to a variety of a language that is a characteristic of a particular group of the language's speakers. The term is applied most often to regional speech patterns, but a dialect may also be defined by other factors, such as social class. A dialect that is associated with a particular social class can be termed a sociolect; a regional dialect may be termed a regiolect or topolect. The other usage refers to a language socially subordinate to a regional or national standard language, often historically cognate to the standard.

A dialect is distinguished by its vocabulary, grammar, and pronunciation (phonology, including prosody). Where a distinction can be made only in terms of pronunciation, the term accent is appropriate, not dialect. Other speech varieties include: standard languages, which are standardized for public performance (for example, a written standard); jargons, which are characterized by differences in lexicon (vocabulary); slang; patois; pidgins or argots. The particular speech patterns used by an individual are termed an idiolect.

Standard and non-standard dialect A standard dialect (also known as a standardized dialect or "standard language") is a dialect that is supported by institutions. Such institutional support may include government recognition or designation; presentation as being the "correct" form of a language in schools; published grammars, dictionaries, and textbooks that set forth a "correct" spoken and written form; and an extensive formal literature that employs that dialect (prose, poetry, non-fiction, etc.). There may be multiple standard dialects associated with a single language. For example, Standard American English, Standard Canadian English, Standard Indian English, Standard Australian English, and Standard Philippine English may all be said to be standard dialects of the English language.

A nonstandard dialect, like a standard dialect, has a complete vocabulary, grammar, and syntax, but is not the beneficiary of institutional support. An example of a nonstandard English dialect is Southern American English or Newfoundland English. The Dialect Test was designed by Joseph Wright to compare different English dialects with each other.

"Dialect" or "language" ? There is no universally accepted criterion for distinguishing a language from a dialect. A framework that may aid in analyzing the issues is provided by the linguistics concepts of Ausbausprache, Abstandsprache and Dachsprache. A number of rough measures exist, sometimes leading to contradictory results. Some linguists do not differentiate between languages and dialects, i.e. languages are dialects and vice versa. The distinction is therefore subjective and depends on the user's frame of reference. Note also that the terms are not by themselves mutually exclusive; there is by itself nothing contradictory in the statement that "the language of the Pennsylvania Dutch is a dialect of German". However, the term dialect always implies a relation between languages: if language X is called a dialect, this implies that the speaker considers X a dialect of some other language Y, which then usually is some standard language.

The reasons for a speech community to describe their language varieties as dialects rather than languages:
because they have no standard or codified form, because the speakers of the given language do not have a state of their own, because they are rarely or never used in writing (outside reported speech) or because they lack prestige with respect to some other, often standardised, variety.

The term vernacular or idiom is used by some linguists instead of language or dialect when there is no need to commit oneself to any decision on the status with respect to this distinction

Anthropological linguists define dialect as the specific form of a language used by a speech community. In other words, the difference between language and dialect is the difference between the abstract or general and the concrete and particular. From this perspective, no one speaks a "language," everyone speaks a dialect of a language. Those who identify a particular dialect as the "standard" or "proper" version of a language are in fact using these terms to express a social distinction. Often, the standard language is close to the sociolect of the elite class.

In groups where prestige standards play less important roles, "dialect" may simply be used to refer to subtle regional variations in linguistic practices that are considered mutually intelligible, playing an important role to place strangers, carrying the message of where a stranger originates (which quarter or district in a town, which village in a rural setting, or which province of a country)

The many varieties of English

The many varieties/dialects of English are linguistic varieties which differ in pronunciation, vocabulary and grammar from each other and from Standard English (which is itself a dialect). Dialects can be usefully defined as "sub-forms of languages which are, in general, mutually comprehensible". British linguists distinguish dialect from accent, which refers only to pronunciation.

Thus, any educated English speaker can use the vocabulary and grammar of Standard English, but different speakers use their own local words for everyday objects or actions, regional accent, or Received Pronunciation, which within the U.K. is considered an accent distinguished by class rather than by region. American linguists, however, include pronunciation differences as part of the definition of regional or social dialects. The combination of differences in pronunciation and use of local words may make some English dialects almost unintelligible to speakers from other regions. The major native dialects of English are often divided by linguists into the three general categories of the British Isles dialects, those of North America and those of Australasia.

In Asia, some of the varieties are:

Burmese English Hong Kong English Pakistani English Tinglish (Thailish) Indian English
Hinglish Punjabi/Delhi English U.P/Bihari English Bengali/Assamese English Oriya English Gujarati English Maharashtrian English Kannadiga English Telugu English Tamil English Malayalee English

Malaysian English (MyE) Philippine English (PhE) Singapore English Sri Lankan English (SLE)


Most speakers of a language know many dialects They use a dialect when with friends, another during a job interview or a report presentation or another when chatting with their parents. These situational dialects are termed as styles . Most of us have at least one formal and one informal style.

In an informal style:
The rules of contraction are used more often The syntactic rules of negation and agreement my be altered Many words used do not appear during formal setting

Many a speaker are able to switch to different styles ranging between the extremes of formal and informal. Many cultures have rules on social behaviour that strictly govern style.

In one prominent model, Martin Joos (1961) describes five styles in spoken English: Frozen: Printed unchanging language such as Biblical quotations; often contains archaisms. Examples are the Pledge of Allegiance, wedding vows, and other "static" vocalizations that are recited in a ritualistic monotone. The wording is exactly the same every time it is spoken. Formal: One-way participation, no interruption. Technical vocabulary or exact definitions are important. Includes presentations or introductions between strangers. Consultative: Two-way participation. Background information is provided prior knowledge is not assumed. "Back-channel behavior" such as "uh huh", "I see", etc. is common. Interruptions are allowed. Examples include teacher/student, doctor/patient, expert/apprentice, etc. Casual: In-group friends and acquaintances. No background information provided. Ellipsis and slang common. Interruptions common. This is common among friends in a social setting. Intimate: Non-public. Intonation more important than wording or grammar. Private vocabulary. Also includes non-verbal messages. This is most common among family members and close friends.


In linguistics, a register is a variety of a language used for a particular purpose or in a particular social setting. For example, when speaking in a formal setting an English speaker may be more likely to adhere more closely to prescribed grammar, pronounce words ending in -ing with a velar nasal instead of an alveolar nasal (e.g. "walking", not "walkin'"), choose more formal words (e.g. father vs. dad,child vs. kid, etc.), and refrain from using the word ain't than when speaking in an informal setting.

As with other types of language variation, there tends to be a spectrum of registers rather than a discrete set of obviously distinct varieties there is a countless number of registers that could be identified, with no clear boundaries. Discourse categorisation is a complex problem, and even in the general definition of "register" given above (language variation defined by use not user), there are cases where other kinds of language variation, such as regional or age dialect, overlap. As a result of this complexity, there is far from consensus about the meanings of terms like "register", "field" or "tenor"; different writers' definitions of these terms are often in direct contradiction of each other. Additional terms such as diatype, genre, text types, style, acrolect, mesolect and basilect among many others may be used to cover the same or similar ground.

Some prefer to restrict the domain of the term "register" to a specific vocabulary (Wardhaugh, 1986) (which one might commonly call jargon), while others argue against the use of the term altogether. These various approaches with their own "register" or set of terms and meanings fall under disciplines such as sociolinguistics, stylistics,pragmatics or systemic functional grammar.

The term register was first used by the linguist Thomas Bertram Reid in 1956, and brought into general currency in the 1960s by a group of linguists who wanted to distinguish between variations in language according to the user (defined by variables such as social background, geography, sex and age), and variations according to use, "in the sense that each speaker has a range of varieties and choices between them at different times" (Halliday et al., 1964). The focus is on the way language is used in particular situations, such as legalese or motherese, the language of a biology research lab, of a news report, or of the bedroom.


Practically every conceivable science, profession, trade and occupation has its own set of words, some considered as slang and others technical depending on the status of the people using it. Such words are called Jargon or argot. In other words, the term covers the language used by people who work in a particular area or who have a common interest. It is incomprehensible to persons unacquainted with the area under discussion. Much like slang, it can develop as a kind of short-hand, to express ideas that are frequently discussed between members of a group, though it can also be developed deliberately using chosen terms.

A standard term may be given a more precise or unique usage among practitioners of a field. In many cases this causes a barrier to communication with those not familiar with the language of the field. As an example: NEWSPAPER JARGON Some examples of jargon newspaper jargon words are "beat", "breakline", "budget","byline", "chaser", "circulation", "cut", "dateline", "ears", "flag", "lead", "stringer", "strip", "teaser", and "zone".

COMPUTER JARGON There is a lot to learn in understanding computer jargon. Here's more examples of jargon: "browser", "bus", "cache", "chip", "cookie", "CPU", "crash", "database", "dot pitch", "download", "driver", "file", "firewall", "folder", fragmentation", "freeware", "gopher", "hardware", "interface", "keyboard shortcuts", "mouse", "network", "operating system", "plug and play", "resolution", "software", "spam", "upload", "URL", and "virus". Medical Jargon Examples: The following are some examples of commonly used medical abbreviations and terminology. STAT: Immediately
ABG: Arterial Blood Gas Vitals: Vital signs C-Section: Cesarean Section Claudication -limping caused by a reduction in blood supply to the legs CAT Scan/CT Scan: Computerized Axial Tomography MRI: Magnetic Resonance Imaging

"Generally, when people use jargon not to communicate but to impress their audiences with their importance . . . or use it to announce membership in a group, communication suffers and the jargon can quickly degenerate into something close to the twittering of birds." (W. Lutz, "Jargon." Oxford Companion to the English Language, 1992) To sum up, Jargon is a noun/words/expressions used by specific groups in special or technical situations and is related to a specific activity, profession, group or event. While on the other hand a Slang is the use of informal words or expressions that are not considered standard in the speaker s language or dialect but accepted when used socially. At times it is used as a euphemism.


In linguistics, diglossia refers to a situation in which two dialects or languages are used by a single language community. In addition to the community's everyday or vernacular language variety (labeled "L" or "low" variety), a second, highly codified variety (labeled "H" or "high") is used in certain situations such as literature, formal education, or other specific settings, but not used for ordinary conversation.

As an aspect of study of the relationships between codes and social structure, diglossia is an important concept in the field of sociolinguistics. At the social level, each of the two dialects has certain spheres of social interaction assigned to it and in the assigned spheres it is the only socially acceptable dialect (with minor exceptions). At the grammatical level, differences may involve pronunciation, inflection, and/or syntax (sentence structure). Differences can range from minor (although conspicuous) to extreme. In many cases of diglossia, the two dialects are so divergent that they are distinct languages as defined by linguists: they are not mutually intelligible.

The dialect which is the original mother tongue is almost always held in low esteem; it is of low prestige. Its spheres of use involve informal, interpersonal communication: conversation in the home, among friends, in marketplaces. In some diglossias, this vernacular dialect is virtually unwritten. Those who try to give it a literature may be severely criticized or even persecuted. The other dialect is held in high esteem and is devoted to written communication and formal spoken communication, such as university instruction, primary education, sermons, and speeches by government officials.

It is usually not possible to acquire proficiency in the formal, "high" dialect without formal study of it. Thus in those diglossic societies which are also characterized by extreme inequality of social classes, most people are not proficient in speaking the high dialect, and if the high dialect is grammatically different enough, as in the case of Arabic diglossia, then these uneducated classes cannot understand most of the public speeches they might hear on television and radio. The high prestige dialect (or language) tends to be the more formalised, and its forms and vocabulary often 'filter down' into the vernacular, though often in a changed form.

A person that is considered bilingual has the ability to speak, write, listen, and read two languages fluently. Bilingualism falls into categories because each bilingual individual obtain language fluencies in various ways. Simultaneous bilinguals learn their two languages at the same time from childhood and their family. Sequential bilinguals learn their second language later on in life. This could be due to an individual moving to a new country or picking up a language class at school. For bilinguals, usage of the two languages depend greatly on the environment they are in. Bilinguals will speak the language that the majority of the society speaks. For example, if someone is bilingual in both Spanish and English, that individual would speak Spanish more than English if he/she was in Spain. Appropriate timing is also a factor for when bilinguals use a language. A bilingual could use one language when at home to speak with family, but use the other language when he/she goes to school and speaks with friends

Multilingualism is the act of using, or promoting the use of, multiple languages, either by an individual speaker or by a community of speakers. Multilingual speakers outnumber monolingual speakers in the world's population. Multilingualism is becoming a social phenomenon governed by the needs of globalization and cultural openness. Thanks to the ease of access to information facilitated by the Internet, individuals' exposure to multiple languages is getting more and more frequent, and triggering therefore the need to acquire more and more languages. People who speak several languages are also called polyglots.

The advantages and disadvantages of Bilingualism/Multilinguism

Exposure to other cultures- cultural diversity- a stereoscopic view of the world from two or more perspectives Building bridges to new relationships- appreciate and understand others easily- lesser racism, more tolerence Economically advantageous Flexible and divergent thinking- ability to manipulate to solve problems- high order thinking skills Good self-identity ability to have greater size of vocabulary Having a passion/interest in the language learnt A keener awareness and sharper perspective of language The ability to separate the meaning from form

Later start to speaking Mixing of languages Academic overload Stuttering Dyslexia Difficulty amongst adult learners to acquire languages- no more elastic as how it was during before puberty (CPH) The need to practice the language more often in order to remember and enhance accuracy and fluency

Official Language

Selecting an official language

An official language is a language that is given a special legal status in a particular country, state, or other jurisdiction. Typically a nation's official language will be the one used in that nation's courts, parliament and administration. However, official status can also be used to give a language (often indigenous) a legal status, even if that language is not widely spoken. For example, in New Zealand the M ori language has official status under the M ori Language Act 1987 even though it is spoken by less than five percent of the New Zealand population.

Official language status is often connected with wider political issues of sovereignty, cultural nationalism, and the rights of indigenous peoples and ethnic minorities, including immigrant communities. For example, the campaign to make English the de jure official language of various states in the United States of America is often seen as a way of marginalizing non English-speaking minorities, particularly Hispanic and Latino Americans, while others see it as a unifying force among numerous immigrant groups.

In Holmes,J (2008), There are two major levels planning that exist in order to select a country s official language: Corpus planning and Status planning. Based on these two levels, there are four major steps involved in making a language the official language of a country: 1. Corpus planning: Codification of a language (step 2); elaboration of vocabulary (step 3) 2. Status planning: Selection of a language (step 1); securing its acceptance (step 4)
Also read: Kumaran Rajandran, National University of Malaysia (UKM)

Corpus planning refers to: the prescriptive intervention in the forms of a language, whereby planning decisions are made to engineer changes in the structure of the language. Corpus planning activities often arise as the result of beliefs about the adequacy of the form of a language to serve desired functions. corpus planning generally involves planners with greater linguistic expertise. There are three traditionally recognized types of corpus planning: graphization, standardization, and modernization. Status planning refers to: is the allocation or reallocation of a language or variety to functional domains within a society, thus affecting the status, or standing, of a language. Steps primarily undertaken by administrators and politicians.

Language and its relationship with social factors

A maxim in sociolinguistics which claims that "You are what you say" (Lakoff 1991). Following this claim, we may expand the scope of our observation by introducing some social factors that are believed to influence our language behavior in a social context. Among these factors, some major ones include
1) class 2) gender 3) age 4) ethnic identity 5) education background 6) occupation 7) religious belief.

Gender Differences between male and female Women:

More linguistically polite; women's linguistic behavior is more indirect and, hence, more polite than men's. women use more "fancy" color terms such as mauve and beige women use less powerful curse words women use more intensifiers such as terrible and awful women use more tag questions women use more statement questions like Dinner will be ready at seven o clock? (with a rising intonation at the end) Women use more -ing as in walking while men more towards -in as in walkin

Age Constructs an identity for one 3 life stages:

1. Young age- babbling 2. Teenage- differing in slang, simplified words 3. Elderly age(adult)- well-mannered words, formal language, using a sing-song voice, changing pitch and tone, exaggerating words, simplifying the length and complexity of sentences, speaking louder and slowly, using limited vocabulary, repeating and paraphrasing, using loving phrases like honey and dear , and using statements that sound like questions.