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University of Ottawa
Stephen Levey

Sociolinguists study the relationship between language and society or sociolinguistic patternsinterested in the way that real language is used in everyday social settinginterested in explaining why people speak differently in different contextsconcerned with the social functions of language and how language is used to convey social meaninginterested in the ways in which people of different ethnic backgrounds use languageinterested in characterizing the patterned nature of language variationnot confined to studying variation within ONE languageconcerned with variation BETWEEN languagesinterested in describing and explaining what happens when two or more languages come into contactfocus on the covariation of linguistic sometimes called internal or systemic variables and social sometimes known as external or extralinguistic variablesReal Language the way people actually speak rather than the way parents teachers or professors THINK we should speakVernacularfinding out WHO is pushing changes forward in the languagecasual speech you use with your friendsIt is the first acquired speech style during preadolescenceIt is the most systematic contextual style and therefore the best source for tracking patterns of variation and changeIt contains lots of nonstandard features that sociolinguists are interested in studyingVariabilityAll languages vary even within what we may think of as the same languagethis variation permeates or can be found at all levels of languageVocabulary LexisPhonology or sound structureGrammar SyntaxStyleAll languages include a considerable amount of social and regional variationAlthough variation is rampant or widespread in all living languages it is NOT random or unpredictableAs the famous American sociolinguist William Labov has shown language exhibits STRUCTURED or ORDERLY HETEROGENEITY Structured or orderly heterogeneity language variation is systematically patterned or rulegovernedCorrelations between aspect of linguistic variation and social categories are referred to as SOCIOLINGUISTIC PATTERNSLinguistic Variablealternative ways of saying the same thing Linguistic variables can be found at all levels of the grammars of human languagesLanguage versus dialectNotions such as language or dialect are not LINGUISTIC but essentially SOCIAL mattersIn many cases what distinguishes a language from a dialect depends on sociohistorical and cultural factors than purely linguistic onesCantonese and Mandarin are NOT autonomous varietiesDialect versus accentAn accent refers to PHONOLOGICALPHONETIC differences ie pronunciation A dialect however refers to differences on at least TWO additional levels of linguistic organization LEXIS vocabulary SYNTAX grammar or the arrangement of words in sentencesDialects and accents vary regionally Dialects tend to differ from one another the more geographically distant they are from each otherMaps are sometimes drawn to show the regional boundaries between dialect forms These boundaries are known as ISOGLOSSESBad grammarYou might associate some of these examples with uneducated or lowerclass speakers In other words some of these examples are SOCIALLY STRATIFIED they are found among certain social groups in particularYou might consider some of these to be proper Englishproper French whereas others you may consider to be bad EnglishFrench poor grammar incorrect lazy etcDescription and PrescriptionDescriptive linguisticsThe kinds of grammars that linguists are interested in describing include the rules that generate the nonstandard examples from English and French shown earlierThey are interested in the rules and principles that underlie ALL varieties of a languageThese rules are NOT necessarily the ones that are found in grammar books but are acquired in speech communities These rules are part of what is referred to as linguistic competenceGrammar in the mindPhonology sound patternsSemantics meaning patternsSyntax word patterns that help us to string together sentencesMorphology organisation of word segments eg kindness kindlyPrescriptive linguisticsnormative or prescriptive ideologies that have evolved over centuriesThey are intimately associated with language standardizationStandard languageStandard Languagedefined as a particular variety of a language which is promoted as the variety to be learnt in schools used in writing etcOnce a particular variety is described in grammar books and dictionaries it becomes revered as the language as it should beThe key features of a standard language are that it isInvariant standardization is all about suppressing variabilityImmutable should not changeStandard languages are NOT natural linguistic developmentsThey are deliberately engineeredThe process of standardization is typically gradualHistorically they emerge as the result of a series of interlocking processesEmergence of Standard LanguagesSelection of a particular written varietyElaboration of the variety so that it can be used in many different societal domainsCodification in grammars and dictionariesAcceptance by influential sectors of societyGeographical and social diffusion by means of a uniform writing system the education system etcTV distinctionsdistinctions refer to the fact that many languages have two separate words for youSociolectsSocial DialectsLanguage and Social ClassIn the middle of the twentieth century for example it was suggested that certain items of vocabulary could be classified as U upper class or nonU lower class in the UKUrbanization is closely linked with increasing social stratificationSocial class membershipEducationProfessionIncomeHousing Lifestyle patterns of consumption of goods etcOCCUPATIONAL STATUS When sociolinguists attempt to establish the social class membership of the speakers they record they often do so by means of a COMPOSITE INDEXFindingsIn Britain and elsewhere it has been found that speakers at the top of the social class hierarchy use speech varieties which approximate standard English while the most nonstandard or localised forms are found in the speech of those at the bottom of the social hierarchySocial dialects or sociolects can vary at the grammatical level and at the level of pronunciation the sound system or the phonologyVariation in pronunciationthat grammatical variables tend to show a pattern of SHARP STRATIFICATION across the social hierarchy that is there are big differences in the frequency of use of nonstandard forms between working class and middle class speakersGDroppingThe first variant is realised with a velar nasal represented bystandard and the second variant an apical or alveolarnasal represented by n nonstandard variantGenerally phonological pronunciation variables show a pattern of FINE
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