Chapter 1: Introduction
A society is a group of people who are drawn together for a purpose (or purposes).
Members of a society may speak one language, or they may speak several.
Knowledge of Language
Communication involves codes – both on the part of the speaker and the interpreter
The grammar employed is the knowledge that two speakers use, and is what interests linguists (they
want to be able to characterize it)
Native speakers’ knowledge of their grammar is far more nuanced than grammar books, and as such
linguists prefer to be able to get the information from the source, despite the difficulty people have in
describing (their own) speech.
Dead languages are dead because there are no more speakers whose mother tongue is, for example,
Latin or Sanskrit
People know what they know, but they don’t know how they know it. Language is shared, and
Linguists try to follow Chomsky’s example, and distinguish between the important (learnability of all
languages; characteristics they all share; rules and principles that speakers apparently follow in
constructing sentences) and the unimportant (individual speakers’ idiosyncrasies) when it comes to
language and linguistic behaviour.
For Lightfoot, it is about distinguishing between “I-Language” (individual linguistic range) and “E-
Language” (not systematic, external, etc.), of which I-language is the more important.
Chomsky differentiates between competence, which is speakers’ knowledge and what linguists need to
study, and performance, which is what they do with their knowledge.
For Chomsky, the ideal situation is one in which the speech community is completely homogenous,
where all speakers know and employ the exact same grammar flawlessly.
However, as Pinker points out, languages are constantly changing because of cross-over, etc. This is
Labov’s area of interest.
“Knowing a language also means knowing how to use that language since speakers
know not only how to form sentences but also how to use them appropriately.” (3)
Communicative competence can be understood as knowledge of how to
employ one’s knowledge of a language in any given situation. individual’s speech
style is their
Much variety in linguistics is labelled “performance”, and disregarded by those who believe
“competence” is the only one worth studying
There is so much variation that it may well be impossible to establish set rules for any language.
“... variation is an inherent characteristic of all languages at all times.” (5)
Language is not just abstract, it is constantly in use, and we can’t just ignore this fact. “Theoretical linguistics” has claimed the place of privilege, as it refers to the study of language before
use. That is, theoretical linguists like to first define what language is.
However, sociolinguistics is about the influences people have on language (unlike the asocial
Every individual has a considerable amount of variation they are allowed, but everyone must obey
certain bounds (pronunciation, word order (syntax), inflection, etc.).
“The variation you are permitted has limits and these limits can be described with
considerable accuracy.” (5)
→ It is known, it is precise, and it is largely unconscious. As it can vary, a (living) language can also
One major thing that influences our speech is our identity(ies), and especially which identity(ies) we
will accentuate in any given situation.
Identity comes from experience – not just lived experience, but also observed experience. It has to do
with everything we believe in and everything we associate with (race, gender, sexuality, etc.). There are
individual identities and group identities, and both kinds can be lasting or fleeting.
“Much of what we find in linguistic behavior will be explicable in terms of people
seeking to perform, negotiate, realize, or even reject identities through the use of
Power is a big part, in general, but also in terms of one’s identity. Can be incredibly obvious, or
extremely subtle, but it is always there (words or deeds). Some languages are considered to be superior
(in relation to others), but that does not mean they’re unquestionably right.
Unmarked is a term that refers to an utterance or action which is expected (‘unremarkable’). Marked
refers to an utterance or action which carries an extra meaning. To discover something that is marked is
to notice that something is different, and consequently uncover the unmarked variant.
Ex: “How heavy is it?” is the marked form of “How much does it weigh?” because it implies a
heaviness of the object.
Something’s ‘marked’ status can change (if the behaviour becomes a regular occurrence – especially if
it has an explanation behind it).
Language and Society
“... if we look back at the history of linguistics it is rare to find investigations of any
language which are entirely cut off from concurrent investigations of the history of that
language, or of its regional and/or social distributions, or of its relationship to objects,
ideas, events, and actual speakers and listeners in the ‘real’ world.” (9)
Chomsky’s method is thus considered inept because it denies any social influences on language.
Some, like Chomsky, study the parts that make up a language. Others concerned with the social aspects
look at the ways societies live together. Sociolinguistics is about the relationships of the two. This is
very difficult, as each set of terms on its own is difficult to define, let alone in relation to one another.
Possible Relationships between Language and Society • Social structure as influence/determiner of linguistic structure/behaviour
→ The agegrading phenomenon (age levels have distinct linguistic behaviours)
→ Origin (and possibly gender) as reflective of varieties of language
→ Social requirements’ strong influence on conversing conventions
• Linguistic structure/behaviour as influence/determiner of social structure
→ Whorfian hypothesis, Bernstein’s claims
→ Languages (not speakers) are sexist
• Bi-directional influence
→ Language and society influence each other
→ Variation: the influence is dialectical
• None at all