Chapter 5 – Communities of Language Users
- Group of people who are set apart socially from others somehow will probably be set
apart linguistically as well
- Group of people set apart socially from others will probably set apart linguistically as well
- This chapter provides overview of challenges involved in identifying communities of
language users as objects of linguistic and social analysis
Defining “Speech Community”
- Size and location of the community
1. How large or small can a speech community be?
2. Can the concept be used to describe entities that are not defined by static
physical location, where, for example, “membership can be experienced as part
of a nation-state, neighborhood, village, club, on-line chat room etc.”
3. Should speech communities be conceptualized as nested within or overlapping
one another, with individuals belonging to multiple speech communities
- What is shared by members of the community
1. Must everyone in a speech community speak same language at same level?
2. Do speakers of same language automatically constitute a speech community?
3. How important are shared attitudes toward language and evaluations of linguistic
practices for determining speech community membership?
4. Must members of speech community be aware they are members of such
- Type of interactions the community members might or must have
1. Must speech community members have face-to-face interaction?
2. Might people involved in online interactions constitute virtual/literacy-based
- Linguistics etc. answered these questions in different ways.
- Concept of speech community has been “the unspoken basis of most linguistics
- De Saussure stated “in order to have a language, there must be a community of
- Speakers of “a language” presumably constitute a homogeneous group
- Hymes states “the natural unit for sociolinguistic taxonomy, however, is not the language
but the speech community”
- Many scholars have adopted in their definitions of the term “speech community” Asem Harun
1. Frequent interaction among the members must occur
2. Members of speech community must share a ‘verbal repertoire,’ even though
they may not all speak the same style, dialect, or even language.
3. Members of speech community must also share a set of social norms regarding
appropriate language use – what linguistic anthropologists now call ‘language
Recent Research Drawing on the Concept of Speech Community
- Sociolinguists Otto Santa Ana and Claudia Parodi studied a population in Mexico with
methods such as fill in the blank tests, role plays etc.
- They created a ‘model of nested speech-community configurations’ during their tests.
Individuals unaware of the existence of stigmatized, regional, or
standardized national variants
Speakers aware of the existence of stigmatized forms but not of regional
or standardized national forms.
Individuals aware of stigmatized and regional variants but not
standardized national forms
Speakers aware of the existence of all of these forms
- Debra Spitulnik also attempted to redefine the speech community
- Her research investigates whether the concept of speech community can be applied to a
situation which millions of people who never interact with or even know one another, and
in which the linguistic knowledge they share is limited
• Example of her research is radio programs in Zambia
• Radio provides reference points for Zambian people in their everyday
Alternatives to the Concept