Sociolinguistica

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Sociolinguistica

  1. 1. August 15, 2013 CLASS ACTIVITY ❖ Read the following text individually. Sociolinguistics Until this point, you have essentially been considering language as a formal system that can be profitably studied independently from the people who use it. This type ofapproach is oftenreferredto inthe ñeld as the area of"formal" linguistics. People use the temí "formal" because such investigation revolves aroimd construeting formal models that allow us to understand how various subparts or modules of the linguistic grammar function. These subparts or modules consist of the areas that you have been studying along the career, such asphonetics,phonology, morphology, andsyntax. There is, however, a lot more to understanding language than focusing on these coretheoretical areas. Ifwe cangaininsightinto how languageworksby studying its formal grammaticalproperties, we must also realize that language as a "thing" to be studied is necessarily a kind of simplification, because language isn't a "thing" extemal to human beings, but rather, something that makesup apart ofwhowe are. What I want to stress here is that language must also be profitably studied in its social context. In so doing, we leam both about language and about ourselves, the people who use it, live with it, and live in it. Sociolinguistics, then, as the ñame implies, is the study of language in human society. On this course, we'll study a major aspect of sociolinguistic research in the past decades, an area generally referred to as language variation. As its own ñame implies, language variation focuses on how language varíes in different contexts, where context refers to things like ethnicity, social class, sex, geography, age, andanumber ofother factors... ❖ In pairs, discuss about it and write two short paragraphs about what you understood from it. ❖ Let your teacher and classmates know what you wrote. ffirofaior:- 0AeMtSMontenearo-
  2. 2. Sociolinguistics Course Guide Adapted from MA Study Material: English ¡nthe Community, Dahlgren, M. Professor: Sherlly Montenegro Quintero 1. Sociolinguistics 1.1 Introduction We can talk about discourse communities with discourse accents existing within the same speech community. But membership of a discourse community (usually related to work or leisure activities) is part of a much larger picture of linguistic variation. Variation within a speech community is related to a wide range of factors which form the focus of sociolinguistics. Sociolinguists, as the term implies, is the ñame given to the study of language in the context of its social uses and has been variously defined as: The field that studies the relation between language and society, between the uses of language and the social structures in which the users of the language live. It is a field of study that assumes that human society is made up ofmany related patterns and behaviours, some of which are linguistic. (Spolsky 1998:3) The study of language in relation to social factors, that is, social class, educational level and type of education, age, sex, ethnic origin, etc. (Dictionary of Language Teaching & Applied Linguistics 1992) Sociolinguistics is thus concerned primarily with the study of linguistic variety. In Chomskyan terms we could say that sociolinguistics is concerned with the study of performance (as opposed to competencé), and, in terms of Saussure's dichotomy, that it focuses on parole rather than on langue. Inquiry has concentrated on three main areas: social class, gender, and race. In this unit we will confine ourselves to issues of social class and gender. We will touch only briefly on the issue of race, as the phenomenon of Black English (the main area of research interest with regard to race) is dealt with more fully in the next unit. 1.2 Social class Issues of class have been at the centre of the pioneering work of Basil Bernstein in Britain and that of William Labov in the United States. Bernstein's work, which has a strong sociological flavor, has been concerned mainly with the exploration of the ways in which, what he calis, the "cultural system" and the "linguistic system" (1972) relate to realize and regúlate "the structure of social relations" (ibid: 158).
  3. 3. Labov's work is more concerned with phonologicaí variation and it relationship with the issue of social stratification. Let us begin by looking at the work of Bernstein. 1.2.1 Bernstein: a sociological view Basil Bernstein is a British sociologist whose work has had considerable influence on the field of sociolinguistics. As a teacher of English and arithmetic to Post Office workers in the East end of London, Bernstein carne to the conclusión in the 1950s that language use and social class were intimately connected and that this relationship had profound implications for education. Much of Bernstein's research has been motivated by a concern for greater social justice - however, his work has generated enormous controversy partly because his dense and opaque writing style is not readily accessible (and consequently open to misinterpretation), and partly because some of his key terms connote meanings Bernstein did not wish to suggest. Two key concepts in Bernstein's work are restricted code and elaborated code. Code refers essentially to a way of using language. Restricted code is said to be context-dependent while elaborated code is context-independent. What this actually means has been explained by Bernstein (1972) by reference to the following examples of children's speech. Middle class and working class five-year- olds were given a series of four pictures comprising a narrative and asked to tell the story. The first picture showed some boys playing football, the second showed a window being broken by the ball, the third showed a woman looking out of the window and a man making an angry gesture, and the fourth showed the boys leaving the scene of the incident. The first example is from a middle class child and is an example of elaborated code: 1. Three boys are playing football and one boy kicks the ball and it goes through the window the ball breaks the window and the boys are looking at it and a man comes out and shouts at them because they've broken the window so they run away and then the lady looks out of her window and she tells the boys off. (1972: 167) The second example is from a working class child and is an example of restricted code: 2. They're playing football and he kicks it and it goes through there it breaks the window and they're looking at it and he comes out and shouts at them because they've broken it so they run away and then she looks out and she tells them off. (ibid) Sociolinguistics Course Guide Adapted from MA Study Material: English in the Community, Dahlgren, M. Professor: Sherlly Montenegro Quintero
  4. 4. Given that Bernstein has been so misunderstood it is worth quoting in full his comments on these two versions of the story. Bernstein himself was aware of this background of misunderstanding and, in the following extract from Social class, Language and Socialization (1972: 167-168), he takes considerable pains to be clear about his position and his interpretation of the children's codes. With the first story the reader does not have to have the four pictures which were used as the basis for the story, whereas in the case of the second story the reader would require the initial pictures in order to make sense of the story. The first story is free of the context which generated it, whereas the second story is much more closely tied to its context As a result the meanings of the first story are explicit. It is not that working-class children do not have the in their passive vocabulary the vocabulary used by the middle-class children. Ñor is it the case that the children differ in their tacit understanding of the linguistic rule system. Rather; what we have here are differences in the use of language arising out of a specific context. One child makes explicit the meanings which he is realizing through language for the person he is telling the story to, whereas the second child does not to the same extent. The first child takes very little for granted, whereas the second child takes a great deal for granted. Thus for the first child the task was seen as a context in which his meanings were required to be made explicit, whereas the task for the second child was not seen as a task which required such explication of meaning. It would not be difficult to imagine a context where the first child would produce speech rather like the second. What we are dealing with here are differences between the children in the way they realize in language use apparently the same context. We could say that the speech of the first child generated universalistic meanings in the sense that the meanings are freed from the context and so understandable by all. Whereas the speech of the second child generated particularistic meanings, in the sense that the meanings are closely tied to the context and would be only fully understood by others if they had access to the context which originally generated the speech. Bernstein labors his point considerably in this extract as he had been accused of subscribing to a linguistic déficit theory (see Stern 1983) - his point is not that working-class children are linguistically deficient, rather than in the particular context of story elicitation their speech is different. However, the choice of terms Bernstein used to describe the two codes may be partly responsible for subsequent confusion. Elaborated may be said to connote something positive, while restricted may be held to suggest something negative. Perhaps the terms context-dependent speech and context-independent speech would have conveyed his idea less problematically. Sociolinguistics Course Guide Adapted from MA Study Material: English in the Community, Dahlgren, M. Professor: Sherlly Montenegro Quintero
  5. 5. Sociolinguistics Course Cuide Adapted from MA Study Material: English in the Community, Dahlgren, M. Professor: Sherlly Montenegro Quintero What Bernstein claimed was that, while both middle-class and working-class speakers used both codes, working-class home life predisposed children to more habitual use of restricted code with the result that they were educationally disadvantaged. Middle-class children go on to do better at school, not because they are brighter, but because schooling privileges elaborated code. Bernstein (ibid: 176) concludes that: schools are predicated upon elaborated code and its system of social relationships. Although an elaborated code does not entail any specific valué system, the valué system o f the middle class penetrates the texture of the very leaming context itself. Such a view of things may be said to be corroborated by the work of Shirley Brice Heath in the United States. In a seminal paper What no bedtime story means: Narrative skills at home and school (1982), Brice Heath suggests that home life literacy practices are related to subsequent school performance and success. Brice Heath looked at bedtime story reading in three different communities in the south east of the United States. The communities were given the ñames Maintown (representing a white middle class community), Roadville (representing a white working class community), and Trackton (a black working class community with recent rural links). The school performance of children from Maintown was far superior to that of the other two communities. Brice Heath focuses on the bedtime story as a significant pre-school literacy event where she suggests that: Children learn certain customs, beliefs, and skills in early enculturation experiences: the bedtime story is a major literacy event which helps set patterns of behaviour that recur repeatedly through the life of mainstream children and adults. (1982: 51) These literacy experiences enable children to: i) pay attention to books and information derived from books; ii) acknowledge questions about books; iii) respond to conversational allusions to the contení of books and act as question-answerers who have a knowledge of books; iv) use their knowledge of what books do to legitímate their departure from "truth" eg. invent stories and be rewarded for this; v) accept book and book-related activities as entertainment; vi) announce their own factual and fictive narratives; and finally, vii) listen and wait as an audience. (Heath 1982: 52-53) o
  6. 6. Reading comprehension, Brice Heath suggests, revolves around an internal set of questions and answers which mirror the question and answer exchanges which characterize the bedtime story. Brice Heath suggests that there are two basic types of question and answer: the what-explanation and the reason-explanation. The first of these, which relates broadly to topic identification, is described as follows in terms of school practices: The what-explanation is replayed in learning to pick out topic sentences, write outünes, and answer standardized tests which ask for corred titles to stories, and so on. In learning to read in school, children move through a sequence of skills designed to teach what-explanations. There is tight linear order of instruction which recapitulates the bedtime story pattern of breaking down the story into small bits of information and teaching children to handle sets of related skills in isolated sequential hierarchies. (ibid: 54) This type of activity (the what-explanation) predominates in the early years of schooling. In the later years more attention is devoted to the reason-explanation, where children are encouraged to speculate on why-type questions. Brice Heath suggests that observation of middle class children shows that: By the time they enter school, they have had continuous experience as information-givers; they have learned how to perform in those interactions which surround literate sources throughout school. They have had years of practice in interaction situations that are the heart of reading - both learning to read and reading to learn in school. They have developed habits of performing which enable them to run through the hierarchy of preferred knowledge about a literate source and the appropriate sequence of skills to be displayed in showing knowledge of a subject. They have developed ways of decontextualizing and surrounding with explanatory prose the knowledge gained from selective attention to objects. (ibid: 56) Brice Heath's study showed that literacy practices differed considerably throughout the three communities. In Maintown children were read bedtime stories which prepared them for the literacy practices of school. Children in Roadville communities were also read bedtime stories - however, as in the case of the Trackton children, school success was poor. The differences between Maintown and Roadville were said to be "substantial" (ibid: 61). Roadville adults do not extend reading practices into non-reading Sociolinguistics Course Guide Adapted from MA Study Material: English in the Community, Dahlgren, M. Professor: Sherlly Montenegro Quintero
  7. 7. Sociolinguistics Course Guide Adapted from MA Study Material: English in the Community, Dahlgren, M. Professor: Sherlly Montenegro Quintero activities in the way that Maintown adults do. For example, when something occurs in the course of normal daily activity adults, do not remind children of a similar event in a book and launch a running commentary on similarities and differences. (ibid: 61) Games do not involve literate sources, adults do not provide running commentaries on tasks they perform, talk about the task does not segment its skills and identify them, ñor does it link the particular task or item at hand to other tasks. (ibid: 62) Stories which fictionalize members of the community or rework Biblical stories in modern contexts do not exist. Brice Heath seems to suggest that such practices are characteristic of Maintown practices. When these children go to school they initially perform well but when teachers attempt to elicit responses based on opinions or hypothesizing skills, e.g. "What did you like about the story?", or "What would you have done in this situation?" the children are generally unable to provide an answer. For Roadville children early success at school tends to give way to increasing academic failure as the school begins to privilege reason-explanation type activities. Trackton children are not read to by parents. With the exception of Bible stories there are no reading materials for these children in the home. Also, in contrast to Maintown and some Roadville practices: Trackton adults do not separate out the elements of the environment around their children to tune their attentions selectively. They do not simplify their language, focus on single-word utterances by young children, label items or features of objects in either books or the environment at large. (ibid: 68) At school, although Trackton children show that they have developed sophisticated skills in other areas (poetic use of language, competitive storytelling) their ability to deal with what-explanation type questions sets them on the path to academic failure. Questions of this type, related to books and their contents, are not a feature of their pre-school socialization and consequently unfamiliar. Together the work of Brice Heath and Bernstein may be said to suggest that social class is an issue of fundamental importance in education. They suggest that #
  8. 8. Sociolinguistics Course Gulde Adapted from MA Study Material: English in the Community, Dahlgren, M. Professor: Sherlly Montenegro Quintero schooling privileges certain types of practices and knowledge. In the case of middle class children these practices represent a continuation of pre-school socialization. For working class children practices learned at the pre-school stage may prove non-transferable or of no valué in the school environment. The outcome of such a mismatch is generally academic failure. 1.3 Labov: phonological variation and social stratification William Labov's work is also concerned with issues of language use and social class. His doctoral thesis took as its subject New York City English. Labov was originally concerned with the, now abandoned, notion of free variation - the idea that linguistic variation was random and without any particular significance. For example, New Yorkers sometimes pronounce the post-vocalic /r/ and sometimes do not: e.g. the /r/ in York may or may not be sounded. The presence of the post- vocalic /r/ is a feature of standard American English, and as such the absence of this sound indicates a non-standard form. In a seminal paper, The Social Stratification o f (r) in New York City Department Stores (1972), Labov showed that the shop staff in large stores who were all from a similar socio-economic background showed signs of systematic variation in the production of the post- vocalic /r/. Labov chose three large department stores as the sites for his unusual fieldwork. The stores represented the top, middle and bottom ends of the market. His aim was to elicit examples of speech from store staff without their being aware that they were being monitored for features of pronunciation. His method of data collection was to enter the store and check what was on the fourth floor. On discovering, for example, that it contained the women's shoes department he then asked staff questions such as "Excuse me, where are the women's shoes?" with a view to getting them to say "Fourth floor". As an answer this contained two examples of the post-vocalic /r/. On receiving the desired answer (the fourth floor) he would then say "Excuse me?", which generally elicited a more emphatic second example. Labov would then surreptitiously record the answers. On the fourth floor itself he would ask "Excuse me, what floor is this?". In this manner Labov was able to obtain 264 short sociolinguistic interviews without being thrown out of any of the stores. Labov (1972: 45) expressed his pre-research hypothesis as follows: It appears that a person's own occupation is more closely correlated with his (sic) linguistic behaviour - for those working actively - than any other single social
  9. 9. characterístic. The evidence presented here indicates that the stores are objectively differentiated in a fixed order, and that jobs in these stores are evaluated by employees in that order. Since the product of social differentiation and evaluation, no matter how minor, is social stratification of the employees in the three stores, the hypothesis will predict the following result: salespeople in the highest-ranked store will have the highest valúes of (r); those in the middle-ranked store will have intermedíate valúes of (r); and those in the lowest-ranked store will show the lowest valúes. Indeed Labov found that the more up-market the store, the greater the occurrence of the post-vocalic /r/. He even found that there was a greater incidence of the prestige form on the higher, generally more expensive floors. C. Wright Mills' work (in Labov 1972:45) suggests that workers in department stores "borrow prestige from contact with their customers" and this may be part of the reason why Labov found the variation he did. Labov's research certainly raises the issues of audience design and accommodation as factors affecting linguistic variation. Audience design has been described by Spolsky (1998: 41-42) as follows: The notion comes from radio announcers, who suit their style to their audience. The same announcer will be found to have distinct styles when reading a news item on a national station and when introducing a song on a popular music station. By selecting a style appropriate to a particular audience, the announcer is identifying himself or herself with the audience or claiming membership of the group that it constitutes. Another related phenomenon is that of accommodation, which describes the way speakers with different pronunciations may converge to some degree as they speak. Spolsky (ibid: 42) describes accommodation thus: This process ... explains the way that a person who moves to a new part of the country gradually modífies his or her speech in the direction of the new norm. Because we are talking about changes in probabilities and percentages, the change need not be immediately obvious to the speaker or the listener. But if we record a conversation between two speakers of differing varieties, we find that their percentage of use of some features oñen converge. It is common to find that your speech - choice of vocabulary, grammatical forms, and even pronunciation - moves towards that of your interlocutor. In much the same way, of course, speakers can diverge or refuse to converge wholly. A good example of this is speakers of English whose pronunciation may have changed (for whatever set of reasons) to approximate the prestige RP variety, but who have chosen deliberately to retain a number of vowel sounds from their regional accents. Sociolinguistics Course Guide Adapted from MA Study Material: English ¡nthe Community, Dahlgren, M. Professor: Sherlly Montenegro Quintero
  10. 10. Sociolinguistics Course Guide Adapted from MA Study Material: English in the Community, Dahlgren, M. Professor: Sherlly Montenegro Quintero On the subject of accommodation and audience design Spolsky (ibid: 43) concludes: The existence of variation in language, therefore, is not accidental or meaningless. It adds a vital set of social dimensions, making it possible for language to reflect and record an individual's demographic, geographic, sociological, educational, and religious background. It helps constitute identity; it claims solidarity; it expresses attitudes towards power and prestige. This rich complexity helps us understand both how and why language changes, for the social forces injected into variation provide the dynamism ofchange. Some of the most interesting and exciting work in sociolinguistics over the last few years has been concerned with the way women use language. In the next section we will look at some of the main areas of research into women's use of language. 1.4 Women's language Suzanne Romaine (1994: 101) has suggested that women: occupy what might be called a problematic or negative semantic space. They are seen as derivative of men, or inferior versions of men. In practically all fields of research, it is women's differences from men and masculine norms which are seen as standing in need of explanation. Because women (and other minority groups in society) are devalued, so is their language. Thus it has become axiomatic in sociolinguistics that differences in the language used by men and women exist. The main problem is (and always has been) frowthis difference is defined, which is Romaine's point above. Before we go on to look at some of these differences in language use, it would be as well to point out that we are talking about differences which, most sociolinguists argüe, are socially determined (i.e. caused by gender, which is a socio-cultural construct), rather than biologically determined (i.e. caused by sex, which is biological given). 1.4.1 Differences in language use Research into conversations between women and women, men and men, and women and men, have unearthed some interesting findings. For example, research into turn-taking has revealed that generally men will interrupt more (Zimmerman 1975), and in general will talk more in a conversation than women will (Romaine 1994), despite stereotyping to the contrary! Women will tend to give minimal responses during a conversation, which is a way of encouraging the interlocutor to
  11. 11. continué, while men will delay giving these (Zimmerman 1975). It has also been noted that women, especially if working-class, will use 'prestige' forms of a language e.g. less swearing, more 'correct' vocabulary etc. (Edelsky 1977). Romaine offers the following explanation for this last point: women use linguistic means as a way to achieve status which is denied to them through other outlets such as occupation, which is the chief determinant of men's social status, and the related variable of education. (1994: 121) Finally, women's talk with other women (as opposed to with men) has been described as fulfilling a co-operative function: the way women negotiate talk symbolizes...mutual support and co-operation: conversationalists understand that they have rights as speakers and also duties as listeners; the joint working out of a group point of view takes precedence over individual assertions. (Coates 1988: 120) Several reasons have been put forward to explain why gender affects language, leading to some of the differences we have observed above. To summarize the literature, the main reasons for differences have been identified as: conservatism: Women's role is society is usually that of maintaining the status quo, thus women will tend to use prestige forms, or be less innovative with language. status consciousness: This point is explained in Romaine's quote above. networks: The formation of peer groups is an integral part of the socialization process for both sexes. It has been suggested that men's language is characterized by the influence of peer-group solidarity (so, for example, certain low-status forms of language might be considered 'cooP by the peer group). Also, men tend to have wider sets of networks, which can result in men maintaining regional variations of a language, and speaking the 'standard' form less than women. Many sociolinguists (e.g. Coates, Cameron) find the third explanation - that of networks - the most convincing in accounting for differences in language use. In disqualifying the first two explanations above, both Coates and Cameron make the point that the idea of using a prestige form may be conservative for a middle-class Sociolinguistics Course Guide Adapted from MA Study Material: English in the Community, Dahlgren, M. Professor: Sherlly Montenegro Quintero
  12. 12. Sociolinguistics Course Guide Adapted from MA Study Material: English in the Community, Dahlgren, M. Professor: Sherlly Montenegro Quintero woman, but will be more related to status consciousness for a working-class woman. The obvious point to bear in mind in any discussion of the effect of gender on language is that the above findings are heavily influenced by other vital factors: The influence of gender will differ from culture to culture and it may interact with many other social characteristics of speakers such as social class, age, context, etc. to varying extents. (Romaine 1994: 131) One of the main effects of this difference in language use is that men tend to use, for example, questions to ask for information in a conversation, whereas women will tend to use them phatically (i.e. to communicate, or to keep things going). The research which has uncovered these differences has led to a spate of popular psychology books appearing in the last decade or so, some of the best-known being Men are from Mars and Women are from Venus (Gray 1992), or You just don't understand (Tannen 1990), which aim to point out the pitfalls in relationships which result from the non-communication caused by differences in language use. It should be noted that the rather simplistic 'woman's magazine' approach to language gender differences reflected in books such as those above has been challenged, for example, by Deborah Cameron in her book Verbal Hygiene (1995). Cameron points out that in books such as these, underlying issues of inequality are not addressed, and the onus is still on women to 'understand' the differences and accept them, not to challenge the unequal views of society that they entail. Another effect of research into men and women's language use has been the idea that language is 'man-made' (Spender 1980). This view states that language reflects social structures, and, as men have traditionally held positions of power, language reflects men's position of power. One only needs to think about how for so long the use of the pronoun he in English, instead of he/she, has been unquestioned. Although there has been some change in the use of gender specific lexis, and people nowadays are certainly more aware of its implications, one must ask to what extent this change is real or superficial. Romaine (1994: 128-9) makes this point by referring to an experiment at Harvard University which involved subjects drawing pictures based on sentences using non-gender specific vocabulary. The majority of subjects in the experiment continued to draw more male rather than female figures. As Romaine point out: The existence ofsexist language is not simply a linguistic but a social problem. As such, any remedy will require change in both society and language. (ibid: 132)

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