Linghuistic and Social Inequality
Submitted To:Sohail Falaksher
Submitted By: Waseem Azhar Gilany
Class: M.Phil Linguistics
Department of English
The Islamia University of Bahawalpur
Linguistic and Social Inequality
Use of different linguistic items by a speaker for communicating the same message with
in different social situation gave birth to the idea of linguistic and social inequality. When a
speaker makes a choice with in the vast range of linguistic choices, the selection made by the
speaker shows a degree of preference for any choice. All this depends on the social and
educational status of the speaker. Means to say people have different levels of linguistic
competence and linguistic performance which provide basis for the notion of linguistic
inequality. In the same way people with different social and cultural background shows the
levels of social inequality as well as different social status.
In the twentieth century, linguistic commonalities have been given more importance
than the linguistic differences. The linguists have been trying to find similarities among all the
languages of the world. This century presented the idea that no variety of language is better
than other but that all the varieties of languages or dialects have common features has been
developed among the linguists. Infact the layman have different belief in this regard but the
idea presented by linguists seems sound. In the same way as linguistic differences show no
variety of language, the grammar of the different languages can not identically represent any
language. Of course, there is no shortage of differences between grammars, whether of
individuals or the whole communities. But there is no purely linguistic ground for ranking any
of the grammars higher than others. Inspite these notions based on linguistic equality, it is
acknowledged that linguistic and social inequality affects the language and its use to a great
Types of Linguistic Inequality
(i) Subjective Inequality
(ii) Linguistic Inequality
(iii) Communicative Inequality
1. Subjective Inequality
It concerns what people think about each other’s speech. Linguistic Prejudice is a
product of subjective inequality. In this discussion this concept of linguistic prejudice is going
to be explored to prove that linguistic prejudice in the basic cause for delimiting the idea of
linguistic and social inequality.
It is a very common notion that people are thought more or less intelligent or friendly
according to the way they speak. But this is not a reliable yard stick to judge the social
inequality among the people. This is a common thinking that right way of speaking conveys
that the speaker is much valuable than the one who uses wrong way of speaking. So
language is a source of social inequality.
2. Linguistic Inequality
It is typically a different concept than which runs through the whole chapter as
general idea of the linguistic inequality. It relates to the linguistic items that a person knows.
The linguistic items one knows show the experience of the person. Vocabulary is the field
where this experience can be most obvious where some individual has a rich set of technical
terminology for a particular field of life e.g. agriculture, fishing, linguistics etc. In different
social situation the people perform differently because of the linguistic items they know. In
other words we can say ‘social inequality’ varies situation to situation because of linguistic
items used in different social situations. But the social occasion like job interviews, political
debates have far reaching effects on social life and social inequality because here interviewee is
sketched according to socia and linguistic signals he gives.
3. Communicative Inequality
It is concerned with knowledge of how to use linguistic items to communicate
successfully rather than simply with knowledge of linguistic items. In the past the importance
of linguistic inequality has been over exaggerated. But communicative inequality refers to the
kind of knowledge or skill that is needed when using speech to interact with other people. It
refers to themes related to language, culture, thought, and social inequality. So we can conclude
that it is the most important type which lined out the boundaries for language culture thought
representation and social inequality.
Linguistic prejudice is the phenomenon that is the major cause of linguistic inequality
and social inequality. It is going to be dealt in detail in the next coming discussion.
A speaker uses speech as a source of social distinction. He always communicates to let
the other people know about his position. On the other hand listener is also keen to make value
judgments about the speaker’s social status.
A speaker sent social signals to show his position in the multidimensional social
space. The habit of using signals as a source of information about the speaker is called
The judgments based on speech can be called instances of prejudice. These judgments
can be better called value-judgments based on speech.
Types of Linguistic Prejudice
i. Cognitive Uncertainty
ii. Linguistic Insecurity
1. Cognitive Uncertainty
People use speech as a source of information about he speaker in order to plan their
behavior. Speech gives us information about speaker’s value, reactions, morals etc. this basic
need for information about the other person has been called Cognitive Uncertainty (Berger
Calabrese 1975, Berger 1979). This theory can be explained on the base of the basic concept of
When a person is given a plate of food to eat, he is in the state of cognitive uncertainty,
then he made guesses on the base of his experience of prototypes among the eatable. Then he
could conclude what kind of dish, he is going to eat.
There is always a need to reduce cognitive uncertainty in social interaction. The
social signals help to reduce cognitive uncertainty and help the listener to plan his
behavior accordingly. But one must be careful in drawing conclusions about other
people’s non-linguistic characteristics on the basic of linguistic characteristic of their
Speech determines the value system of society. The characteristics that are highly
valued can vary from society to society.
Toughness in speech can be valued negatively as well as positively in different
societies.(for roughness/ bravery)
People use their speech to identify the particular social group to which they belong or
would like to be thought to belong. Here speaker tries to become a symbol of group
membership. Here membership shows the prototype-member of the group. So a person’s
speech pattern is a permanent aspect of his social identity. The claim that people like to
think they belong to a valuable group has a direct relation to the question of linguistic
prejudices. It is a way in which people consider themselves a better group than others.
Multidimensional nature of linguist variants can place an individual to some extent with
a number of different groups at the sametime.
Keeping a working class accent while adopting middle class syntax and vocabulary.
If parents tell children that their own way of speaking is the ‘Right One’ then they will
automatically follow that other groups speak less well.
2. Linguistic Insecurity
Some groups of people in Britain and Untied States do not believe that they speak bet er
than others but on the contrary think that they speak badly. This phenomenon is known as
Linguistic Insecurity (Labov 1972). Schools and the media can be channels for creating such
kind of linguistic prejudices.
Degree of preference for any set of linguistic items determines the prestige given to any
A child who adopts the language of the upper class may lose the respect and affection
of his friend’s respect and even that of his family. So he cannot give up all the forms of his
local group. He will use a mixture of both the forms of language. He will select positive images
of both the classes. But he gives preferences to upper-class (it is known as overt prestige) and
the use of selected local forms (covert prestige).
We can argue that linguistic prejudice makes language a yard stick to measure the
social in equality in the society.
Another factor involved in determing the notion of social inequality is the study of
Stereo Types which we are going to discuss here.
For people speech is a clue to non-linguistic information about the speaker’s social
background and personality traits like toughness or intelligence etc. People use informations in
term of prototype.
There is a characteristic of speech A
And a characteristic of personality B
A will be used both as a characteristic of speech through which the characteristic of
personality B can be identified. Here B is harder to be observe directly other than the A. Here
former A will be used as a clue to B. This kind of prototype (A) is generally referred to as a
A (speech) B (Personally)
A define (A) and b
A (stereotype) performs two functions at a time which is a subjective connection
between the two prototypes.
For the analysis of stereotype, we can assume that here A can be referred as ling
variable and B non-linguistic variable. Most of the people are not consciously aware of the
connections between specific linguistic variable and non-ling variable, so there is little point in
asking people directly about these connections.
Subjective Reaction Test is the method forthe analysis of stereo type.
Subjective Reaction Test
We will use Subjective Reaction Test (Lambert Montreal) to analyze the stereotypes.
Here the investigator prepares a tape-recording (recording of a series of people reading the
same content or passage). Listener whose stereotypes are going to be investigated might be
asked to make ten to twenty judgments about the owner of the speech and to fill a
questionnaire. His judgments can then be compared from one voice to another. The listener for
example would be asked to locate the speaker somewhere on a particular scale such as
toughness, intelligence, friendliness or geographical area. Seven point scale can be used for
this purpose let say:
i. very tough
iii. somewhat tough
v. somewhat gentle
vii. very gentle
We can take for an example which of the following jobs do you think the speaker might
hold……? (Lobov 1972)
The Results of Subjective Reaction Test show clear differences both between voices
and between subjects e.g. different voices evoke different stereotype in the mind of the same
persons, whilst the same voice may suggest different stereotypes to different people. To
conclude we can say that Stereotypes (speech)are sources to identify stereotypes (personality).
Linguistic Prejudice Working in Educational System
Now again we will explore the notion of linguistic prejudice in order to have better
view about linguistic and social inequality. Here linguistic prejudices on the behalf of members
of educational institutions are going to be discussed.
Prejudice of Teachers:
Through educational system upper class prejudices prevail in society. School teachers
and their pupils both have fixed speech stereotypes and we can identify a number of ways in
which teacher’s prejudice may present problems for their pupils.
Concluded by (Giles & Powerland 1925) there can be certain evidences that most of the
teacher base their impressions of pupils on speech forms in preference to other sources of
Giles and Powerland compare three types of information; a photograph, a recorded
example of speech and an example of school work and found that speech is given more
It is also significant that, intelligence test and formal tests of ability used by the
educational system put much emphasis on language.
Giles & Powerland (1925), describes that teachers are of two kinds
i. Those who evaluate on the basic ofstandardness of language
ii. Those who pay more attention to fluency (confidence & eagerness)
Assuming that teachers form their first impressions of a pupil on the base of their
speech there is a problem for a child whose speech leads to a negative impressions in teachers
mind. The negative expectations by the teacher will lead to negative performance by the pupils.
There are many teachers who believe that one of their main roles is to point out
children’s non-standard dialects or accents that their speech in imperfect, in the hope that it will
mend their ways. One the whole, such kind of criticism may affect child negatively or it can
strengthen his determination not to conform with society as a result of his negative reaction.
Even the teachers especially at primacy level do not speak standard British English, then how
can teacher expect the student to speak standard British English.
If teacher because of linguistic prejudice is not ready to speak standard British English,
how can we expect a child to overlook his linguist prejudices in order to speak Standard British
Prejudice of Pupils
First of all the questions arise whether linguistic prejudice exists in school children or
Different researches as Howard Giles (1925) show that;
The children below secondary school would be unaware of difference between
the local accent and accent of teacher.
In the secondary school career they were found aware of difference of accent
There are also other researches as done by Schneidman 1976, Edward Caisns & Barbra
Duriez 1976, Wallace Lambert (1967) Giles & Powerland 1975. The results given by the above
experiments can be interpreted as;
Perhaps the children paid more attention to the message when it was in their accent a
Perhaps they were more inclined to trust the opinion of someone who sounded like one
It seems that the ling prejudice of both teachers and pupils are potential sources of
serious problem in Education process. Here Hudson suggests no solution to these problems. His
only purpose is to prove that linguistic prejudice can create Educational Problems on the behalf
of both teachers and pupils.
Reason for Linguistic Prejudice
Competence, defined by Chomsky, is person’s specific linguistic knowledge, and the
notion of linguistic incompetence concerns the lack of linguistic knowledge of any language.
Ling incompetence can be a feature of language of babies and L2 learners and if some one
forgot his/her L1.
The claim that linguistic incompetence is found in the children from lower-class houses
is known as Deficit Theory. This theory can be a dangerous nonsense that many school
systems put the blame of their educational failure on the inadequacies of the child.
Some children rarely give anything more than a single word in his answer to a teacher
and some teachers conclude that the child is incompetent. But it is possible that fault lies not in
child’s linguistic competence but in the situation. He might be a very good speaker in his
family or friends. The student underestimated in this way faces a lot of problems during his
Bernsten (1960’s) claimed that there are two ways of using language.
i. Restricted Codes
ii. Elaborated Codes
1. Elaborated Code
It is a kind of speech which is relatively explicit and is a kind of speech required to be
used in a formal context or situarion.
2. Restricted Code
This is a kind of speech used between the people who know each other well.
It is claimed that people from lower working class use only restricted code.
Whereas most of the members of higher class use both restricted and elaborated ode
according to circumstances.
The Scale of Vocabulary
On the scale of vocabulary we can say that there are no significant differences in overall
size of vocabulary of lower and upper class children. The above statement is about quantity of
vocabulary. But when we come to the quality we can say there is remarkable difference in the
use of vocabulary between the working class children with low proficiency and upper class
with high proficiency in language use.
This discussion rejects the notion of deficit theory that verbally deprived children have
no language at all. The question is to seek out ways to solve the problem, caused by such
Communicative Competence is knowledge of language needed by a speaker or hearer
to grasp the message effectively. It includes our knowledge or ability to use linguistic forms
When to speak? and when not?
What to talk? with whom, when, where and in what manner?
There is a clear difference between who have been to school and those who not been to
school. Non-schooled uses non-logical thinking. While Schooled are taught logical thinking to
solve Traditional Syllogism in order to create communicative competence.
All people who own houses pay a house tax.
Bioma does not pay a have tax.
Does Bioma, own a house?
The provision of schooling can therefore be seen as only one factor in the development
of schemata concerned, and that some children do learn schemata from school and others do
Some children do not want to learn the school’s schemata because of Subtractive
Bilingualism. It creates a difficulty for school in persuading some children to accept some of
schemata of school.
View of social inequality indicates that different people may be different in the
explicitness of their speech in the same circumstance. Bernstein claimed that children from
lower class homes are likely to be less explicit under the same circumstances than children
from higher class homes;
During an experiment to show explicitness in a description of pictures, lower class
children on average need thrice as many prompts to be explicit than the middle class children.
It seems that the difference between codes is a matter of degree and it is a skill specific
to a range of situation and not specific to the use of code successfully.
The Communicative Competence of Lower-class Children
Some people have a deficit (gap) in their communicative competence with respect to
certain types of situation. Communicative competence depends more on situation than the
individual’s social inequality. Each of us has his/her own particular range of deficits or gaps
(Cazden 1970) would a better term for some formal experimental or school situation in which
they have lo be explicit. Others may have gaps with respect to situations where they are
confronted with an angry client and so on. Having seen what lower-class children do badly, it is
only fair to look at some of the things they often do well.
Picture: A man standing by a broken window and shouting on a boy.
Described by Middle class (Implicitly)
Working class (Explicitly)
Making up a Bed-Time story.
Lower class girl: More fluent
Lower class boy: Least fluent
Middle class children: In between both of them.
The main problem of lower-class children at school is a culture-clash between middle-
class culture, which controls the teacher’s behavior, and lower-class culture, to which the
children are accustomed. It can be suggested that in order to achieve the objectives of the
educational system we should make use of communicative competence within the child’s own
culture which he brings to school, even if part of the aim of education is precisely to broaden
this communicative competence.
In the multidimensional social space, speaker always communicate to let the other
people know about his position in it. On the other hand listener also tries to draw conclusions
about the speaker’s position in this multidimensional social space.A speaker sent social signals
to show his position in this multidimensional social space in the form of the choice of linguistic
items while communicating in society. It seems very right to say ‘Linguistic inequality breeds
social inequality and social inequality breeds linguistic inequality.’
Hudson, R.A. Sociolinguistics .Cambridge: CUP.1980