Use of different linguistic items by a speaker for communicating the
same message within different social situation gave birth to the idea
of linguistic and social inequality.
In the same way people with different social and cultural background
show the levels of social inequality as well as different social status.
the most solid achievements of linguistics in the twentieth century
has been to eliminate the idea that some languages or dialects are
inherently better than the other. Linguists recognized that some
varieties of language are considered by lay people to be better than
the other. but they point out that linguistic commonalities have been
given more importance than the linguistic differences. They would
claim that if they were shown the grammar of two different varieties
of completely unfamiliar language, one with high and the other with
low prestige, they could not tell which was which.
Linguists would probably say the same about
Linguistic differences between individual
there are differences between the grammars of two people,
there is no way of knowing which has the higher prestige in
society simply by studying the grammars. There are individuals
who have inherently incomplete grammars, such as small
children, foreigners and people with mental disabilities, and
leave intact the claim that all normal people are equal with
regard to their grammars.
Linguistics should be descriptive not prescriptive, that
slogan raises problems:
1. It is harder than many linguists realise to avoid
prescriptivism, since the historical Development of
linguistic theory has been so closely linked to the description of
prestigious varieties such as standard Languages.
Labov pointed out that: the normal method of obtaining information
about a person’s language is to ask them for judgments on sentences,
a method which is virtually useless with speakers of non-standard
variety who also know the standard one, since the judgements
always relates to the latter rather than to normal speech.
Linguists have studied standard varieties rather than non-standard
varieties, and the reasons are:
Linguists are academics and therefore know standard language.
They work in a long tradition, in which standard languages were
studied so that they could be taught.
The foreign-language teaching market needs good studies of
standard varieties , but not of non- standard varieties.
2. The doctrine of linguistic equality deflects attention from
language as a possible source of social inequality.
If language were something which automatically developed at the
same pace and to the same extent in all normal people, then
those of the same age or degree of maturity should automatically
be at the same linguistic level. This view leaves two problem
1. Concerned with abnormal speakers (such as foreigners and
people with mental disabilities).
2. Concerned with the effects of prejudice: prejudice does exist
but the doctrine of linguistic equality leads to the conclusion
that eliminating prejudice would leave abnormal speakers as
the only people with the linguistic problems.
Types of Linguistic Inequality
It concerns what people think about each other’s
speech. (i.e. Linguistic Prejudice is a product of subjective
It is a very common notion that people are thought more or
less intelligent or friendly according to the way they speak. 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.
strictly 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 (i.e. where as others have virtually no
vocabulary for those filed ).
It is concerned with knowledge of how to use
linguistic items to communicate successfully rather
than simply with knowledge of linguistic items.
communicative inequality refers to:
1. the kind of knowledge or skill that is needed when using
speech to interact with other people.
2. It also includes inequalities in the way in which speakers
select variants of linguistic variable in order to present a
favorable image which means that communicative inequality
subsumes subjective inequality.
how to study
Language based prejudice
The first kind of inequality involves prejudices about particular
way of speaking. One person can draw conclusion about another
person’s character and abilities simply on bases of how that
person speaks, regardless of the content of what they say. We
need information about another person’s personality because it
affects our own behaviour.
It is socially problematic because
the conclusion drown may be wrong,
and may either underestimate or
overestimate the extent to which
the speaker has various social
desirable qualities .
Stereotypes refer to specific
characteristics, traits, and roles that a group and its
members are believed to possess. Stereotypes can be both
positive and negative, although negative are more
if social prototype is shared by many people in the society
it is called Social stereotype.
Prejudice : Is a characteristic of a social stereotype which
is only weakly predictable from the other characteristics
(or not predictable at all). It is defined as having negative
attitudes toward a group and its members.
Language prejudice: is a characteristic which we expect
people to have because of the way they speak, and the
link between the speech and this characteristic lie through
the type of person that (we think) speaks like that.
Evaluation of language
The way a person speaks is simply a clue to social information
and is in itself neutral ,neither good nor bad. So the evaluation
of language is based on the evaluation of the speakers and not
on the speech forms themselves, because it is easy to find
examples where the same speech pattern is evaluated quite
differently in different communities.
How people evaluate the dialect or language that they speak
themselves? because this is so closely linked to their selfevaluation. Society functions best when all its members are
proud to be what they are, so they should all value there own
speech because they value the community to which they
Why don’t all people speak in the way that they obviously
believe they should?
To reach the answer we must:
1. Consider the mechanism by which values get established, and
recognise that on the whole the values accepted by wider
community will be those of most powerful group within it, since this
will be the one that controls such channel of influence as the schools
and the media.
2. Consider the problems of actually doing what the teachers
recommend. the most highly valued speech-forms are those of one
particular group in a society ( the most powerful), although they are
accepted beyond that group as a result of influence of schools, etc.
describes the level of respect accorded to
a language or dialect as compared to that of other languages or
dialects in a speech community. The concept of prestige in
sociolinguistics is closely related to that of prestige or class within
a society. Generally, there is positive prestige associated with the
language or dialect of the upper classes, and negative prestige
with the language or dialect of the lower classes. The concept of
prestige is also closely tied to the idea of the standard language, in
that the most prestigious dialect is likely to be considered the
Overt Vs. Covert Prestige
is acquired by those speakers who have
command of a standard dialect (or dialects) that is socially
defined as that spoken to gain social status within the wider
community; often that of the elite.
Covert prestige, is acquired by those speakers desiring
to belong; to be considered a member of a certain community.
Stereotype& how to study them
• People use the speech of others as a clue to non-linguistic
information a bout them, such as there social background
and even personality traits like toughness or intelligence.
• What is subjective reaction test?
• It is a method first developed by social psychologists
(Lambert 1967, Giles and Powesland 1975,Giles and Bradac
1994) the method has been adopted by Labov as a part of
his methodology for investigating. linguistic variability.
Subjective Reaction Test 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
points scale can be used for this purpose let say:
(very tough, tough, somewhat tough, neutral, somewhat gentle,
gentle, very gentle).
The result of subjective reaction tests typically show clear
differences both between voices and between subjects (different
voices evoke different stereotype in the mind of the same person,
whilst the same voice may suggest different stereotype to
Subjective reaction method can be made
in two ways:
1. Matched guise technique: this method was created by
Lambert and it is a few recordings by the same speaker, who
uses different languages or dialects, and so the listener
would not notice similarities in voice quality, s/he must think
that it is a very different speakers. The listener is then asked
to evaluate the personal qualities of the individuals recorded
– without knowing that it is the same person – according to
the linguistic variety used, and in line with the stereotypes
and social prejudices of these linguistic varieties, which tend
to be uniform.
2. Subjective reaction method(developed by Labov): which
has been more sophisticated by controlling the speech used
in such way as to make it possible to identify the particular
linguistic features to which the hearers were reacting.(p.214)