Chapter 8
Language and Society
8.1 The Scope of Sciolinguistics
8.1.1 The relatedness between
language and Society
1) While language is principally
used to communicate meaning,
it is also used to establish and
maintain social relationships.
2) Users of the same language in a
sense all speak differently. The kind of
language each of them chooses to use is
in part determined by his social
background. Language, in its turn,
reveals information about its speaker.
3)To some extent, language,
especially the structure of its
lexicon, reflects the physical
environments of a society.
Whereas English, for example, has
only one word for snow ( or two if we
include sleet), Eskimo has several.
The reasons for this are obvious. It is
essential for Eskimos to be able to
d i s t i n g u i s h e ff i c i e n t l y b e t w e e n
d i ff e r e n t t y p e s o f s n o w.
English, of course, is quite able to
make the same distinctions: fine
snow, dry snow, soft snow, and so on,
but in Eskimos this sort of
distinction is lexicalized---made by
means of individual words.
4. To some extent, language,
especially the structure of its
lexicon reflects
e n v i r o n m e n t s o f a s o c i e t y.
For example, a society's
kinship system is
generally reflected in its
k i n s h i p v o c a b u l a r y.
We can assume, for example, that the
important kin relationships in Englishspeaking societies are those that are
signaled by single vocabulary items.
As society is reflected in language in
this way, social change can produce a
corresponding linguistic change.
This has happened in the case of
Russian. During the period from
1860 to the present day the structure
of the Russian kinship system has
undergone a very radical change as a
result of several important events:
For example:the emancipation of
serfs in 1861, the First World War,
the revolution, the collectivization
of agriculture and the Second
world War. There has been a
marked social as well as political
revolution, and this has been
accompanied by a corresponding
change in the language.
In the middle of the last century, wife's
brother was shurin, whereas now now it is
simply brat zheny, brother of wife.
Similarly, brother's wife, formerly nevestka,
is now zhena brata, wife of brother. In
other words, distinctions that were
formerly lexicalized, because they were
important, are now made by means of
phrases. The loss of importance of these
particular relationships are due to the fact
that social changes in Russia have led to
the rise of the small, nuclear family.
In the last century most Russians lived in
l a rg e p a t r i l o c a l e x t e n d e d - f a m i l y
households. brother's wives, at that time
part of the family now normally live,
in different households.
Similarly, the term
y a t r o v, s i g n i f y i n g
husband's brother's
wife has now
disappeared entirely.
As a social phenomenon, the
evaluation of a linguistic form
is entirely social.
Speech community
A speech community is
defined as a group of
people who form a
community and share
the same language or
a particular variety
o f l a n g u a g e .
The important characteristic
of a speech community:
A. They speak the same language
or dialect.
B. the members of the group
must interact linguistically
with other members of the
C. They may share similar
attitudes toward linguistic
Speech variety
Speech variety, also
known as language
variety, refers to
any distinguishable
form of speech used
by a speaker or
group of speakers.
The distinctive characteristics
of a speech variety are mainly
reflected in its pronunciation,
syntax and vocabulary.
Speech variety is a
neutral term, which
is often used to
replace the such
terms as standard
language, dialect,
pidgin and creole .
It can also be used to
refer to regional dialects
and ethnic dialects such as
Australian English and
Black English as well as
the functional dialects
such as legal language.
8 . 2 Va r i e t i e s o f l a n g u a g e
People who claim to be users of the
same language do not speak the
language in the same manner. For
example all the English–speaking
people do not speak the same type
of English. And the language used
by the same individual varies as
circumstances vary.
8.2.1Dialectal varieties Regional dialect
Regional dialects are linguistic
varieties used by people living in
different regions.
North: You need your hair
South: You need your hair cut
It needs washing
It needs washed
He's a man who likes his beer.
He's a man that likes his beer.
He's a man at likes his beer.
He's a man as likes his beer.
He's a man what likes his beer.
He's a man he likes his beer.
He's a man likes his beer.
Regional dialect boundaries
often coincide with geographical
barriers such as mountains,
rivers, or swamps.
This differentiation is
accounted for by the
lack of communication
in the old days when
travel was difficult.
Just as regional dialect is
associated with separation caused
by physical conditions, social
dialect has to do with separation
brought about by different social
Social-class dialect, or
sociolect, refers to the
linguistic variety
characteristic of a
particular social class.
Two people who speak the
same regional dialect
may possess some
linguistic features
which arise because of
social factors instead
of regional factors.
In other words, people who have
different social and economic
backgrounds, academic experiences,
occupations, ages and sexes speak
differently. Although living in the
same region, people may consciously or
unconsciously select linguistic
features for communication that are
appropriate to their social identities.
lavatory, looking glass, pudding, relatives,
rich, Royalties, scent, scurf, sick, sofa,
spectacles, writing paper等,而不是与
它们相对应的the States, pastry,
portion, ice-cream,toilet,mirror,
dessert, relations,wealthy, Royals,
perfume, dandruff,ill,settee,
notepaper ,glasses等。
When we look at the language used by two
speakers A and B, we can estimate roughly
their relative social status:
Speaker A
speaker B
I did it yesterday.
I done it yesterday.
He hasn’t got it.
He ain’t got it.
It was she that said it It was her what said it.
In Britain, one of the most important
markers of status is accent. “Received
Pronunciation” , a non-localized form of
pronunciation, refers to the particular
way of pronouncing standard English,
which is an indicator of a public school
education and thus a high social status
on the part of the speaker.
In the past the possession of an RP
accent was extremely important
because it served a s a high-status
marker, and also as a qualification
for high-prestige employment no
matter what other abilities the
work might require.
Investigations have been carried out by
linguists to obtain evidence for the
correlation between certain phonetic features
and social variables.
Percentage of speakers
Using [n] for [ŋŋ ]
Middle middle class 3%
Lower middle class 42%
Upper working class 87%
]Middle working class 95%
Lower working class 100%
It should be clear that social-class
dialects are not distinct entities; they
merge into each other to form a
continuum. It is only the proportions
which are different.
language and sex
Differences between women
and men have always been a
topic of interest to the human
species and supposed
linguistic differences are
often enshrined in proverbs:
A woman's tongue wags like a lamb's tail.
Foxes are all tail and women are
all tongue.
( England-Cheshire)
The North Sea will sooner be found
wanting in water than a woman at a loss
for a word.
( Jutland )
Women in many countries are
more status-conscious than men,
and therefore more aware of
the social significance of
linguistic variables.
In normal situations,
female speakers tend to use
more prestigious forms than
their male counterparts
with the same general
social background.
Peter Trudgill studied the
double negation structures.
He found that the use of “I
didn’t do nothing” to mean
“ I did nothing” is more
common in a male’s speech
than in a female’s speech,
given that their social
background is the same.
In addition, a woman
tends to use polite
forms, therefore a
woman’s use of
language is more
indirect, while
m e n ' s u s e o f
language is more
straightforward and
l e s s p o l i t e .
Besides, the gender differences
are also reflected in the use of
the same lexical items.
For example, women tend to
use such words as:
“lovely”, “sweet”, “divine”,
“nice”, “darling”, “cute”,
“adorable”, “charming” which
have almost become the
markers of a female.
a. Oh dear, you've put the peanut
butter in the refrigerator again.
Shit, you've put the peanut
butter in the refrigerator again.
Women prefer to use the following
colour words while most men do not:
mauve, beige, aquamarine, lavender, magenta
Imagine a man and a woman
both looking at the same wall,
painted a pinkish shade of purple.
The woman may say:
The wall is mauve.
The wall is mauve.
If the man should say the above
sentence, one might well conclude he
was imitating a woman sarcastically,
or was a homosexual, or an interior
Women have their own vocabulary
for emphasizing certain effects:
so good, such fun,
exquisite, lovely, divine,
precious, adorable, darling,
neutral: great, terrific, cool, neat
Compared with men,
women tend to use
such adverbs.:
horridly, abominably,
i m m e n s e l y ,
excessively, amazingly,
so, most,etc.
In Chapter III in Jane
Austen’s novel,“Pride
Bennet, excited after
participating in a party,
talked to her husband
about Mr.Bingley as
Oh! My dear Mr. Bennet, we have had a
most excellent ball. …Jane was so admired.
Every body said how well she looked. Mr.
Bingley thought her quite beautiful, …I
was so vexed to see him stand up with
her. … I am quite delighted with him. He is
so excessively handsome! …[Mr. Darcy] is
a most disagreeable, horrid man. So high
and so conceited that there was no
enduring him! He walked here, and he
walked there, fancying himself so very
great! Not handsome enough to dance with.
Language and age
Certain linguistic features occur
more frequently in the speech of
one generation than that of the
The most striking difference is
found at the lexical level. Lexical
variation is more noticeable
across three-generation time span
than two-generation time span.
An elderly man who still
talks about the “icebox” or
the “wireless” may be
confused by the speech of his
teenage granddaughter who
like to “pig out” whatever she
sees in the “fridge” while
listening to her “boombox”.

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