Top left: Greek
Bottom left: Cherokee
Middle: Arabic
Top right: Russian
What is language?
A form of communication that
is a systematic set of arbitrary
symbols shared among a
group and passed on from
generation to generation
A form of
What is Conveyed or
• sounds
• system of sounds that when put
together according to certain
rules results in meanings
• Systematic nature of language is
usually unconscious
arbitrary symbols
•associations between
words/sounds and the
things they represent
•not natural or selfevident meaning.
•meaning provided by
tradition and consensus
•Because symbols are
arbitrary they have to
be learned.
“look at
Descriptive symbols
“grab hold
of this”
Other forms of communication:
– Direct: facial expression, body
stance, gesture, tone of voice
– Indirect: writing, algebra, music,
painting, signs
Language has displacement
• Talk about stimuli which are not present
• “The yellow elephant eats dancing peanuts.”
• past, present, future
Language is productive
• Produce novel utterances which can be
understood (see the elephant sentence!)
• creative and one can create new messages.
Human language is thus an "open" system
while animal language is "closed,"
• Call systems consist of a
limited number of sounds
that are produced in
response to specific stimuli
(e.g. food or danger)
– Calls cannot be combined
to produce new calls.
– Calls are reflexive in that
they are automatic
responses to specific
Apes, such as these
Congo chimpanzees,
use call systems to
communicate in the
• profoundly social
• we use language to send social messages about
• who we are,
• where we come from,
• who we associate with
•we may judge a person's
background, character, and
intentions based upon the
person's language, dialect, or,
in some instances, even the
choice of a single word. Eh!
Descriptive or Formal Linguistics
• Also called structural linguistics
• Tries to discover the rules of phonology,
morphology, and syntax of another
language, especially those with no written
dictionary or grammar.
• Seeks to discover language rules that are not
written down but are discoverable in actual
The study of the sound patterns of a language
what sound combinations are permissible
how sound systems are organized
The study of meaning in individual units of language.
concerned with the structure of words. The smallest unit
of meaning is a morpheme.
The rules by which words are put together to form
sentences and phrases e.g. order of Subject, Verb, Object
The meaning of symbols, words, phrases, and sentences
of a language.
Historical Linguistics
• Focuses on how language changes over time
and how languages relate to one another.
• Anthropologists are interested in cultural
features that correlate with language families.
• Reconstruction of languages:
– Proto-Indo-European
– Sino-Tibetan
• Linguistic divergence
– Gradual or by force
method of tracing the history of languages called glottochronology
assumes that changes in the core vocabulary, e.g. pronouns, lower
numerals, and names for parts of the body and natural objects
change at a constant rate
apply a formula to determine when the languages separated
1786 William Jones noted similarities between Sanskrit and
classical Greek and Latin
 1822 Jacob Grimm formulated rules to describe the sound shifts
that had occurred when the various IE languages diverged from one
•In Germanic, d of Romance switched to t: deux to two
•The p of Romance switched to f : pater to father, pied to foot
•German s switched to English t: wasser to water
Some cognates in Indo-European
Cognates: words that are similar in sound and meaning
subgroups reflect
long period of
linguistic divergence
from an ancient
unified language
50% of the world’s
population speak an
Linguistic Family Tree
• individual languages are themselves the result of further
linguistic divergence
• further subdivided into dialects
• speech characteristic of a particular region or social
• boundaries may be psychological, social, economic, as
well as geographical
• dialect continuums where the edges of languages blend
• French blends into Italian
• German into Dutch,
• Spanish into Portuguese
Dialect Continuum
(The left-to-right dimension expresses range of mutual intelligibility.)
Town A
Town B
Town C
Town D
Town E
Town F
Town G
Town H
3 2 1 2 3
3 2 1 2 3
3 2 1 2 3
3 2 1 2 3
3 2 1 2 3
3 2 1 2 3
3 2 1 2 3
3 2 1 2 3
IE languages derive from a language spoken
5000 to 6000 years ago
• Using controversial techniques, linguists seek
the more elusive prehistoric tongues
• Nostratic—ancestral speech of the Middle
East 12,000 to 20,000 years ago
– Ancestral to nine modern language families
– A 500-word dictionary has been compiled
• Contemporary with Nostratic were other
ancient tongues including Dene-Caucasian
• Dene-Caucasian reputedly gave rise to SinoTibetan, Basque, and one form of early
Native-American called Na-Dene
- an educated guess as to the original home of a language can be also
be made based on the number of different geographical dialects
- the more there are the closer to the homeland.
- Thus there are far more dialects of English in England than
in New Zealand, or the Canada.
- same sort of logic can be applied at higher levels
- There are far more languages and Language families in Africa
than anywhere else suggesting that Africa is the homeland of
human beings and language
- attempts have been made to find the original language of humanity
- mitochondrial DNA suggests that modern humans migrated out of
Africa about 100,000 years ago - maybe earlier
- original language about 100,000 years old
Language Change
 geographical distance or barriers
 borrowing from another language
• usually results in greater resemblance due to
borrowing e.g. about 50% of the English
vocabulary has been borrowed from the French
• different social classes contact may borrow
spread of linguistic features may be halted by racial, religious
or social class differences that inhibit communication
- eg. there are substantial differences in speech between the
untouchable groups and other groups
- members of the untouchable groups have work contracts
with others but no friendships
- without friendships and the easy communication between
friends, dialect differentiation developed.
Child labour,
Untouchables in
quarry, Tamil Nadu,
the study of language(s) in relation to society. The Social Uses of
- Language expresses, symbolizes and maintains the social order
Social variables influence a person's use of language
• Class
• Gender
• Status
• Age
• National/ethnic/regional identity
• education
A child learning a language also acquires social competence i.e. the
ability to recognize and interpret the social activity taking place.
e.g. opening or closing a conversation
Telling a joke or story
taking conversational turns
Social Identity
language use is fundamental to the creation and expression of
social identity and difference.
the social prestige or stigma attached to linguistic varieties
often supports and expresses the value attached to social
Eg. the Queen’s English vs Cockney English
distinctive aspects of language from pronunciation to syntax,
to slang, i.e. any aspect of linguistic code
• Glottal stop City = Ci’y water= wa'er
• Dropped ‘h’ house = ‘ouse, hammer = ‘ammer
• TH fronting three = free bath = barf
• Vowel lowering dinner = dinna, marrow= marra
 Most prestigious form will be that of the most
powerful group in society because this group
controls education and the media. perkins2.ram
 Prestige form often forms the standard
 a national language permits internal cohesion
and fosters external distinction
 forms a powerful base for national identity
 minority languages serve to mark off ethnic
difference within multiethnic societies.
 90% of Paraguans speak
Guarani, yet until 1992
Spanish was the official
language, the language of
prestige and is used in
government, schools, and
Guarani is used in informal
settings with friends and
relatives, in talking with
status inferiors.
 Guaraní raises feelings of
pride and linguistic loyalty in
the people
 nineteenth century China
united by a standard written
language but 8 mutually
unintelligible dialects
 each dialect had its reading
pronunciation for the same
 thus a shared literacy did
not confer a shared spoken
 1932 pronunciation forms
were normalized to reflect that
spoken in Beijing
communists actively
promoted use of Mandarin
Restoration of languages in decline may be
taken as an aspect of ethnic revival eg. Irish
 English was the language of social
prestige in the mid 16th century when the
English colonized Ireland and Irish went
into decline
Irish was the language of the poor
 In the mid 19th century Irish nationalist
movement emerged and sought to
encourage and revive the original language
 part of a national movement which led to
the Irish Free State
 Irish was made the official language
 support for it in the form of compulsory
education, bilingual publications etc.
A “slang” dialect used by certain groups of the African-American
Yo, Big Daddy upstairs,
You be chillin
So be yo hood
You be sayin' it, I be doin' it
In this here hood and yo's
Gimme some eats
And cut me some slack, Blood
Sos I be doin' it to dem dat diss me
Don't be pushing me into no jive
Ang keep dem crips away
Cause you always be da man, G
Straight up.
English First
English First is a national, non-profit grassroots lobbying organization
founded in 1986. The goal is to Make English America's official language
items that mark features of the speakers and for the hearers
 include pronouns, kinship terms, forms of address, and speech
 they create and sustain a relational social identity
Terms of address
 Is the formality of the setting relevant?
 Do you use kin titles to indicate a person's kinship
relation to you? Is age or generation relevant in
selecting them?
 Is relative status or rank relevant in selecting an
appropriate term in your community?
 What, if any, is the age difference between people
which is considered relevant in determining address
Naming in English
Who am I?
• Professor Holdsworth
• Christopher John Holdsworth
• Dr C. J Holdsworth
• Christopher Holdsworth
• Holdsworth
• Holdsworth, Christopher
• Chris
• Dad
The grammar of English names
Three word-classes:
• Title (Mr, Prof, …)
• Given name (John, Mary, …)
• Family name (Holdsworth, Smith, …)
Normal order:
Possible combinations:
Not:T F
Professor Christopher Holdsworth
Professor Holdsworth
Christopher /Chris Holdsworth
Christopher / Chris
ok for some titles
NB: old-fashioned!
Professor Chris ungrammatical!!
The sociolinguistics of English
• Classification: Sex (Mr/Mrs; John/Mary)
• The Solidarity hierarchy
• The Power hierarchy
Solidarity relations to a:
Power relations to a:
To a close equal: a young friend
To a close equal: an old friend
To an even closer equal
To a close subordinate: a child
Even more subordinate: a pet
To equal acquaintances
To a superior stranger
What name do you use?
To superior stranger:
TF (Mr Smith)
To subordinate relative: G
To superior relative:T
To equal acquaintance: G
To superior acquaintance:?
Inequality reigns
salesman is subordinate to customer
dentist is superior to patient
teacher is superior to student
What if student = customer???
Power Semantic
• Determines which pronoun will be used on the basis of the
difference in social status (or power) between the speaker and
– wealth, age, sex, institutionalised role in the church, the state,
the army, the family ...
• The T of "intimacy" versus the V of "formality" (French tu or
• Based on an asymmetrical relation and is non-reciprocal.
Does naming matter?
To the hearer: Yes.
To the speaker: Yes.
A wrong choice can offend or hurt.
Decisions are difficult.
The better you speak English, the more a
wrong choice will offend.
Forms of address
terms of address vary with the nature of the relationship between
the reciprocal use of first names generally signifies an informal
intimate relationship between two persons
 a title and a last name used reciprocally indicates a more formal
or businesslike relationship between individuals of roughly equal
 nonreciprocal use of first names and titles is reserved for speakers
who recognize a marked difference in status between themselves
this status can be a function of age (as when a child refers to her
mother's friend as Mrs Miller and is in returned referred to as Sally)
 or it can be along occupational lines as when as person refers to
his boss by title and last name and is in return addressed as John
Use of polite language was one aspect of the
enactment of social hierarchy in the Thai court
 politeness entailed the correct use of formal
modes of addressing royalty with linguistic terms
that exalted royalty and humbled those of lower
 The first person pronoun used when addressing
the king meant `I the slave of the Lord Buddha'
 second person meant `the dust beneath the sole
of your august feet' meaning that the speaker did
not dare address the king directly but to the dirt
on the floor.
 The Thai person who addresses his comments
to the dirt beneath the king's shoe is invoking a
cultural image of `low status' but he is also
indexing relative identity in the social interaction
of discourse.
Language and gender
Three issues:
Do women and men speak a different
language / genderlect?
Do women and men behave differently in
How sexist is the English language?
Do Men and Women Use
Language Differently?
Men and women in conversation
Who talks more?
Who interrupts
Who introduces
Who asks
Who is more
Men and women in conversation
Who talks more?
Stereotype says that women talk more than men
A woman's tongue wags like a lamb's tail.
Foxes are all tail and women are all tongue.
The North Sea will sooner be found wanting in water
than a woman be at a loss for a word.
In numerous studies it has been shown that it is the
men who do most of the talking.
Who Interrupts and overlaps more?
InterOverSurvey of faculty X
interrupts ruptions laps
% of utterances MM
interruptions and MF
Zimmerman and West (1975)
Turn taking behaviour in mixed
sex conversations
• Turn-length: men take more and longer turns
• interruptions: mainly by men
• Silence (after speaker’s turn before addressee continues):
women's silence far longer
• back-channels: (e.g. um hmm, oh really?) women use more
(supportive behaviour)
• questions: 70 per cent by women, e.g. as a means for topic
introduction ("D’ya know what?")
• topics: men tried 29 times and succeed 28 times; women tried
47 times and succeeded 17 times
• women talk to other women about family and interpersonal
matters; while men talk to male friends about cars, sports,
work, motorcycles, carpentry, and politics
• women are more sensitive to social connotations of speech
(Tannen 1992: 75)
Intimacy versus independence
Many misunderstandings
in communications
between men and women
can be explained by men’s
strive for independence
and women’s strive for
–In other words, men
concentrate on status,
women on connections.
“Have you found a job?”
What a terrific idea!
What a divine idea!
Shit! You’ve put
the peanut butter in
the fridge again!
Oh dear! You’ve put
the peanut butter in
the fridge again!
Male speakers often use
socially disfavored variants of
sociolinguistic variables while
women tend to avoid these in
favor of socially more favored
women's language which
consists of polite deferential
ways of speaking which
ultimately subordinate
women in society
Some explanations for differences
Subordinate groups must be polite
Woman’s role as guardian of society’s values
Vernacular forms express machismo
Women have less access to power and status: they‘make up’ for
this by their preferences for the prestige (standard) linguistic
forms. This is thought to give them respect and some status.
(5) Women and men are socialised in different ways which is
reflected in their language use patterns.
(6) women may be more status conscious than men because:
– society sets more standards for women and
– Women’s typical activities do not confer status itself.
– this insecurity offers a parallel with the insecurity of the
lower middle class
(7) Women and men have different networks which lead to women
and men using different ways of speaking.
Crossing the Sex barrier: Asymmetries
• What happens when women adopt a masculine
• What happens when men adopt a feminine form?
• Why is it more of a stigma for men to use female
speech than the other way around?
– downward mobility?
Crossing the race barrier
• What happens when blacks talk like whites
• What happens when whites talk like blacks
Gender-exclusive differences
Tayana is a young Amazonian Indian woman
from the north-west Amazon Basin. She lives
with her husband and children and a number of
other families in a longhouse beside the river.
The language of her longhouse is Tuyuka, which
is the language of all the men in this tribe, and
the language she uses to talk to her children. She
comes from a different tribe and her first
language is Desano. She uses Desano to her
husband, and he replies in Tuyuka.
Japanese differences
Women’s form
Men’s form
Sexism in the English language
• The feminine as a marked category
– dog - bitch
(masc. = neutral term)
– lion - lioness
(masc. = neutral term)
– actor - actress
(fem. nowadays often avoided)
– manager - manageress (fem. suggests lower status, e.g. of
laundrette but not of bank)
– King –queen (fem. derogartory
• Generally, masculine terms often unmarked in the sense
– it is the feminine term that takes an ending
– only the masculine term can be used both for males and females.
Semantic derogation
• Semantic derogation: words referring to
women tend to decline through time
• Hussy, wench and girl
• But girl may also be used to indicate
intimacy among women if used by a woman
to women ("Come on girls, let's go!”)
Generic use of man and he
• The term “generic” means referring
generally (e.g. The tiger is a friendly beast
to refer to tigers in general)
• The words he and man are sometimes used
to refer to humans in general
• -man used as a kind of suffix
(Bolinger 1980, quoted by Graddol and Swann 1989: 103)
Man in contrast with dog
• The dog is a lot younger than
the bitch.
• The man is a lot younger than
the woman
• One of the dogs on the farm is a
beautiful Golden Retriever
• *One of the men on the farm is
a beautiful French woman.
• The dog next door has just
given birth to a puppy.
• *The man next door has just
given birth to a baby.
• The dog is a mammal.
• Man is a mammal.
• The dog is a mammal, i.e. it
gives birth to live young which
it suckles.
• *Man is a mammal, i.e. he gives
birth to live young which he
Lexicon: lexical Asymetries
Mistress v master
postman v lettercarrier (postperson)
Spinster v bachelor
chairman v chairperson, dept head, chair
v warlock
stewardess v flight attendant
governess v governor
v lord
v bull
Secretary v secret-ary
v cameroon pidgin ithe lexical bias reflects a social bias in the culture
What happens when you try to correct lexical bias?
Once alternatives have been offered, each speaker is faced with a choice
of which form to use.
Linguistic reflexes of social
• female doctor vs. male nurse
• woman executive but not man executive.
• governor and governess more or less equivalent
• master and mistress too used to be more or less
equivalent but now the latter has the additional
Suggestions for
non-sexist terms
prehistoric man
man a post
• milk deliverer
artificial, synthetic
prehistoric people
fill a post
statesperson, politician,
leader, diplomat
• supervisor
• guard
• firefighter
Does Language determine
how we Perceive the world?
Is Our thinking and Our
Behavoiur determined by
our language?
Sapir-Whorf hypothesis
'Human beings do not live in the objective world alone,
nor alone in the world of social activity as ordinarily
understood, but are very much at the mercy of the
particular language which has become the medium of
expression for their society. It is quite an illusion to
imagine that one adjusts to reality essentially without the
use of language and that language is merely an
incidental means of solving specific problems of
communication and reflection. The fact of the matter is
that the "real world" is to a large extent unconsciously
built up on the language habits of the group.' 1929
Sapir-Whorf hypothesis
two basic principles:
1. linguistic determinism
 the language we use to some extent determines the
way in which we view and think about the world
Strong determinism
language actually determines thought, that
language and thought are identical.
Weak determinism
thought is merely affected by or influenced by our
2. linguistic relativity
distinctions encoded in one language are
unique to that language alone.
Eg. The Colour spectrum, is a continuum,
each colour gradually blending into the next;
there are no sharp boundaries. But we impose
boundaries; we talk of red, orange, yellow,
green, blue, indigo, and violet.
these discriminations are arbitrary and
indeed in other languages the boundaries are
Colour Terms
•Dani (New Guinea) have only two colour categories
•mili which means dark, cold colours such as black
•mola which means warm, bright colours such as
•languages with three colour terms add Red
•those with four add yellow
•English has 11
(red, yellow, black, white, green, blue, purple, pink,
brown, orange, grey)
Sapir-Whorf hypothesis
Sapir Whorf says habitual thought
might be influenced, if not
determined, by linguistic structures.
We perceive the world through
language - the colors we see is
predetermined by what our culture
prepares us to see
do we see blue and green colours
because our language has two
different names for these two
neighbouring parts of the colour
Can the Tiv perceive or
distinguish between Red and
Sapir-Whorf hypothesis
The physiology of our eyes is essentially the same.
All normal humans share similar sense perceptions of color
despite differences in color terminology from one language to
People can see subtle gradations of color and can comprehend
other ways of dividing up the spectrum of visible light.
However, as a society's economy and technology increase in
complexity, the number of color terms usually also increases.
i.e. the spectrum of visible light gets subdivided into more
As the environment changes, culture and language typically
respond by creating new terminology to describe it.
Which belong together?
The red things and the blue
Or the strings and the
Carroll and Casagrande looked Navaho Indians
•they place great stress on form and shape, rigidity and material
from which an object is constructed
•they gave three groups of children
•one Navaho speaking
•one English speaking
•one bilingual
•showed them a green stick, a green rope and a blue rope
•asked them which objects went together
•Navaho speakers said objects with the same form i.e. ropes went
•English speakers categorize by colour rather than form put green
stick and green rope together
•confirms the relativity of language hypothesis
Language and Gender Concept
do children learn to recognize themselves as boys or girls
when their language emphasizes gender?
 Alexander Guiora looked at children in Hebrew speaking
homes, Finnish, speaking homes and English speaking homes
Hebrew has the most gender emphasis of the three languages nouns are either masculine or feminine and even second person
and plurals are differentiated by gender
 English emphasizes gender less, only in third person singular
his and hers
 Finish emphasizes gender least, only man and woman convey
 Consistent with the idea that language may influence thought
Hebrew speaking children acquired the concept of gender
identity the earliest on the average and Finnish speaking
children the latest
Criticisms of Sapir Whorf
If language determines thought then language must precede
- but even pre-linguistic babies can think
- not all activities involve language but do involve thought
Differences are not in thought but in ways of expressing the
same thoughts
-if this were not so then it would be impossible to translate
Sapir-Whorf hypothesis not generally accepted that language
channels thought
general view now is that language sets up a filter between the
human being and the world he or she perceives that heightens
certain perceptions and dims others.

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