Chapters 5 and 6 –
Speech Communities and Language Variation
Top left: Greek
Bottom left: Cherokee
Middle: Arabic
Top right: Russian
What is language?
A system of symbols with standard
Allows humans to communicate and is
the main vehicle of transmission of
Language provides context for symbolic
Other Communication
• Body language (kinesics), tone of voice, personal space
(proxemics), gesture
• Writing, mathematics, music, painting, signs
Sounds, odors, body movements
Call systems, ethologists
ASL – American Sign Language
Speech Community
“some kind of social group whose
speech characteristics are of interest
and can be described in a coherent
manner” Wardhaugh 116
“fuzzy” Wardhaugh 116
Groups? What does that mean? How do we
avoid stereotyping?
Ethnicity, class, geography, etc
“Our search must be for criteria
other than, or at least in addition
to, linguistic criteria if we are to
gain a useful understanding of
‘speech community.’ (Wardhaugh
“…a search for the various
characteristics which make
individuals feel that they are
members of the same
community” (Wardhaugh 118)
“r” dropping in NY, though
commonly done, is considered
“low” pahk de cah
“r” dropping in South England is
considered “posh” ‘fahthah’
“h” dropping considered low in
South England but normal in
most American dialects
Eliza Doolittle vs “it’s erbal
A speech community is defined as much by
what it is not as what it is. The group must
manifest regular relationships between
language use and social structure, and there
must be norms (Wardhaugh 120)
Language and Culture not always
Language and Culture not always connected
Ngoni of Africa
No longer speak their own language but have
adopted language of the people they
conquered in Malawi.
“However, they use that language in ways
they have carried over from Ngoni, ways they
maintain because they consider them to be
essential to their continued identity as a
people” (Wardhaugh 120)
Groups in North America with
culture but not language?
Which ones
Are these “speech communities?”
Magdalene College, Cambridge!
• Lower Middle Class speakers sometimes
use prestige features at a greater rate than
Upper Middle Class speakers.
• And LMC speakers use stigmatized
features at a lower rate than the UMC.
• Because the LMC wish to achieve the next
higher level of status, they attempt to talk
like members of the next higher class, but
they go too far.
Gender and Language Variation
• Trudgill also studied the effect of gender
on variation in word-final –ing in words like
running (runnin') and swimming
• He found that women tend to use more
standard language features than men.
• And men tend to use more vernacular
forms in their speech.
We’ll try to return to this in the section of the
text on language and gender
Discussion Questions p. 122 Take
30 minutes in groups
1. Try to label yourself according to what kind(s) of English you
speak. Explain why you choose the specific terms you use and
any connotations these terms have for you, e.g. Lancastrian,
Bakersfeldian, Texan English, Californian, American
3. In what respects do the following pairs of people belong to
the same speech community or to different ones: Presidents Bill
Clinton and GWBush; Madonna and Guy Ritchie; Hugh Grant
and Carey Grant; Sean Connery and Ewan McGregor
4. Describe the linguistic uses of some bilinguals with whom you are familiar.
When do they use each of the languages? If you are bilingual yourself, in what
ways do you identify with people who show the same range of linguistic
abilities? A different range?
5. Answer question 5, time permitting.
Intersecting Communities
A great deal of bilingualism in the
modern world
Most speech communities are fairly fluid
What should the ‘target’ language and
dialect be?
Individuals shift identities and speech
and languages freely
Communities of Practice
“an aggregate of people who come together
around mutual engagements in some
common endeavor. Ways of doing things,
ways of talking, beliefs, values, power
relations – in short, practices – emerge in the
course of their joint activity around that
endeavor” Ekert and McConnell-Ginet in
Wardhaugh 125
Examples? Gangs, reading groups, etc…
Look at questions 1 and 2 on p.
What is Social Class?
• Social class involves grouping people together and according
them status within society according to the groups they
belong to.
What is Social Class?
• A number of modern thinkers have tried to
define what makes a particular “social
– Is it accent?
Determinants of Social Class
• Personal performance
– Education
– Occupation
– Income
– Awards and achievements
• Wealth
– Amount
– Source
• Social orientation
– Interactions
– Class consciousness
– Value orientation
The United States of America
is a classless and egalitarian
Do you agree or disagree?
Class Structure in the U.S.
• Two upper classes
– Upper upper : Old money
– Lower upper : New money
• Three middle classes
– Upper middle : Professional
– Middle class : White collar and entrepreneurs
– Working class : Blue collar
• Two lower classes
– Upper lower : Unskilled laborers
– Lower lower : Socially and economically
Tend to think they are middle class or
upper class or upper middle class
Tend to think that they will be upper
class someday
Indexes of Social Class
• How you look
• How you dress
• How you talk
• What you like to do
• Where you live
• What your house looks like
• What you eat
a lot of food, good tasting food, good looking food
Variables of Social Class
• Power
– The degree to which a person can control other people
• Wealth
– Objects or symbols owned by people which have value
attached to them
• Prestige
– The degree of respect, favorable regard, or
importance accorded to a person by members of
Networks and Repetoires
Various network relationships on p. 127.
These diagrams show that a person can
be part of various speech communities,
some that intersect and some that do
not. Certain individuals may be in one
or more groups but not others.
Social Class and Speech
• Peter Trudgill studied variation in word-final ing
in words like running (runnin') and swimming
(swimmin') in Norwich, England.
• Four speech styles
– Reading aloud of word lists
– Reading aloud of text
– Formal speech
– Casual speech
• Trudgill found that variation across speech styles
parallels variation across social class.
What method is used in our accent
presentations? Should we include class?
Now it is time for a ten minute
break. When you return, we will
do 10 to 15 accent presentations
Language Variation
Language Variation
Regional Dialects (geography)
Social Dialects (class, group, ethnicity, etc)
Regional Variation
Traditional study of dialect
Important part of Historical Linguistics
Family trees and phonemic “splits”
between languages and dialects
attributed to time, space, etc…
Latin v /w/ to /v/ in later period
IE. *ptr to Latin pater to French pere
To Germanic fader to English father
Dialect in Old English
They no doubt existed, but we don’t
see them in the manuscripts very much
because scribes wrote the literary
standard for of Old English
Hwaet we gardena in geardagum
theodkinginga thrim gefrunon
Dialects in Middle English
At least five
Kentish was originally spoken over the whole southeastern part
of England, including London and Essex, but during the Middle
English period its area was steadily diminished by the
encroachment of the East Midland dialect, especially after
London became an East Midland-speaking city (see below); in
late Middle English the Kentish dialect was confined to Kent and
Sussex. In the Early Modern period, after the London dialect
had begun to replace the dialects of neighboring areas, Kentish
died out, leaving no descendants. Kentish is interesting to
linguists because on the one hand its sound system shows
distinctive innovations (already in the Old English period), but
on the other its syntax and verb inflection are extremely
conservative; as late as 1340, Kentish syntax is still virtually
identical with Old English syntax.
The Southern dialect of Middle English was spoken in the area
west of Sussex and south and southwest of the Thames. It was
the direct descendant of the West Saxon dialect of Old English,
which was the colloquial basis for the Anglo-Saxon court dialect
of Old English. Southern Middle English is a conservative dialect
(though not as conservative as Kentish), which shows little
influence from other languages — most importantly, no
Scandinavian influence (see below). Descendants of Southern
Middle English still survive in the working-class country dialects
of the extreme southwest of England.
By contrast with these southernmost dialects, Northern Middle English
evolved rapidly: the inflectional systems of its nouns and verbs were
already sharply reduced by 1300, and its syntax is also innovative (and
thus more like that of Modern English). These developments were
probably the result of Scandinavian influence. In the aftermath of the
great Scandinavian invasions of the 860's and 870's, large numbers of
Scandinavian families settled in northern and northeastern England.
When the descendants of King Alfred the Great of Wessex reconquered
those areas (in the first half of the 10th century), the Scandinavian
settlers, who spoke Old Norse, were obliged to learn Old English. But in
some areas their settlements had so completely displaced the
preexisting English settlements that they cannot have had sufficient
contact with native speakers of Old English to learn the language well.
More on Northern
They learned it badly, carrying over into their English various
features of Norse (such as the pronoun they and the noun law
), and also producing a simplified syntax that was neither good
English nor good Norse. Those developments can be clearly
seen in a few late Old English documents from the region, such
as the glosses on the Lindisfarne Gospels (ca. 950) and the
Aldbrough sundial (late 11th century). None of this would have
mattered for the development of English as a whole if the
speakers of this "Norsified English" had been powerless
peasants; but they were not. Most were freeholding farmers,
and in many northern districts they constituted the local power
structure. Thus their bad English became the local prestige
norm, survived, and eventually began to spread (much later —
see below).
East-Midland and West-Midland
The East-Midland and West-Midland dialects of Middle English
are intermediate between the Northern and Southern/Kentish
extremes. In the West Midlands there is a gradation of dialect
peculiarities from Northern to Southern as one moves from
Lancashire to Cheshire and then down the Severn valley. This
dialect has left modern descendants in the working- class
country dialects of the area. The East-Midland dialect is much
more interesting. The northern parts of its dialect area were
also an area of heavy Scandinavian settlement, so that northern
East-Midland Middle English shows the same kinds of rapid
development as its Northern neighbor. But the subdialect
boundaries within East-Midland were far from static: the more
northerly variety spread steadily southward, extending the
influence of Scandinavianized English long after the
Scandinavian population had been totally assimilated.
More on East and West Midland
In the 13th century this part of England, especially Norfolk and
Suffolk, began to outstrip the rest of the country in prosperity
and population because of the excellence of its agriculture, and
— crucially — increasing numbers of well-to-do speakers of
East-Midland began to move to London, bringing their dialect
with them. By the second half of the 14th century the dialect of
London and the area immediately to the northeast, which had
once been Kentish, was thoroughly East-Midland, and a rather
Scandinavianized East Midland at that. Since the London dialect
steadily gained in prestige from that time on and began to
develop into a literary standard, the northern, Scandinavianized
variety of East-Midland became the basis of standard Modern
English. For that reason, East-Midland is by far the most
important dialect of Middle English for the subsequent
development of the language.
Dialect Atlases
“Try to show the geographical
boundaries of the distribution of a
particular linguistic feature by drawing a
line on a map” (Wardhaugh 134)
Such a line is called an isogloss
On one side of the line people say one
thing, on the other they say a different
The isogloss is the boundary line
between groups who say something
When there are a number of different
things said on one side of the boundary
from what is said on the other side, we
can say that the boundary marks a
dialect boundary
Examples from some Middle
English Dialects
We’ll use the ELMO for this.
Relic areas and transition areas
(Back to modern examples)
Simply terms referring to sub areas where
shifts do not occur. As if the Antelope Valley
continued to refer to any bubbly soft drink as
‘coke’ while the rest of LA county shifted to
calling it ‘soda’. AV would be a relic area,
and perhaps Beverly Hills, a status area
where the shift might originate or Watts a low
status area where the shift might originate
would be focal areas and LA county would
be the transition area
The Soda pop page
American Dialect page
(note area for San Francisco
Linguistic Atlas of the US and Canada
“The selection of informants tends not to be very well
controlled” Wardhaugh 137
Broken down into simplified categories like high,
middle, and low class – no education, some
education, superior education – old, middle aged,
Most studies tend to prefer older people
One survey of British dialects instructed researchers
to choose informants who were over sixty, at least
second generation, and had good teeth
Dialects remember two kinds
Geographical dialects. We’ve just done.
Social dialects. We discussed social
dialect and class in the first part of this
William Labov
Sociolinguist who we mentioned in the
first part of this presentation
Interested in class and did most of his
studies in New York City.
Linguistic Variable
A linguistic item which has identified variants.
Fishin / fishing/ fishen
Car / cah With / wit / wif
Latin / la?in thirty / thirdy
Coffee / cowfee
“It was a macao Tom not a parrot!”
He’s happy / he be happy / he happy
Climbed / clomb
Look for a present for my mom / look for my mom
a present
Labov also uses indicator,
marker, stereotype
Indicator: a linguistic variable without social
importance. Cot/caught. merry/marry/Mary
Marker: a linguistic variable with social
significance. Car/cah, schedule/shedule,
Magdalene college/ Maudlin college, Down
Below/LA, Los Angeles/Los Angeles, The
Stereotype: a popular and therefore concious
characterization of speech of a group. Boid
for NY, Chap for Brit, Howdy partner, dude for
William Labov’s
Department Store Study
• Saks Fifth Avenue
– At 50th Street and 5th Avenue, near the center
of the high fashion shopping district
• Macy's
– Herald Square. 34th Street and Sixth Avenue,
near the garment district
• S. Klein
– Union Square. 14th Street and Broadway, not
far from the Lower East Side
Discussion Questions on p. 143
1. What is a shibboleth?
3. What linguistic variables might be
usefully investigated in our part of the
world? What kind of variations have you
4. Examples where people hypercorrect
and get things wrong? English avacado?
5. What’s wrong with double negatives?
It is I. We want to sound high class
sometimes, so we say and write things that
are stilted and/or purple.
The upper class often don’t care what fork
they use and use slang with relish. Middle
class people sometimes reveal themselves as
middle class by being too proper in dress,
behaviour, and language.
Labov and class
In one study (Wardhaugh 147) Labov
used education, occupation, and income
to set up ten social classes.
What class are you? How can we tell?
House size? In AV there wasn’t much
variation, now there is. Do people with
really big houses act and speak
Idiolects and Sociolects
Idiolect (idios Greek “self” lect
“speech” as in lecture): speech
characteristics and linguistic behaviour
of individuals
Sociolect: speech characteristics of
members of social groups
How can we tell if someone is speaking
in a unique way because of individual
difference rather than dialect?
Clint Eastwood? Truman Capote? Johny
Depp as Willy Wonka? Carol Channing?
Fran Drescher? George Bush?
Data Collection
How to we properly design and deliver
and analyze our studies
Observer’s paradox, how can we adjust
for our own biases
Can any sociolinguistic study be
completely objective and clean?
Questionnaires: four-fold distinctions
Casual situation
An interview
Reading aloud a story
Reading aloud a list of word pairs
Casual and careful speech
We should try to distinguish whether
the speech involved is casual or careful
What is the speech of the Please call
Stella speakers? Does it vary from
speaker to speaker?
Please call Stella
Are there any words that are clear
linguistic variables in the paragraph?
What is the different between the
accent of a native speaker and the
accent of a learner?
Random Sample or Judgment Sample
Random: usually better way to do it. It
is more objective, but more difficult to
Judgment sample: an investigator
chooses subjects according to a set of
criteria: age, gender, social class,
education, etc… These are the kind of
samples that sociolinguists usually take
Dependent and independent variables
The linguistic variable in these studies is the
dependent variable – the difference that we
are interested in.
Other variables may be incidental or
unrelated to the correlation being studied.
Statisticians consider most of these
sociolinguistic studies to lack sufficient rigour.
Sociolinguistics and scientific studies
Sociolinguists need to collect reliable
data, but how can they?
Since we can not even give satisfactory
definitions of sociolingustics, or
language, or society, or dialect, or
creole, how can we do scientific studies
in this field?
Epistemic relativism vs Logical Positivism
Relativism: sociolinguistic studies are not
useful because all linguistic norms are
relative. Jibberish or the sound of gas
escaping from a tube is as important and
interesting as human speech
Logical positivism: since we can not be sure
about any of these claims, we should not
make any claims. We need scientific proof.
Theoretical linguistics is about universals. It is
rigorous and highly structured.
Is Sociolinguistics
A science
A social science
Part of the humanities
A liberal studies requirement
Nonhuman Communication - Washoe
Born 1965
Taught ASL 1966
Mastered 100s of
First nonhuman to
learn language
Nonhuman Communication - Lana
Taught with
keyboard, 1970s
Able to use and
combine signs
Nonhuman Communication - Koko
1970s, first gorilla
taught ASL
IQ of 85 at 4 years
Koko learning ASL
Koko on AOL
Nonhuman Communication –
Nim Chimpsky
1980s taught ASL
Wouldn’t initiate
Never signed to
other chimps
Nim Chimpsky and
his namesake, the
famed linguist Noam
Nonhuman Communication - Kanzi
1980s, communicates
with lexigrams
Vocabulary of 90
Could understand
Command of syntax
Nonhuman Communication –
Jane Goodall
Gombe Game
Chimps need
stimulus to make
Since 1960s
Animal v. Human Communication
Four differences:
Productivity (infinite expressions)
Displacement (past, present, future)
Arbitrariness (no link between word and sound)
Combining sounds (phonemes)
• Dime versus dine or lock versus rock in English
• English has 45 phonemes; Italian 27; Hawaiian 13
• Nonhuman animals cannot combine sounds (1:1
correspondence of sounds)
Anatomy of Language
Wernicke’s area
Broca’s area
Motor cortex
Motor cortex
Like descriptive linguistics in a way, in that
sociolinguists are concerned with the
ethnography of speaking—cultural and
subcultural patterns of speech variation in
different social contexts.
Pronunciation and dialects
Honorifics and social status
Gender differences
Anatomy of Language
Respiratory System
Larger lung capacity
Larynx, pharynx
Tongue, lips, nose
Structure of Language
Phonology (sounds)
Morphology (words)
Syntax (sentence structure)
Semantics (meaning)
Pragmatics or grammar (rules)
Structure of Language - Phonology
The study of sounds of a language.
No human language uses all the sounds humans
can make.
IPA – International Phonetic Alphabet
Phonemes and phones
/l/ and /r/ = phonemes (English has 40)
/p/ and /ph/ = phones
Ghoti = fish (tough, women, position)
Other sounds
Tones, nasals, clicks (Genesis in the !Kung language)
Structure of Language - Morphology
Morphemes are the smallest units of
Words (dog, cat) = free morphemes
Prefixes (un-, sub-)
= bound morphemes
Syllables (-s, -ly )
Declining and conjugating
Verbs are conjugated (am, are, is)
Nouns are declined in some languages
• Latin, Greek, German, Russian, etc.
• Word form changes based on position in sentence.
Structure of Language - Syntax
Rules for how to put together sentences and
Six possible arrangements, based on Subject, Verb,
English is SVO = The girl will hit the boy.
Forming questions: English = V1SV2O?
Structure of Language - Syntax
Example of syntax
Lewis Carroll’s Jabberwocky:
‘Twas brillig, and the slithy toves
Did gyre and gimble in the wabe.
All mimsy were the borogoves,
And the mome raths outgrabe.
Structure of Language - Semantics
The meaning of symbols, words, phrases,
and sentences of a language.
Ethnosemantics and kinship terms
Aunt/uncle versus non-gendered cousin
Evolution of Language
Old Theories:
“bowwow” and “ding-dong”
Locke, B.F. Skinner, Descartes
New Theories:
Noam Chomsky
• Universal and generative grammar
• Principles and parameters
Creoles, pidgins, and Ebonics
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:
Linguistic divergence
Gradual or by force
Historical Linguistics – Old English
Compare Old, Middle, and Modern
Beowulf (Old English):
Hwæt! We Gardena in geardagum,
þeodcyninga, þrym gefrunon,
hu ða æþelingas ellen fremedon.
Oft Scyld Scefing sceaþena þreatum,
monegum mægþum, meodosetla ofteah,
egsode eorlas.
Lo, praise of the prowess of peoplekings of spear-armed Danes, in days
long sped, we have heard, and what
honor the athelings won! Oft Scyld
the Scefing tore the mead-bench
from squadroned foes, from many a
tribe awing the earls.
Historical Linguistics –
Middle English
The Canterbury Tales (Middle English):
This worthy lymytour, this noble Frere,
He made alwey a maner louryng chiere
Upon the Somonour, but for honestee
No vileyns word as yet to hym spak he.
This worthy limiter, this noble friar,
He turned always a lowering face, and dire,
Upon the summoner, but for courtesy
No rude and insolent word as yet spoke he.
Descriptive 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 speech.
Fun Stuff
Language as art
Left to Right:
Fun Stuff
Internet and English
… as a tool of mass communication
… as a way to propagate non-standard English
… as a dialect, or a linguistic event?
Romeo & Juliet - IM style

Chapters 5 and 6 – Speech Communities and Language …