Saturday, May 18, 2013

Q: Abstraction / Socio-Linguistics - A Study of Language and Society

Q: Abstraction / Socio-Linguistics - A Study of Language and Society
            Language is a social-cultural-geographical phenomenon. There is a deep relationship between language and society. It is in society that man acquires and uses language. When we study a language which is an abstraction of abstractions, a system of systems, we have to study its further abstractions such as dialects, sociolects, idiolects, etc. That is why we have to keep in mind the geographical area in which this language is spoken, the culture and the society in which it is used, the speakers who use it, the listeners for whom it is used, and the purpose for which it is used, besides the linguistic components that compose it. Only then can our study of a language be complete and comprehensive. So we must look at language not only from within but also from without; we should study language from the points of view of both form and functions.

            Socio-linguistics is the study of speech functions according to the speaker, the hearer, their relationship and contact, the context and the situation, the topic of discourse, the purpose of discourse, and the form of discourse. An informal definition of socio-linguistics suggested by a linguist is that it is the study of : ‘Who can say what how, using what means, to whom and why.” It studies the causes and consequences of linguistic behaviour in human societies; it is concerned with the function of language, and studies language from without.

            Socio-linguistics is a fascinating and challenging field of linguistics. It studies the ways in which language interacts with society. It is the study of the way in which the structure of a language changes in response to its different social functions, and the definition of what these functions are. ‘Society, here is to cover a spectrum of phenomena to do with race, nationality, more restricted regional, social and political groups, and the interactions of individuals within groups. Different labels have sometimes been suggested to cover various parts of this spectrum. ETHNOLINGUISTICS is sometimes distinguished from the rest, referring to the linguistic correlates and problems of ethnic groups—illustrated at a practical level by the linguistic consequences of immigration; there is a language side to race relations. The term ANTHROPOLOGICAL LINGUISTICS is sometimes distinguished from ‘sociological linguistics’, depending on one’s particular views as to the validity or otherwise of a distinction between anthropology and sociology in the first place (for example, the former studying primitive cultures, the latter studying more ‘advanced’ political units; but this distinction is not maintained by many others). ‘Stylistics’ is another label which is sometimes distinguished, referring to the study of the distinctive linguistic characteristics of smaller social groupings. But more usually, stylistics refers to the study of the literary expression of a community using language. Socio linguistics gradually merges into ethno-linguistics, anthropological linguistics, stylistics and the subject-matter of psychology.

            Broadly speaking, however, the study of language as part of culture and society has now commonly been accepted as Sociolingustics. But there are also some other expressions which have been used at one time or another, including ‘the sociology of language’, ‘social linguistics’, ‘institutional linguistics’, ‘anotheropological linguistics’, ‘linguistic anthropology’, ‘ethnolinguistics’, the ‘ethnography of communication’, etc.

            The kinds of problems which are faced by the sociolinguist are: the problems of communities which develop a standard language, and the reactions of minority groups to this (as in Belgium, India, Pakistan or Wales); the problems of people who have to be educated to linguistic level where they can cope with the demands of a variety of social situations; the problems of communication which exist between nations or groups using a different language, which affects their ‘world-view’ (for example the problem of popularizing Russian among the nations which are friendly to Russia); the problems caused by linguistic change in response to social factors; the problems caused or solved by bilingualism or multilingualism. By this however, we do not mean that socio-linguistics can or does solve all such problems as stated above. Yet it can identify precisely what the problems are and provide information about the particular manifestation of a problem in a given area, so that possible solutions can thereby be found out or expedited. Furthermore, problems related to interference, code-switching or dialect-switching can be successfully handled by socio-linguistics. But the success of socio-linguistics ultimately depends upon ‘pure linguistics’.

            The scope of socio-linguistics, therefore, is the interaction of language and various sociologically definable variables such as social class, specific social situation, status and roles of speakers/hearers, etc. As J.B. Pride says, socio-linguistics is not simply ‘amalgam of linguistics and sociology (or indeed of linguistics and any other of the social sciences)’. It incorporates, in principle at least, every aspect of the structure and use of language that relates to its social and cultural functions. Hence there seems no real conflict between the socio-linguistics and the psycho-linguistic approach to language. Both these views should be reconciled ultimately. Linguisticians like John Lyons and cognitive psychologists like Campbell and Wales advocate the necessity of widening the notion of competence to take account of a great deal of what might be called the ‘social context’ of speech.

Language Variation
Language with its different varieties is the subject matter of socio-linguistics. Socio-linguistics studies the varied linguistic realizations of socio-cultural meanings which in a sense are both familiar and unfamiliar and the occurrence of everyday social interactions which are nevertheless relative to particular cultures, societies, social groups, speech communities, languages, dialects, varieties, styles. That is why language variation generally forms a part of socio-linguistic study.

Language can vary, not only from one individual to the next, but also from one sub-section of speech-community (family, village, town, region) to another. People of different age, sex, social classes, occupations, or cultural groups in the same community will show variations in their speech. Thus language varies in geographical and social space. variability in a social dimension is called sociolectical. According to socio-linguists, a language is code.  There exist varieties within the code. And the factors that cause language variation can be summarized in the following manner:
  1. Nature of participants, their relationship (socio-economic, sexual, occupational, etc. Number of participants (two face-to-face, one addressing a large audience, etc.)
  2. Role of participants (teacher/student priest / parishioner /father/son/husband/wife, etc.)
  3. Function of speech event (persuasion, request for information ritual, verbal, etc.)
  4. Nature of medium (speech, writing, scripted speech, speech reinforced by gesture, etc.)
  5. Genere of discourse (scientific, experiment, sport, art, religion, etc.)
  6. Physical setting (noisy / quiet / public / private / family / formal/familiar/unfamiliar, etc.