SocioLinguistics – 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:
Nature of participants, their relationship (socio-economic, sexual, occupational, etc.
Number of participants (two face-to-face, one addressing a large audience, etc.)
Role of participants (teacher/student priest / parishioner /father/son/husband/wife, etc.)
Function of speech event (persuasion, request for information ritual, verbal, etc.)
Nature of medium (speech, writing, scripted speech, speech reinforced by gesture, etc.)
Genere of discourse (scientific, experiment, sport, art, religion, etc.)
Physical setting (noisy / quiet / public / private / family / formal/familiar/unfamiliar, etc.
Language Varieties
Language varies from region to region, class to class, profession to profession, person to person, and even situation to situation. Socio-linguistics tends to describe these variations in language with reference to their relationship with society. It shows that the relationship between language variation and society is rather a systematic relationship. It manifests that there are four major social factors involve in this variation: socio-economic status, age, gender, and ethnic background of the user or users of language. Due to all these four factors language differs on four levels chiefly:
1.   Phonological Level
2.   Lexical Level
3.   Syntax Level
4.   Discourse Level
In other words, variation within a language with reference to its use or user can be defined in terms of ‘difference of linguistic items’. R. A. Hudson in his Sociolinguistics manifests:
“What makes a language variety different from another is linguistic items that it includes, so we may define a variety of language as a set of linguistic items with similar social distribution”.
So, to describe language varieties, on one side there are linguistic items and on the other there is ‘social distribution’. Let’s take two different social classes for example: Middle Class and Working Class. Language of Working Class is different form that of Middle Class. The choice of vocabulary of one class is quite different from the other. Middle class uses more adjective, adverbs and impersonal pronouns. Whereas Working class uses active and simple words and here is lesser use of adjective, adverbs and impersonal pronouns. Lower class speech (restricted code) is more direct with simple grammatical construction in contrast with middle class speech (elaborated code). If a person wants to ask for the cake placed on table, person of working class may ask another person: “shove those buns mate”. A middle class person will say the same thing in rather different way: “Please pass the cake”
In the following, six major language verities will be discussed, namely: Idiolect, Register, Diglossia, Pidgin, Lingua Franca and Esperanto. Besides this, it will also be observed that how a language variety differs from another closely related variety. For instance, what is difference between Idiolect and sociolect? How register differs from dialect? What makes distinguish pidgin from other varieties?
Idiolect:
Every person have some differences with people around him. From eating habits to dressing, everyone has some quite unique feature. The same is the case with individual language use. Every individual have some idiosyncratic linguistic features in his or her use of language. These personal linguistic features are known as Idiolect. David crystal in his Dictionary of Linguistics and phonetics defines Idiolect as:
“[Idolect] refers to Linguistic system of an individual—one’s personal dialect”.
This ‘linguistic system’ can be described in terms of personal choice of vocabulary, grammatical structures, and individual style of pronunciation. In other words idiolect refers to a person’s individual phonology, syntax and lexicon.
For instance some individuals use lower pitch and some other speak with higher pitch. Some are in habit of speaking with harder tone and it feels as if they are speaking with anger, even though they are speaking ‘sweetly’ on their side. Similarly, some individual’s use their nasal cavity, more than their vocal cord, in their production of sound and listener feels as some sharp whistle is blowing.
The best example of particular choice of vocabulary is individual use of ‘catch phrases’. Most frequent among these are “I say”, “I mean”, “do you understand?” and “what do you think?” Some catch phrases are rather interesting and their use becomes cause of amusement. For example a student at my university is in habit of using “Bhai” with every third or fourth sentence. Once his audience was a girl instead of boy. When he said “Bhai, main explain kar raha thaa…”. The girl corrected him and said “bhai nahi bhan!” and he promptly replied, “Oh bhai, I mean…”
In this way a person’s speech is distinguished from other individuals and form any speech community. Idiolect is a minor speech variety than sociolect, which is used by any social class. Idiolect varies with individual whereas sociolect varies with class defined on socio-economic bases. Idiolect, sociolect and dialect are the varieties which depend on their user. However, there is another scheme of language varieties distinguishing from one and another in term of their use rather than user. Register is one of them.
Register:
Human beings are not static. Their thinking, choice, and behavior vary according to need and situation. As they adapt their behavior according to the situation, they adapt their language. This adaptation of language according to situation, context and purpose forms a language variety that is called ‘Register’. David Crystal defines Register as:
“A variety of language defined according to its use in a social situation”.
Language of individual varies from situation to situation. At some occasions people talk very formally, on some other occasions they talk technically as well as formally. At some other occasion they become informal yet technical and some times informal and non-technical. Following is the example of all these ‘levels of formalities’:
Formal technical:                “We obtained some sodium chloride.”
Formal non-technical:         “We obtained some salt.”
Informal technical:              “We got some sodium chloride.”
Informal non-technical:       “We got some salt.”
There are two other levels: Slang, and vulgar. Question is that why a person adopts these different levels of formalities? Halliday tries to describe it in terms of ‘three dimensions’.
Michael Halliday in his Language as Social Semiotic defines register as “A complex scheme of communicative behaviour”. He observes that this scheme of behaviour has three dimensions: Field, Tenor, and Mode. These three dimensions determine speaker’s choice of ‘linguistic items’.
Field implies why and about what the communication is? In simple, what is the purpose and subject matter of communication? For example, a doctor’s communication with other doctors will be containing more medical terminology i.e., he will be using medical register.
The same doctor will communicate with his patient in as simple language as possible. So the patient is ‘Tenor’ that means to whom the communication is being done. Other example of determination of speech by ‘Tenor’ is the difference of a person’s communication with a teacher than with a friend.
Mode is the means of communication. If the mode of communication is letter, its language will be different from direct conversation. If it is an essay, its language will be differing from that of letter even though written about the same topic.
‘Register’ as a language variety differs from dialect_ sociolect and idiolect. These differences are:
Register
Dialect
Register is a language variety according to use
Dialect is language variety according
to user
It may be related to any particular profession or situation
It may be related to any region or social class
It shows what the user of language is doing.
It shows who the user is.
Register is a set of particular linguistic items to be used in a particular situation
Dialect is a set of linguistic items to be used by people of particular area or class.
Up till now the different variations within a language were being dealt but there are certain situations where two or more languages are used which causes such variations that are beyond the range of one language. One of these variations is known as pidgin. There is a situation in which two or more languages are used with in a society. That is known as ‘Diglossia’. Let’s discuss the situation.
Diglossia:
Diglossia is not a language variety but a ‘linguistic situation’ where more than one languages are used. In English language, term Diglossia was introduced by Charles Ferguson. He used this term to refer to those societies where two very different varieties of the same language were being used. He said:
      “Diglossia is a relatively stable language situation in which, in addition to the primary dialect of the language (which may include standard or regional standards), there is very highly codified (often grammatically complex) superposed variety.”
In Ferguson’s theory that society is ‘diglossic’ where two ‘divergent’ varieties of the same language are used, out of which one is ‘highly codified’. Arabic speaking countries are the best examples of ‘Diglossia’. Throughout the Arabic peninsula there are two varieties of Arabic language in use: Classical Arabic, and Vernaculars. Classical Arabic, which is based on the Qur’anic language, is highly codified and complex and has stable grammatical structure since The Holy Qur’an is revealed. This language is ‘Lingua Franca’ of Arabic Peninsula and is being taught in schools and also the language of media. Every one has to learn this variety especially and not acquired “by being born in right kind of family”. Everywhere in diglossic society, vernaculars are used for daily routine conversation. Other examples of diglossic societies are Greece, where high variety is Katharevousa and low is Dhimotiki, and German speaking Switzerland with Hochdeutsch as a high and Schweizerdeutsch as a low variety of those same languages.
It is obvious from Ferguson’s definition that only that society was considered diglossic where two varieties, one high and another low, of the same language were used. However, later on, Joshua Fishman, extend the term to that society where two different languages are used. According to this extension almost all societies become diglossic society.
Ferguson also purposed that there is a strong tendency to give one language higher status or prestige and reserve it for specific occasion and purposes. According to this notion, Pakistani society is strongly a diglossic society where there are not two but three languages exist with different status. In Punjab for example, Punjabi is used at personal level, Urdu is used on social level and English is ‘reserved’ for high formal occasions. The existence of different languages in a society provides them to emerge into each other and sometimes results into a new mixture of languages that is called Pidgin.
Pidgin:
Pidgin is an ‘odd mixture’ of two languages which cannot be said a divergent variety of ‘a language’ but of two or more languages. Here languages mixed up oddly that from morphemes to sentence structure every thing reduces and mingles strangely. David crystal defines pidgin as:
“A language with a markedly reduced grammatical structure, lexicon, and stylistic range, compared with other languages, and which is native language of non…and are formed by two mutually unintelligible speech communities attempting to communicate.”
The vocabulary of a pidgin comes mainly from one particular language called the “lexifier”. An early “pre-pidgin” is quite restricted in use and variable in structure. But the later “stable pidgin” develops its own grammatical rules which are quite different from those of the lexifier. These names of pidgins themselves reflect how the vocabulary emerges: chinglish “Chinese English” or engrish “English Chinese” and. Singlish. However it becomes more complex with the passage of time.
Since pidgin emerges out of practical need of communication between two different language communities having no greater language to interact, it is also called ‘contact language’. R. A. Hudson in his Sociolinguistics states:
“Pidgin is a variety especially created for the purpose of communication with some other group, and not used by any community for communication among themselves.”
So pidgin is out come of interaction between two entirely different ‘speech communities’. It develops because neither of the communities ‘learns’ the language of others due to different reasons.
Sometimes practically it is impossible to learn either of the languages so quickly and there is strong need of interaction, as for business purposes or immediate political needs.
Most of the present pidgins have developed in European colonies. A few examples are: Hawaii Creole English, AAVE, Papiamentu “Geordie Cameroon Pidgin Krio “Singlish” Tok Pisin, Bislama. Out of these, many have developed as Creoles.
Major difference between pidgin and Creole is that former has no native speakers but later has. In fact, when any pidgin is acquired by children of any community it becomes Creole. At that time it develops its new structures and vocabulary. In other words when a pidgin becomes ‘lingua franca’ it is called Creole.
An old example of pidgin, that later developed into creol, was “lingua franca”. It referred to a mix of mostly Italian with a broad vocabulary drawn from Turkish, Persian, French, Greek and Arabic. This mixed language was used for communication throughout the medieval and early modern Middle East as a diplomatic language. Term “lingua franca” has since become common for any language used by speakers of different languages to communicate with one another.
Lingua Franca:
Lingua franca is any inter-language used beyond its native speakers for that sake of communication between the speech communities having different languages. David Crystal defines it as:
      “An auxiliary language used to enable routine communication to take place between groups of people who speak different native languages”.
Term ‘lingua franca’ is an old one and its origin is Italian means “Frankish language”. It was derived from the medieval Arab Muslim use of “Franks” mean ancient Germanic people. The Muslims used it as a generic term for Europeans during the period of the Crusades. Formerly, the term refered to an old pidgin, mixture of Italian, Turkish, Arabic, Persian, Greek and French. This pidgin was widely used in the Mediterranean area from the 14th century or earlier and still in use in the 20th century. This language served as diplomatic and trade language. However, now this term refers to any language that serves to communicate between different larger speech communities.
There are many languages which have served as ‘Lingua Franca’ during the course of history. For instance, during the domination of Roman Empire, lingua franca was Latin in the East and Greek in the west. With the rise of the Arab Muslims, Arabic became lingua franca in the East from South Asia to North Africa and even western part of southern Europe. Persian also have enjoyed this status around 15th century till 19th century in Indian-subcontinent and Centeral Asia. Until the late-19th and early-20th centuries, Classical Chinese served as both a lingua franca and diplomatic language for Far East Asia, used by China, Korea, Japan, the Ryukyus, and Vietnam in interstate communications. In Europe, From 18th century till World War II, French worked as interlingua among European nations. And now English has occupied this place and is serving as diplomatic and commerce language around the globe.
Esperanto:
The idea of a universal language is at least as old as the Biblical story of Babel and its fall. In the 18th century, some rationalist natural philosophers sought to recover the Edenic language that was confused in the city of Babel. Gottfried Leibniz, 18th century German rationalist philosopher, marked many elements relating to the possibility of universal language in his work. Later on, many scholars and philosophers worked on this idea. Some stressed on finding the most ancient language assuming that it would be closer to the Edenic whereas some other stressed on ‘planning’ a ‘universal language’ considering the most common structures of human languages. The major practical out come was the development of Esperanto.
Esperanto is a planned language intended for use between people who speak different native languages. This artificial language was invented in 1887 by a Polish physician Dr. L. L. Zamenhof. It is based on roots common to the chief European languages with endings standardized. Dr. Zamenhof rejected other European languages such as French, German, English because they were difficult to learn as second language and due to strong nationalism any nation will not learn the language of other as a superior one. He also rejected ancient languages, Greek and Latin, for they were far more complex than the modern languages. Thus he purposed his planned language, Esperanto. Two basic advantages of this artificial language were claimed:
·         It is a neutral language, being the property of no particular group of people and therefore the equal property of everybody.
·         It is relatively easy to learn. It would appear from personal experience and anecdotal evidence that, for an English speaker, Esperanto is perhaps five times as easy to learn as Spanish, ten times as easy as Russian, and “considerably” easier than Chinese, and Japanese.
Esperanto has, as claimed by Esperantists, a number of features that make it relatively easy to learn:
·         A regular and phonetic spelling system:
Esperanto phonetics spelling system (one letter = one sound) can be learnt more easily than any other language. Where the Chinese school child must spend years learning the relationship between the spoken and written language, and the American school child must spend an almost equally long period learning to spell, the Esperanto system can be learned in about half an hour. This also includes a regular system of accentuation.
·         A regular and exception-free formal grammar:
Esperanto grammar can be learnt with a mere sixteen grammatical rules. After learning eleven invariable grammatical endings and how they are used, one will immediately be able to invent grammatically correct, usable and useful sentences in Esperanto.
·         A regular system of forming new words from already known words:
This is particularly useful because it allows to take a fairly small basic vocabulary (about 500 items, including word-roots, particles, and affixes) and carry on long and fairly complex discussions about a wide range of topics, including technical ones. While modern Esperanto has a considerably larger overall vocabulary of unique roots (officially, about 9000 at last count), many of these are simply synonymous with words that can be formed from the most basic roots, and it is always considered acceptable to create one’s own words rather than borrowing somebody else’s.
The number of Esperanto speakers, according to a careful figure, is two million. The speakers are more numerous in Europe and East Asia than in the Americas, Africa and Oceanian, and more numerous in urban than in rural areas. The planned language is particularly prevalent in the northern and eastern countries of Europe; in China, Korea, Japan, and Iran within Asia; in Brazil, Argentina, and Mexico in the Americas; and in Togo and Madagascar in Africa.
Despite of the claims of Espirentoists, linguistics and critics have criticised their vociferous assertion. Justin B Rye and many other linguists have pointed out various weak points of Esperanto:
1.   Its vocabulary and grammar are too Western European.
2.   Esperanto’s word-classes are based on the traditions of classical Latin and Greek grammars, unfamiliar even to many Europeans.
3.   Its main sources are European languages and it gave little consideration to Eastern languages.
4.   Esperanto has developed fairly distinct culture, customs, mythology, and even religion (homaranismo) of its own. It does not suit to a language that claims to be neutral.
5.   Human language is a social and cultural phenomenon thus any language cannot be culture free so, the notion of neutral.
6.   Few learners of the language progress to a high level of fluency.
7.   Esperanto is frequently accused of being inherently gender biased because the generic form of nouns is used for males while a derived form is used for females.
8.   Esperanto has not lived up to the hopes of its creator, who dreamed of it becoming a universal second language.
Conclusion
We have studied different varieties of language and have compared their different aspect. We have observe that language varies from larger communities, down to an individual. Even language of an individual varies from occasion to occasion. We find that there are different levels of formalities with in a language and their use depends of speaker’s purpose, mode and audience. Moreover it also varies due to socio-economic position of individual or group. This variation of language with social difference, makes this notion more firm that language is social phenomenon and inextricably tied with social and cultural traditions. The study of Esperanto also revealed this fact that language and culture are inseparable.
Standard Language
In a country or speech community where different dialects are in use, growth of a ‘standard’ form is a matter of social acceptance and sanction. Generally, the dialect that belongs to the mightier ruling class, holding social prestige and glamour, is sought to be imitated by ‘lesser’ classes. William Labov has pointed out that lower-middle class shows a tendency to use more ‘prestige’ forms in formal discourse, than does the upper-middle class. This is called hypercorrection which is the case of propagation of linguistic change. It is not a question of how many people speak the. standard variety, but the institutional support it gets – its use in schools, media, government, administrative and army functions, literature, and so on.
A standard dialect, then ‘has the highest status in a community or nation and is usually based on the speech and writing of educated native speakers of the language’. It is this variety that is taught in schools, described in dictionaries and grammars and taught ‘to non-native speakers. Standard American English is the standard variety, and British English is the Standard British English. Since what a speaker ‘says on any occasion is in part a reflection of his social identity’, he would like to be identified with the class or stratum that wields prestige, status and power. If he fails to do so, he runs the grave risk of being relegated to unimportance. As Gregory-Carroll say, some North American Indians, for instance, donot use the same verbal strategies, as do whites and the consequence of this can be serious for their children, particularly those attending white schools’.
Growth of Standard English
We have already noted the historical stages of the growth and development of English Language. At different stages, battle for dominance and power put one tribe or community of people on top to be displaced by another after a period of time. Through this see-saw of tussle for supremacy one tribe’s speech gains upper hand and becomes the norm. Treating this phenomenon in a wider sense R.A. Hall Jr. writes, ‘A standard behaviour-pattern, whether linguistic or non-linguistic, is usually regarded as necessarily unitary, admitting of relatively small deviation. There have been a few exceptions to insistence on a single linguistic form, but they are found, in general, in artificial situations, involving particular literary genres. In old Provencal Lyric poetry, forms and phonetic developments from several different dialects were in free alternation … In ancient Greece, different dialects were used for different types of literary productions … and in Middle Indic drama, members of each caste spoke the appropriate variety of Sanskrit or Prakrit… The simplest type of linguistic variation is regional, and hence the choice of standard has usually been made among local dialects of any given language… This problem has usually been settled by choosing the dialect of the administrative centre of the region involved’.
In the Old English period, there existed four major dialects; Northumbrian, Mercian, West-Saxon and Kentish. In the eighth century it was the Northumbrian that led; it is in this dialect that the literature of the period was written ‘for the history of the country caused this West-Saxon to become by the tenth century the accepted language for most vernacular literary purposes. Even the literature of other dialects such as was most of the poetry, was re-copied into the ‘standard’ West-Saxon which, with local modification, has become a sort of common literary language all over the country’ (Wrenn). Even grammar and dictionaries in that period were based on this dialect.
Mercian replaced it for a short period and then the West Saxon. Till the time of King Edward the Confessor, Winchester was the centre of political activities which also made it the linguistic centre of England. But Kind Edward favoured London and Westminster, which caused London to grow as the centre of commercial, political, legal, and ecclesiastical life towards the end of the century. London had a heterogenous population coming from all over the country… They spoke a mixed dialect. Proximity of Oxford and Cambridge also influenced the city to develop a new dialect’. Another factor that helped London develop a mixed dialect of its own was the East Anglian trade (in wood and cloth) with close connection with the East Midlands. The result was a London dialect that was largely East Midland; ‘in character while retaining an underlayer of the original south-eastern of its geographical position. E.E. Wardale observes, ‘by the end of the ME period the language in London shows such a mixture of forms from East Midland, South west and Kentish that it may be said to form a dialect of its own, the London dialect’. Its written language was emulated and copied by all. It came to provide the standard in literary language, though the process is said to have been completed only towards the end of the sixteenth century.
The east and west Midland dialects showed distinct linguistic characteristics. Till the 13th century when King William I died, West Midland was the dominant language in Cathedral cities of Hereford and Worcester. This was a direct descendant of Old Mercian. Around the 13th century, East Midland rose to prominence. It was the dialect of ‘‘the court, of the city of London and of both universities, Oxford and Cambridge’ (Potter : 18). Geoffrey Chaucer wrote in this dialect with notable scattering of Kentish and Southern. peculiarities. Gower and Wyclif also wrote in this dialect. Regarding the standard form prevalent in this period E.J. Dobson says, ‘that any conception of a standard form of English, either written or spoken, was consciously held in the fourteenth century is very doubtful’.
By the end of the ME period London’s position in the country’s politics and culture enabled it to lead the whole country.
English had to face a stiff struggle for recognition against Latin which was still considered the language of prestige. ‘The revival of learning’ only made things difficult for English. ‘Latin and Greek were not only key to the world’s knowledge, but the languages in which much highly esteemed poetry, oratory, and philosophy were to be read. And Latin, at least, had the advantage of universal currency, so that the educated all over Europe could freely communicate with each other, both in speech and writing, in a common idiom’. But there was a class. of scholars in England that defended the use of English and advocated its propagation. Ascham, Wilson, Elyot, Puttenham, Richard Mulcaster, all argued, ‘But why-not all in English, a tong of it self both depe in conceit, and frank in deliverie ? I donot think that any language, be it whatsoever, is better able to utter all arguments, either with more pith, or greater planesse, then our English tung is, if the English utterar be as skilful in the matter, which is to utter : as the foren utterer is’.
Exposure to the great wealth of Latin and Greek learning made the English scholars only more determined in their nationalistic love for English. ‘I Love Rome, but London better, I favor Italic but England more, I honor the Latin, but I worship the English’.
This spirit gaining strength everyday let loose a spate of translations of almost all the available classical works – Thucydides, Xenophone, Herodotus, Plutarch, Plato, Seneca, Cicero, Epictetus, Aristotle, Terence, Homer, Horace, Ovid, Virgil, and the rest. A standard in linguistic refinement and perfection was thus set comparison to which was the only way to improve the language.
As for spoken language M.L. Samuels says, ‘there is no question of a spoken standard in the fifteenth century. We are concerned with the spoken language only in so far as any written standard must be ultimately based on it; but the evolution and spread of Standard English in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries was primarily through the agency of writing, not speech, … The importance of early London written English in this evolution has been overrated : consultation of any of the large classes of documents at the Public Record Office will show clearly that, until 1430-5, English is the exception rather than the rule in the written business of administration, after that, there is a sudden change, and the proportions are reversed, from a mere trickle of English documents among thousands in Latin and French, to a spate of English documents.’ As another scholar says in the sixteenth and the seventeenth centuries the standard speech was much more limited in extent, ‘not only was its penetration of the North only incipient, and confined rather to spelling and vocabulary than to pronunciation, but also, south of the Trent, it was used by a far narrower range of people than in later times’ (E.J. Dobson).
It is only towards the period marking the transition between the 17th and the 18th centuries that a standard form of spoken English is believed to have begun to emerge. London had already acquired the strength and prestige as the political, social and cultural centre. Other dialects had faded out of the competition. London presented a model of stability and standard. Robert Burchfield says, ‘Between 1476 and 1776 the language had been set down in writing with every kind of burgeoning ornamental device and subtle constructive power by some of the greatest of English writers. A standard language’ had been established, and it was admired and imitated in the provinces, that is by writers who did not happen to live in London. Side by side with the majestical prose of Bacon, Raleigh, Donne, Milton, Thomas Browne, Jeremy Taylor, Edward Gibbon and many other great writers, stood the undecorated work of the new urban scientific writers, beginning with the ‘mathematical plainness’ of the Royal Society’s ideal of prose and defined by Bishop Sprat.’
It is significant to note that in Chaucer, Townley and Caxton’s work ample evidence is available to show that dialectal differences often formed good subject of humorous treatment and that the royal officials were expected to use southern English, i.e. that Southern English was becoming the recognized official language.
The British Isles abound in dialectal variations marking geographical regions and areas. ‘But only one form is the standard language, one that is taught to the foreigners, whose individuality and importance went hand in hand with the fortunes of London, and of people who moved into the London area…. Historically, it contains some elements from the south-west, especially Kent, and some from the east midlands as far north as the city of Lincoln. But for the most part its constituent elements are those that came to be accepted as the ‘best’ form of speech among educated speakers in London itself’.
This standard variety is spoken by the educated people and taught everywhere. This is understood all over England even by those who use regional dialects. Outside England it is recognised in Delhi, Beijing, Moscow or Kuala Lumpur as the standard variety. In the countries where the British ruled and English is used to-day in educated society, clubs, educational centres radio and T.V. and in government work, it is this London variety.
Micro and Macro-Sociolinguistics
A major concern of sociolinguistics is the extreme variability of language in use. Variability is observable along a number of axes, spatial, role-models, behaviour in multilingual settings and also certain domains. There are several other levels at which variation in speech is seen. However, a linguist always needs to determine major domains that determine language-choice. Schmidt-Rohr in 1932 identified nine domains in their study of non-German speaking populations in various types of contact settings (Fishman:19). They suggested family, playground and street, the school (subdivided into language of instruction, subject of instruction, and language of recess and entertainment), the church, literature, the press, the military, the courts and the governmental administration. These nine domains provided a model, and later on more were added by Frey, Mak, Dohrenwend and’ Smith.
Domains are understood as institutional contexts or socio-ecological co-occurrences. Within these cluster ‘interaction situations’. Through our understanding of domains we can relate linguistic choices to the larger socio­cultural norms and expectations. The population of a speech community is thus segmented into users of a specific language style appropriate to the particular topic of the individual domains. On the other hand, the study of language behaviour of children calls for consideration of different domains.
Macro-sociolinguistics is concerned with the relations or patterning of relations between one wide domain or another, ‘they’ are as real as the very social institutions of a speech community and indeed they show a marked paralleling with such major institutions (Fishman). Speakers of one domain show a tendency to share ‘common linguistic patterns – players on a football ground, for example, or teacher’s language choice in class-room. One can notice variability across domains, a lecturer’s language-choice in class-room can be contrasted with that outside it, say, in college gathering, or within family. College gathering, family and class room thus constitute three different domains determining three linguistic styles. What must be recognised thus is the reality of domain of language-and-behaviour in terms of existing norms of communication apparatus. ‘The high culture values with which certain varieties are associated and the folksian values with which others are congruent are both derivable from domain-appropriate norms governing characteristic verbal interaction. .
Micro-sociolinguistics concerns itself with the study of variation within a larger framework (or domain) by classifying particular elements in face-to-face situations. The sociolinguist must collect data from the individual speakers, whatever his topic; and must analyse the particular features. He can classify the issues only after having analysed these particular features. All this activity falls within micro-linguistics. Thus micro-linguistics includes the detailed study of inter-personal communication, speech events, e.g. sequencing of utterances and also those investigations which relate variation in the language used by a group of people to social factors. Macro-linguistics, on the other hand, includes study of language choice in bilingual or multilingual communities, language planning, language attitudes, etc. They are also considered part of the sociology of language.
Newly freed countries where more than one language (dialect) is used, face the question of agreeing on a standard national language. Sociolinguists have come to see an active role for themselves in this area. Let us consider the following statement, ‘standard languages which symbolize feelings of unification, separateness and prestige, sometimes qualify as national languages. Some of the recurrent aspects of this perplexing but important field of study are what are or could be some of the roles of ‘languages of wide communication’ (such as English, or French, or Russian) not only as national languages but also as affecting other national languages? How can or should less widely used languages expand, both formally and functionally? What principles should govern the choice of languages at various levels in the educational system of a country? And so on.’ (Pride-Janet Holmes)
Linguistic, Sociolinguistic and Social Codes
The shift of interest that we have witnessed recently in the direction of language in use, or language being considered as behaviour ‘relating the participants in a speech event to their environment, to each other and to the medium of communication itself’, has thrown up many issues of crucial importance to linguistic analysts. It is easy- to see the relationships. As Michael Gregory and Susanne Carroll say, ‘Words change their meaning according to context. Word-meaning is neither fixed nor stable. Word-meaning can be considered to be meaning-in-use, the ‘living’ word as it appears in situation. Meaning realised in recurrent and typical situations can itself be seen as part of a larger system of meaning to which members of the community have access. This system of potential meaning is the culture itself. When we say that language is choice we suggest that language-in-use implies the selection of all possible meanings inherent in this extensive meaning-system called culture.’
The growth and development of linguistic science have been along rigorous scientific lines. Its tools and methods are time-tested. With a fine scientific eye it has been able to isolate and study the units of language and formulate its principles and theories. But when the scientific linguist observed the samples of utterances in actual social reality or realities, he found variations and fluctuations for which he had no explanation in the existing corpus of knowledge. It is difficult to reconcile this fluctuation with the notion that there is a fixed set of rules which speakers follow. It is not surprising, therefore, that many conscientious linguists felt it was their duty to ignore this ‘purely social’ variation, and concentrate on the more rigid ‘central core’ of the language’ (Jean Aitchison)
On the other hand anthropologists and sociolinguists have always been interested in human verbal behaviour. The impact of Ferdinand de Saussure is quite clear. He felt that ‘the group constrains the individual and the group culture determines a great deal of his humanity’. Sociolinguists give equal importance to social codes and linguistic codes, and seek to discover links between the two. In the words of Denis McQuail, ‘We know from daily experience that the simple model of communication between two individuals cannot represent the variety of communication situations in social life. For example, communication between family members takes the form of an intricate interplay of contact connecting pairs, triads or larger numbers and governed by an equally intricate set of unstated understandings and expectations’.
Social structural system and culture are systems of meanings. They defy scientific explanations. Their complexities are overlaid with other complexities, because social structure and culture ‘incorporate’ all possible meaningful behaviours (linguistic or otherwise) possible within that society, the beliefs and attitudes associated with it, including the arts and sciences as we usually think of them’. ‘Culture of a society is the way of life of its members; the collection of ideas and habits which they learn, share and transmit from generation to generation’ (M. Haralambos). This complex socio-cultural network of values provides the basic meaning complexes to the language user. In 1936 Benjamin Lee Whorf pronounced that linguistics is concerned with meaning. This is the position from which sociolinguists see themselves facing the problem of analysing the correlation of linguistics and sociological phenomena. The problem has not easily been solved as stated. Firth, Halliday, Hasan, Trudgill, David Sankoff, Shana Poplack and many others have been trying to evolve techniques and methods to locate and describe the correlations and the mechanisms of changes such correlations result in. Most scholars have drawn upon sociological and other descriptive techniques which have proved highly useful. For example, William Labov, interested in observing language change in the present, used surprisingly simple technique, of interviewing the sales people without their knowing that they were being interviewed, and quietly noting down the required information which comprised his primary data.
Labov’s Analysis
William Labov, the American linguist, conducted two interesting studies, one in New York shopping centres, and the other oh the island of Martha’s Vineyard, which have become model works in the field. These studies performed the difficult work of charting fluctuations and reinforce the belief that language change is observable, and ‘the variation and fuzziness which so many linguists tried to ignore are quite often indications that changes are in progress’.
Dr. Labov observed the fluctuating use of r in the New York speech in such words as car, bear, beard. In common observation it was found that New York speakers sometimes inserted r in these words and others, and sometimes didnot. So, the randomness in the matter, as the general opinion went, was rejected by Labov. ‘He rather worked on the hypothesis that it is not a matter of pure chance, but must be correlated with social status. Labov selected Manhattan department stores, from top, middle, and low price and fashion range. For the study of top class shop he selected Saks Fifth Avenue, for middle-priced level he chose Macys, for the low class one he selected Klein’s, close to the lower Eastside, ‘a notoriously poor area’. William Labov went into these shops as a customer, asked certain questions in which r occurred; pretended that he had not heard properly the first time, asked again, carefully noted down the presence or’ absence of it; age and sex of sales person were also noted. He went to other counters and repeated the performance. Similar questions were asked at the middle-range and low-range shops. In this manner he obtained a total of 264 interviews. The results thus obtained confirmed his ‘hunch’ that in the New York speech insertion of r was related to the social prestige factor. Percentage of r inclusion in the high-range Saks store was higher than in Macy’s, which showed a comparatively higher percentage of its occurrence than in Klein’s. New York upper class educated speakers include r in such words as car, bear, beard, card, while the lower classes omit it. At the lower level in the casual speech r appeared to be omitted, but when asked to repeat, the speakers became conscious and emphatic; so they showed a ‘significantly higher percentage of r’s. As Jean Aitchison observes, ‘Labov suggested that the reinsertion of r was an important characteristic of a new prestige pattern which was being superimposed upon the native New York pattern. This is supported by description of New York speech in the early part of the century, which suggests that r was virtually absent at this time – a fact observable in films made in New York in the 1930s’. It is interesting to note that till the eighteenth century, English speakers showed a tendency to insert r, but this was lost around the middle of the nineteenth century. In New York pronunciation also this is a recent cultivation; its rise was witnessed in the 1940s and 1950s. Perhaps, desire to forge a distinct un-British identity led to the conscious cultivation of this feature. That could be the reason why in unconscious casual times one witnesses absence of r.
William Labov went on to expand the study on a larger area ‘obtaining speech samples from different socio-economic, ethnic, age and sex groups, in a variety of language styles. These extended studies again confirmed his thesis that r insertion in words such as bear, beard is socially prestigious, since it occurs more frequently in the casual and formal speech in the upper and middle class than in the lower social classes. A further indication of social prestige is that more careful the speech style, the more likely r is to be pronounced. Obviously, when people speak -slowly and carefully, they remember to insert an r which they feel should be there.
Martha‘s Vineyard Studies
Another pioneering study conducted by Prof. Labov is known as ‘Martha’s Vineyard Study’. Martha’s Vineyard is an island, part of Massachusetts, three miles off the east coast of mainland. It has a permanent population of about six thousand. Around fifty thousand tourists visit the island in summer, and concentrate largely on the Downlsland in the eastern region. The Central and the western areas are inhabited mainly by the local population. Labov noted that a few decades earlier a linguist had visited the island and having interviewed some members, had noted that in the pronunciation of these people the diphthongs in such words as high, pie, night, trout, house, etc. the first vocalic element [a] + [i] and [a] + [u], showed a shift towards becoming [ә] as in American but.
[au] ¾® [әu]
[ai] ¾® [әi]
Labov systematically interviewed a cross-section of local population, dividing it into three age-groups and occupational classes – those engaged in the traditional fishing activity and those in the service industries attending
to the summer visitors. The results showed that the population was not aware that change in pronunciation was taking place. Secondly, in the rural areas in the western parts change was more noticeable than in the eastern part. Speakers from 31 years to 45 years of age showed greater tendency to change than older people, and least of all was it seen in people over 75 years of age. Also those less than 30 years showed comparatively lesser change. Labov argued that a distinct change in diphthong pronunciation was taking place in Martha’s Vineyard more’ noticeably than in the mainland America. These changes radiated from a small group of islanders and spread to more extensive areas, particularly those of English descent.
The research also indicated that the changes didnot occur all of a sudden, someone didnot suddenly decide to alter his/her speech, and others took it up. Rather, the tendency was always there. Only some people exaggerated it and made it their habit. Thus the new diphthong was always there as a form of old-fashioned element. One can compare it to the characteristic ‘American sounds’, which are nothing but conservative tendencies of the 18th century pronunciation, which speakers in England had long ago outgrown, but the Americans stuck to; at some time, Martha’s Vineyard had begun showing loss of the diphthongs when contact with the summer visitors increased. But those old generation speakers while confined to their part of the land, did not establish any contact with the ‘modern’. Down Island clung to the older tendencies. They showed resistance to changes in other features of behaviour too and thus exemplified the qualities of strength, tenacity, dour close-knit mentality who could oppose the incursions of outside fun-loving tourists.
‘The next generation down island admired these old fisherman, who appeared to exemplify the virtues traditional to Martha’s Vineyard, they were viewed as independent, wilful, physically strong, courageous. They epitomized the good old yankee virtues, as opposed to the indolent consumer-oriented society of summer visitors. This led a number of Vineyarders to sub-consciously imitate the speech characteristics of the fishermen in order to identify ‘themselves as ‘true islanders’ (Aitchison).
Clearly, the tendency to change linguistically is related to certain cultural attitudes in this particular instance as well as in the Yew York r-experiment. The island of Martha’s Vineyard presents a relatively simple social structure. Resentment toward and dislike of the tourist population are also quite unconcealed and simple. This created in the local people a desire to preserve their cultural values. That is why the speech feature which is embedded in old habits caught on with the younger speakers of ages between 30 and 45 years. Interstingly, those who wished to stay on the islands for good showed greater inclination to adopt the changed diphthongs as they had  greater need to identify themselves with the locals. In this way change establishes a norm.
In the complex social scenario of New York, speaker’s use of r is clearly related to the prestige values of upper middle class which are approximated by those below this class. Here also, New Yorkers adopted r out of a growing awareness of themselves as ‘being American, and, requiring an American Standard on which to model themselves’.
Language change and Language Decline
The great Greek philosopher Heraclitus had said as early as in the sixth century, ‘Everything rolls on, nothing stands still’. This wisdom has been echoed down the centuries by men active in different walks of life, from scientists to social thinkers to medicine men to philosophers, and linguists too. Poets and litterateurs have constantly lived under the overviding sense of uncertainty and transience because time is ever in flight and the world is never the same. In the words of Omar Khayyam,
Alas, that Spring should vanish with the Rose !
That youth’s sweet-scented Manuscript should close !
The Nightingale that in the Branches sang !
Ah, whence, and whither flown again, who knows !
It is not easy to understand why man has found it difficult to reconcile with change, though he has always understood that ‘since ‘tis Nature’s law to change constancy alone is strange’ (John Wilmot, Earl of Rochester).
Like all things in life, language also changes. ‘It is part of the general flux. There can never be a moment of true stand still in language … By nature it is a continuous process of development’, said Wilhelm Von Humboldt, the great German philosopher-linguist. It would be a great surprise if language didnot show changes, while everything else changed at varying rates.
It is human tendency to ignore changes that occur in language as aberrations in need of correction. Those who argue that linguistic changes are inevitable, as well as those who frown upon them, resenting and resisting any deviations from the norm, consider symptoms of transformation as signs of ignorance, sloppiness, laziness or as (often happens, simply a matter of vulgar habits of expression. ‘One has only to see how fierce is the reaction of those who see in someone talking differently a violation of the norm and quick attempts to suggest prescriptive rules are made. Letters to the editors have been written in newspapers and magazines on deviant trends, move to debase and vulgarize language. Jean Aitchison quotes a reviewer, writing in 1978 edition of the Pocket Oxford Dictionary, announced that his ‘only sadness is that the current editor seems prepared to bow to every slaphappy and slipshop change of meaning’. She says, ‘the author of the book published in 1979 compared a word which changes its meaning to a piece of wreckage with a ship’s name on it floating away from a sunken hulk’. The book was entitled Decadence’.
Efforts of Jonathan Swift to ‘fix our language forever’ led him to submit A proposal for correcting, improving, and Ascertaining the English Tongue, to the Earl of Oxford, Lord Treasurer of England in 1712. In this historical document he stresses the need to check the growing tendency to deviate from the prescribed grammatical norms. These deviations were often seen and deplored by the eighteenth century scholars as ‘abuses and absurdities’. Dr. Samuel Johnson’s attitudes in this regard are too well-known to need any mention except that he was particularly intolerant of what he believed to be ‘barbarous corruptions’ and ‘licentious, idioms’, etc. Such resistance to changes and desire to, keep language in a permanent state of perfection have always been seen to drive men to formulate ways and’ means to artifically keep it refined.
However, changes are produced by forces that cannot be resisted by artificial means. What begins as isolated instances of variation escalates and spreads to larger number of speakers. Certain habits get rooted and then are finally accepted as norms. Older elements and habits enjoy lesser currency, with the number of users dwindling till they completely fade out of language.
Thus we know that Dr. Johnson condemned the word lesser as a barbarous corruption, and so nowise also. Today, however, no one thinks so about these words. What he, on the other hand, tried to establish as respectable Latinate or classical formations never really were accepted, and, therefore, died a natural death. Obviously these pundits failed to understand the essential nature of language, that it goes through similar life cycles of birth, growth and decay as any organism does, which the German scholar Franz Bopp supported in these words, ‘languages are to be considered organic natural bodies, which are formed according to fixed laws, develop as possessing an inner principle of life, and gradually die out…’ This extremely simple view of linguistic progress [or decay ?] is not accepted in our times by more scientific-minded linguists who wish to describe the exact mechanism of language growth; but formation of new languages through various diachronic processes and their being taken over by a newer, more different variety, has never been denied.
As our account of the studies conducted by William Labov and Basil Bernstein and others engaged in sociolinguistic researches reveal, changes in time begin as changes seen in the present in a particular speech community. Labov was interested in showing that it is not impossible to ‘capture’ those changes in the present that are only seen in their consequences over a period of time. These historical changes that create new sounds, morphemes, syntactic relations and habits of speech, donot occur suddenly. Rather, he felt, they are to be understood by exploring those variations and deviations, those tendencies to violate or break the norms which some speakers always exhibit and others resent. This tug of war and the controversial practices are what in the long run produce ‘permanent changes’ in a language. Till as recently as 1958 a scholar like Charles Hockett felt, ‘No one has yet observed sound change. We have only been able to detect it via its consequences… A nearly direct observation would be theoretically impossible, if impractical, but any ostensible report of such an observation so far must be discredited’.
Later linguists felt, however, that it is these fluctuations, these variations exhibited under numerous socio-cultural conditions that conceal the clue to the problem. They were interested in observing that ‘the grammatical rules of a language are likely to alter slightly from region to region… Parallel to geographical variation, we find social variation. As we move from one social class to another, we are likely to come across the same type of alteration as we noted from region to region, only this time co-existing within a single area’.
One of the major points William Labov worked to prove through his New York and Martha’s Vineyard studies is that what we notice as variations in accent or sound feature or any of the several linguistic features may be a pointer that language is undergoing a change. A careful analysis might show us in which direction is the change taking place.
Reasons for the spread in favour of a specific feature or set of features could be many. Generally they can be described in this way.
i)    a tendency to imitate the upper class speaker’s habits.
ii)   the need to sound/appear like the majority speakers of the community.
iii)  need to be accepted by the majority and counted as one of them.
iv)  to assert one’s identity and resist the majority tendencies due to particular psychological factors, i.e. dislike, bias against, etc.
The Sapir-Whorf hypothesis
In their exploration of various types of correlation between culture and language, scholars have come out with different hypotheses. These hypotheses indicate the ways to understand the complex relations language and society have. One established and more controversial theory of this kind is known as Sapir-Whorf hypothesis. This is named after two scholars of linguistics and anthropology, Edward Spair (1884-1939) and Benjamin Lee Whorf. Spair’s over-riding interest in linguistic determinism operating in culture has been mentioned in volume one and this one also. He recognised linguistic relativity converging with cultural relativity. This is embodied in the following extract.
‘Human beings donot 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… The fact of the matter is that the ‘real world’ is to’ a large extent unconsciously built up on the language habits of the groups. No two languages are ever sufficiently similar to be considered as representing the same social reality. The words in which different societies live are distinct words, not merely the same words with different labels attached.’
Benjamin Lee Whorf who was a student of Sapir continued studying the matter. He argued that ‘language patterns and cultural norms… have grown up together, constantly influencing each other. But in this partnership the nature of the language is the factor that limits free plasticity and regidifies channels of development in the more autocratic way’. It is not difficult to see the deterministic role of language in bringing about cultural transmission. It is only through the linguistic medium that this happens.
One major problem about this hypothesis is that in terms of objective proofs and through rigorous methods Whorfian hypothesis is difficult to prove, though intuitively one can seethe natural link. As William Bright says, ‘in particular, no correlations can be traced between language and world – view until specific world – views are themselves defined in terms of observable behaviour’. Whorf spent plenty of time in Mexico studying the Red Indian speeches. His well known analysis of the Hopi’s linguistic structure led him to propose that it (structure) is compatible with a world view involving a peculiar relation between subjective and objective experience, but he tends to assume rather than to demonstrate that Hopi actually hold such a view of the world’. William Bright suggests the following modification of Whorf’s thesis,
‘In so far as languages differ in the ways they encode objective experience, language users tend to sort out and distinguish experiences differently according to the categories provided by their respective languages. These cognitives will tend to have certain effects on behaviour’.
Basil Bernstein’s work
A potable contribution in relating social factors to language variation and the variability functioning as an indicator of one’s cognitive abilities was that of the British sociologist Basil Bernard Bernstein. Born in 1924, his extensive researches dominated the sociolinguistic thinking in the 1960s and 1970s. He is considered pioneer in research in the description of varieties of speech within a language community. He concentrated on dialect studies which rest on a key assumption that language learning is determined by social, environment and by the verbal and non-verbal expressions of speakers’. His paper ‘Language and social class’ (1960) puts forward the idea that speakers (particularly children) raised in culturally disadvantaged environments and exposed to non-standard dialects show stunted cognitive abilities, compared to speakers of the middle and upper classes.
Bernstein examined class based variabilities and their implications for language fluency and learning’. He reformulated and revised some of his earlier concepts and put forth the terms elaborated code and restricted code;
He uses code slightly differently. He means by it ‘different ways of conveying in a social context. Restricted code has a limited vocabulary, reduced range of vocables, an abundance of question tags, and greater use of pronouns like he and she. Basing his observations on the middle-class and working class boys Bernstein argued that the latter tended to use only the restricted code. This restricted their language and thinking behaviour. Elaborate gesticulations, hand gestures and facial expressions reinforce the verbal communication. The speakers assume that the other communicants share, their emotional states and attitudes. This code showed less fluency and was what he called highly static. It has narrower range of language alternatives, ‘often tended to be predictably formulaic and exhibited highly individuated utterances. It is characterized by ‘a simplified grammatical system, poor syntactic forms, repetitive use of common conjunctions, little use of subordination, a rigid and limited selection of adjectives and adverbs, reinforcement statements following what was immediately- said, and a tendency to confound reason and conclusion in statements’. Bernstein found that the middle class boys used both codes comfortably and with equal ease. These speakers showed fluency in the ‘elaborated code’. They possessed a wide range of ‘syntactic and lexical ‘alternatives’, had a level of verbal dexterity and greater manipulative power in regulating and organising what is spoken. This means that they manifested greater use of conjunctions and subordinate elements in sentences, prepositions, ‘a frequent use of indefinite and third person pronouns and the use of expressive symbolism to discriminate meaning within speech segments’. The sentence structures are more complex and there is found greater use of I and adjectives. It is more explicit, ‘speakers using it donot assume the same degree of shared attitudes and expectations on the part of the addressee’. Elaborated code is considered to be ‘open and liberating’. It shows capacity to exploit full range of language possibilities. Restricted code is inhibiting and restrictive.
The famous sociolinguists Gregory Smith and Sussanne Carroll feel that these two types of code reflect two different principles of semantic organization. ‘Each code orients the user to a specific type of meaning which is itself a function of the type of relationship that the user enters into… The codes, elaborated and restricted, are acquired through exposure to different speech models. They embody two types of meaning. The concept of code has, therefore, two facets – the semiotic and the linguistic. Both the speech models and the semiotic functions are referred to as universalistic or particularistic.’
Bernstein’s findings created a lot of controversy. Some linguists believe that his opinions are linguistically insignificant. They also felt uncomfortable at one’s dialect being related to cognitive abilities. ‘Some questioned his conclusion as too extreme, and based on limited observation, others simply rejected the anti-egalitarian notion of social class.’
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