Linguistics is the study of language; how it functions and how it influences human interaction. There are several different branches of linguistics, but in this article, we will discuss the branch of linguistics known as sociolinguistics. Read on more to find out what it is.
An introduction to Sociolinguistics
Sociolinguistics is a branch of both linguistics and sociology, that studies the relationship that exists between society and language.
Sociolinguists are individuals who investigate how factors e.g. gender, age, social class, or ethnicity affect the use and interpretation of language.
A common mistake made is confusing this branch of linguistics with the sociology of language, which is the study of the effect of language on society. Sociolinguistics is concerned with the role language plays in upholding community roles. Its methodology involves taking language samples from random population subjects. The variables such as pronunciation, word choice, and colloquialisms are then studied. Socio-economic indices such as education, occupation, age, heritage, income, and family dynamics are used, measuring the data obtained against these indices.
Examining how some people manage their spoken language in relation to their cultural roots and interactions is possible. Sociolinguists may investigate different questions e.g:
- How conversations with mixed-gender people differ from the conversations of same-gender people
- How differential relations of power can manifest themselves in the forms of language
- How caregivers pass on to children the teachings regarding the ways language should be used
- How changes in language come to be, and how they spread to different communities
Ethnographic methods are often used by sociologists to answer questions such as these. They try to understand the viewpoints as well as values of a community so that the behaviours and attitudes of its community members can be better understood.
Over the past several decades, there have been two trends that have characterised the development of sociolinguistics:
The first event is that there has been a rise of particular specialisations in this field, which has overlapped with the emergence of social as well as political issues that are broadly based. Because of this, the focus on themes like language and nationalism, language and gender, and language and ethnicity have corresponded with an increase in similar issues faced by society in general.
The second event is that specialists who are responsible for examining the role played by language in society have started showing interest in the practical applications of their studies. They are keen to apply their research findings to social, educational, and political problems, probably giving rise to their birth as sociolinguistic themes. Combining theory, description, and application in the study of language is the unique opportunity provided by sociolinguistics.
The different types of sociolinguistics
There are two main branches of sociolinguistics, each having a different focus:
This branch of sociolinguistics is mainly interested in what the use of language reveals about social processes. This makes the social meaning of language use a central concern.
This branch of sociolinguistics is involved in accounting for linguistic variation and change, at least in part as an outcome of the social distribution of language varieties. It is more concerned with the exchange of linguistic and social systems; making the significance of language largely symbolic.
Examples of Sociolinguistics in the real world
Sociolinguistics is the study of how heritage and the people surrounding you can affect the way you speak. Society directly impacts how people use language, how linguistic communities are formed, and how they evolve. The following are some examples of sociolinguistics:
The first example is a study of Spanish and English when spoken together as Spanglish. This is the study of language and linguistic behaviour when it is influenced by factors both social and cultural.
A second example would be one of an American English speakers, who may choose to say “He don’t know nothing” or “He doesn’t know anything,”. Both phrases mean the same thing, but the phrase used depends on the speaker’s level of education, social class, race, and consciousness. It could also depend on the desired outcome of the person being addressed.
A third example is the way we would speak to our mother, our friends, a child, our boss, or a beggar. The way we speak will change depending on who we are talking to, the environment around us, and the message we want to convey.
What is Micro Sociolinguistics?
The study of language systems in the abstract, with no regard to the national content or meaning of linguistic expressions, is known as a branch of linguistics called Micro sociolinguistics. It involves the abstract study of language elements such as phonology and syntax. Micro sociolinguistics explores how a person’s dialect can be structured by their society. The specific language of a person and how people communicate with one another are determined by different social factors.
Micro vs Macro Sociolinguistics
Sociolinguistics can be general compartmentalised into one of two types – microsociolingustics and macrosociolinguistics.
Microsociolinguistics refers to the linguistic perception of speech, such as dialect and stylistic variations. This focuses on the phonological aspects of speech, which can be referred to as the social dimension of language.
Macrosociolinguistics on the other hand, looks at the overall behaviour of language and how it is lost or retained by a community, particularly with regards to social identity impacting language choice.
In the late twentieth century, status-related differences in language were seen to become a primary area of focus. This led to an increased interest in sociolinguistics. Hymes has called sociolinguistics ‘socially realistic linguistics’ because it deals with how language influences social life structures.
How language determines social identities, for instance, has become a great focus of research. At Alethes.net we have taken that realism further through what may be called developmental sociolinguistics, that is, by examining where human beings learn language in the first place.