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What is Sociolinguistics?

- aspects of linguistics applied towards connections between

language and society

- the way use language – different social situations

Society :
any group of people who are drawn together
for a certain purpose

Language :
what the members of a particular society

how and where the members of a society
interact and communicate
- the study of language as it affects and is
affected by social relations.
- encompasses a broad range of concerns,
including bilingualism, pidgin and creole
- other ways that language use is influenced by
contact among people of different language
- E.g., speakers of German, French, Italian, and
Romansh in Switzerland.
- examine different dialects, accents, and
levels of diction in light of social distinctions
among people.
- studies how language varieties differ
between groups separated by certain
social variables, e.g., ethnicity, religion,
status, gender, level of educationand
- might also study the grammar, phonetics
, vocabulary, and other aspects of this
(a variety of language associated with a
particular social group)

Micro-sociolinguistics Macro-sociolinguistics

- How social structure influences the way people

talk and how language varieties and patterns of
use correlate with social attributes such as class,
gender and age.
- in a simplistic term micro-sociolinguistics
explores the ways in which society influences a
speaker's idiolect
- meaning the specific language of a person - and
how people communicate with one another in line
with different social variables/factors
For example: Variance in Manglish and Singlish

- What societies do with their languages that is

attitudes and attachments that account for
functional distribution of speech forms in society,
language shift, maintenance, and replacement and
interaction of speech communities.
- In other words macro-sociolinguistics moves alongside
with other human cultural phenomena
- macro-sociolinguistics focuses more on society as a
whole, in relation to language.
- In short, micro-sociolinguistics the emphasis is on
language; with macro-sociolinguistics the emphasis is
on society
Ranges from
study of

wide variety of how men and

dialects women speak

the humourous how language

realities of human describe social
speech class
Sociolinguistics attempts to answer:

• How do people’s identity affect the way they speak, and

how does the way they speak ‘create’ their identity?

• What happens to languages and their speakers when

people of different language backgrounds find
themselves living and working in the same community?

• How governments and institutions can maintain or

revitalise languages, while at the same time maintaining
effective communication in a community?

• How do attitudes and ideologies about language affect

the way a language is spoken?
Sociolinguistics and related Disciplines
- Language and society – sociologists and linguists – other
- Anthropologists, psychologists, educators and planners
- Anthropologists –
: exploration of kinship systems
- Psychologists –
: concern with the possible effects of linguistics
structure on social and psychological behaviour
- Educators –
: making decisions about matters involving language
- Planners –
: need a considerable amount linguistic knowledge in
making sound decision on attempts to make a
standardised language
Sociolinguistics is interested in the study of how language:

a) is used in a social context

b) enables us to say the same thing in different ways

c) provides us with different linguistic variations for expressions

(A) Sociolinguistics – study of social context

Language - transfer of information

- send vital social messages

who we are who we associate with

where we come from
Through language, dialect or even a single
word – judge
• a person’s background
• character
• intentions
• feelings
• relationships
For example:
Situation A:
Ray: Hello mum
Mum: Hi. You are late.
Ray: Yeah, that bastard Sootbucket kept
us in again.
Mum: Grandma’s here.
Ray: Oh, sorry. Where is she?
Language is used
• for asking and giving information
• express indignation and annoyance
• admiration and respect

Ray’s utterance:
‘Yeah, that bastard Sootbucket kept us in again’
• why he is late
• how he feels
• the relationship with his mother
Situation B:

Ray: Good afternoon, sir

Principal: What are you doing here at this
Ray: Mr Sutton kept us in, sir
Take note of Ray’s language:

• Speak to mother:
‘Hello’ – to greet
‘mum’ – as an address form
‘bastard’ and ‘Sootbucket’ – nicknames for teacher
– relationship : intimate and friendly tone

• Speak to the Principal

‘Good afternoon’ – to greet
‘sir’ – as an address form
‘Mr. Suton’ – to refer to the teacher
- Relationship : formal, distant and respectful tone

Aware of the social factors which influence his choice of words and manner of

Sociolinguistics is concerned with the relationship between language and context in

which it is used.
B) Language - enables us to say the
same thing in different ways

• addressing and greeting others

• describing things
• paying compliments
For example:
Situation C – note the same thing is said in different ways
At 5 o’clock, Norhayati Merican, a manager, leaves her office. As
she leaves:

a) Business partner: Goodbye, Norhayati

Norhayati: Goodbye, Mike

b) Her secretary: Goodbye, Ms Norhayati

Norhayati: Goodbye, Maria

c) Caretaker: Goodbye, Puan Norhayati

Norhayati: Goodbye, Sunita
Norhayati Merican arrives home:

d) Daughter, Suzana: Hi mum

Norhayati: Hello dear. Taken your dinner?

e) Husband: You are late again!

Norhayati: Oh…stop complaining

f) A close friend, Aiman calls: Hello, Yati

Norhayati: Hi, man. What’s up?
- many different ways of addressing people
- depends on who we are speaking to:
* Mother to children of different ages
* Employee to employer
* Colleague – degree of closeness

In the example, Norhayati’s choice of using ‘dear’ to address

her daughter reflects her affectionate feelings.
Annoyed – would have used her full name ‘Suzana Hassan’
instead of ‘dear’

Factors that influence the choice of address:

a) Family norms of address between children and parents
b) Audience (who is listening?)
c) Social context (formal or informal?)
d) The relationship (how well they know each other)
(C) Language – offers a choice of words (linguistic variation) of

Vocabulary – is one areas of linguistic variation

E.g : (i) ‘that bastard Sootbucket’ instead of ‘my teacher, Mr Sutton’
(ii) ‘dear’ instead of ‘Suzana’

Occurs in other areas too:

(a) sounds
(b) word-structure
(c) grammar

All these areas offer – speak a choice of ways of expression and

different linguistic styles to be used in different social context
Example (1) :
Sam: You our ‘enry’s new ‘ouse yet? It’s in ‘alton, you know.
Jun: I have indeed. I could hardly miss it Sam. Your Henry now owns
the biggest house in Halton.

Woman: Give ‘im something!
Man: ‘Knock ‘is ‘ead off’
Woman: The man knocked ‘er down and just walked away.

The above examples show – obvious linguistic variation – pronunciation.

All speakers drop the ‘h’ in their speech whereas Jun does not.

Pronunciation like vocabulary - social information

Speakers – same regional origins – different social backgrounds –
reflected in – speech.
Example (2):

(a) Refuse should be deposited in the receptacle provided.

(b) Put your rubbish in the bin, Kamal.

The above examples – variation in grammar and vocabulary

In sentence (a) – the passive grammatical structure is used ‘should be


- avoids any mention of the doer (people involved)

In sentence (b) – an imperative verb form ‘Put’ and ‘an address form
‘Kamal’ is used.
Both sentences express the same message / speech function (give a directive)

Sentence (b) – is much more direct and specific

‘Refuse’, ‘deposited’ and ‘receptable’ – less frequently used words and are all more
formal than ‘rubbish’, ‘put’ and ‘bin’
More examples:
(c) Please tender exact fare and state destination.
(d) Give me the right money and tell me where you
are going.
What are the linguistic features which distinguish
(c) and (d)?
- Vocabulary choice – tender vs give, state vs tell,
destination vs where you are going,exact vs right
and the use of please
- Both use imperative structures but in (c) it is
more formal avoiding the use of pronouns
- Omission of determiners in (c)
The different ways of saying the same thing – social

Sentences (a) and (c)

– more in writing than in speech
- more formal and distancing
- more formal context – speakers do not know each other
well, strangers or far more superior than the other

Sentences (b) and (d)

- Informal context
- speakers know each other (sentence (b))- address is used
- Directive – softening making it more gentle.

Make a list of all the names you are called

by people whom know you. For each name
note who uses it to you and when or

What are the reasons why people choose

one name rather than another for you?