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Concise Encyclopedia of Sociolinguistics

Concise Encyclopedia of Sociolinguistics


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  • Multiculturalism and Language
  • Pragmatics and Sociolinguistics
  • Prescriptive and Descriptive Grammar
  • Saussurean Tradition and Sociolinguistics
  • Sociolinguistics of Sign Language
  • Conversational Maxims
  • Cooperative Principle
  • Deaf Community: Structures and Interaction
  • Dialogism
  • 2. Dialogism
  • Discourse
  • Discourse in Cross-linguistic and Cross-cultural Contexts
  • Doctor-Patient Language
  • Ethnography of Speaking
  • Ethnomethodology
  • Identity and Language
  • Kinesics
  • Kinship Terminology
  • Language in the Workplace
  • Narrative, Natural
  • Phatic Communion
  • Speech Accommodation
  • Speech Act Theory: An Overview
  • Business Language
  • Code, Sociolinguistic
  • Discourse Analysis and the Law
  • Formulaic Language
  • Institutional Language
  • Literary Language
  • Media Language and Communication
  • Medical Language
  • Religion and Language
  • Slang: Sociology
  • Speech and Writing
  • The Internet and Language
  • Adolescent Peer Group Language
  • Class and Language
  • Dialect and Dialectology
  • Dialect Humor
  • Ethnicity and the Crossing of Boundaries
  • Ethnicity and Language
  • Forensic Phonetics and Sociolinguistics
  • Gay Language
  • Gender and Language
  • Language Change and Language Acquisition
  • Maps: Dialect and Language
  • Social Class
  • Social Networks
  • Sociolinguistic Variation
  • Sociolinguistics and Language Change
  • Sociophonetics
  • Subcultures and Countercultures
  • Syntactic Change
  • The Atlas of North American English: Methods and Findings
  • Urban and Rural Forms of Language
  • Areal Linguistics
  • Bilingualism and Language Acquisition
  • Code-switching: Discourse Models
  • Code-switching: Overview
  • Code-switching: Sociopragmatic Models
  • Code-switching: Structural Models
  • Contact Languages
  • Endangered Languages
  • English as a Foreign Language
  • Ethnolinguistic Vitality
  • Foreigner Talk
  • Interlanguage
  • Intertwined Languages
  • Jargons
  • Koines
  • Language Enclaves
  • Language Loyalty
  • Language Maintenance, Shift, and Death
  • Language Spread
  • Language Transfer and Substrates
  • Lingua Franca
  • Migrants and Migration
  • Missionaries and Language
  • Pidgins and Creoles: An Overview
  • Pidgins and Creoles: Models
  • Pidgins and Creoles: Morphology
  • Sociolinguistic Area
  • Critical Language Awareness
  • Critical Sociolinguistics
  • Discrimination and Minority Languages
  • Language Conflict
  • Linguicide
  • Linguistic Imperialism
  • Manipulation
  • Marxist Theories of Language
  • Minority Languages
  • Politicized Language
  • Politics and Language
  • Power and Language
  • Power Differentials and Language
  • Representation
  • Semilingualism
  • Stereotype and Social Attitudes
  • Symbolic Power and Language
  • The Linguistic Marketplace
  • Academies: Dictionaries and Standards
  • Artificial Languages
  • Heritage Languages
  • International Languages
  • Language Adaptation and Modernization
  • Language Development
  • Language Diffusion Policy
  • Language Planning: Models
  • Linguistic Census
  • Linguistic Habitus
  • Multilingual States
  • National LanguagejOfficial Language
  • National Language/Official Language
  • Nationalism and Language
  • Orthography
  • Prescription in Dictionaries
  • Reversing Language Shift
  • School Language Policies
  • Standardization
  • Statistics: Principal Languages of the World (UNESCO)
  • Verbal Hygiene
  • Applied Linguistics and Sociolinguistics
  • Bilingual Education
  • Black English in Education: UK
  • Child Language: An Overview
  • Ebonics and African American Vernacular English
  • Education and Language: Overview
  • Educational Failure
  • English Grammar in British Schools
  • Gender, Education, and Language
  • Home Language and School Language
  • Pidgins, Creoles, and Minority Dialects in Education
  • Spoken Language in the Classroom
  • Standard English and Educational Policy
  • Teaching Endangered Languages
  • Attitude Surveys: Question-Answer Process
  • Corpus Linguistics and Sociolinguistics
  • Data Collection in Linguistics
  • Field Methods: Ethnographic
  • Field Methods in Modern Dialect and Variation Studies
  • Fieldwork and Field Methods
  • Fieldwork Ethics and Community Responsibility
  • Interactional Sociolinguistic Research Methods
  • Literacy: Research, Measurement, and Innovation
  • Observing and Analyzing Classroom Talk
  • Salvage Work (Endangered Languages)
  • Endangered Languages Projects (An Inventory)
  • Internet Resources for Sociolinguistics
  • Sociolinguistics Journals: A Critical Survey
  • Bakhtin, Mikhail M. (1895-1975)
  • Cooper, Robert Leon (1931- )
  • Das Gupta, Jyotirindra (1933- )
  • Edwards, John Robert (1947- )
  • Emeneau, Murray Barnson (1904- )
  • Fairclough, Norman (1941-)
  • Ferguson, Charles A. (1921-98)
  • Fishman, Joshua A. (1926- )
  • Halliday, Michael Alexander Kirkwood (1925- )

G. Philipsen

Speaking, the use of language in the conduct of social
life, is organized in culture-specific ways. The
ethnography of speaking is concerned with describ-
ing such ways of speaking and with interpreting the
meanings they have for those who participate in
them. It is concerned further with developing cross-
culturally valid concepts and theories for interpreting
and explaining the interaction of language and social


The term 'ethnography of speaking' was proposed
by Dell Hymes (see Hymes, Dell Hathaway), whose

writings have provided programmatic impetus to the
enterprise (Hymes 1962, 1964, 1972, 1974). 'Ethno-
graphy' refers to fieldwork which culminates in a
written description of the culture or way of life of a
particular people, produced in such a way as to
permit comparison across diverse cases. Applied to
speaking, its concern is with how, in a given
community, speaking is conceptualized—what sym-
bols and meanings, premises and rules there are,
pertaining to communicative conduct. Attention to
native categories goes hand in hand with delineating


Ethnography of Speaking

observed patterns of speaking, with study of a
community's indigenous codes and its indigenous
speech acts, events, and situations.
'Ethnography of speaking' and 'ethnography of
communication' have been used interchangeably by
many scholars. 'Speaking' was used initially to draw
attention to the diverse, creative, and strategic ways
languages are used, in contrast to language as an
abstract, idealized system. Where 'speaking' is used it
can be taken as a surrogate for all communicative
modalities (verbal, kinesic, proxemic, etc.); 'commu-
nication' makes explicit this breadth of concern. Both
speaking and communication refer to the use of
codes in the production and interpretation of
messages, with language being the code of primary
importance in some situations but not in others.
Although the emphasis is on a culture-specific
approach to what speaking (or communication) is
to be taken as, leaving this to be circumscribed in
each case, nonetheless the ethnography of speaking
emphasizes the deliberate use of signs and their
interpretations, in the conduct of social life. What to
call communicative resources and activities, how they
are structured, what enters into them, and what their
significance is to those who use them—these are left
open to discovery in particular cases.
When the ethnography of speaking was proposed
in 1962, established approaches to linguistic descrip-
tion took the phonology and grammar of a language
as the principal frames of reference, an approach
which privileged attention to linguistic signs within
a closed linguistic system, to the exclusion of
speech. Patterns of speaking had likewise been
neglected in anthropological descriptions of cultures,
ethnographers assuming that speech—and other
modes of communicative activity—could be taken
for granted rather than be made an object of
investigation. The ethnography of speaking was
designed to remedy the neglect of speaking in
grammars and in ethnographies. Hymes proposed
the ethnographic study, in diverse speech commu-
nities, of 'the situations and uses, the patterns and
functions, of speaking in its own right' (1962: 16).
Such studies, designed to fill the gap in knowledge
which was left by established approaches in linguis-
tics and anthropology, were to be ethnographic in
basis and communicative in the range and kind of
subjects which they would essay.

1. The Structure of Speaking

A fundamental assumption of the ethnography of
speaking is that speaking, like language(s), can be
described in terms of rule and system. Wherever
people speak, they organize their speech in ways over
and above those governed by rules of grammar or by
physical laws. In any communicative situation, even
though it might be grammatically acceptable and
physically possible to make any of two or more

linguistic choices, such choices are not randomly
produced. Choices as to which language to use in a
particular situation (for bi- or multilingual speakers),
how to address an interlocutor, whether to delete or
add sounds to words, whether to speak or remain
silent, are not in free variation but are patterned,
according to rules which are part of the social
knowledge of a particular community. It follows that
much of the meaning to interlocutors, of their speech
activity, is derived from knowledge of local patterns
and expectations.
Speaking, from this perspective, is a complex social
as well as a linguistic act. To explain speaking
activities—why they occur as they do and what they
mean to those who participate in them—requires
reference to their social contexts. Thus to character-
ize what people are doing and saying when they
speak, involves reference to the settings, participants,
ends, act sequences, topics, and so forth, which
comprise the social situation. This goes beyond the
rules of language structure to a consideration of rules
specifying who may say what to whom, in what
language or style, to what ends, and on what

Speaking is not absolutely determined. It is
patterned, but in ways which its participants can
circumvent, challenge, and revise. Its rules are
violated, new rules and meanings are created. Any
given speech community is an organization of
diversity. Its spoken life is fashioned from diverse,
even discrepant, motives, practices, and preferences,
but nonetheless there is, in any particular commu-
nity, a knowable system in its language use. To
acknowledge that the patterns are mutable and that
they subsume diverse strands does not negate the fact
that there are patterns, the knowledge of which
speakers exploit in their speaking activities and in
their interpretations of same.
The idea that speaking within a society is governed
by rules which speakers can use to associate message
forms with social meanings is illustrated in an
extensive body of research into personal address
(Philipsen and Huspek 1985). When, for example,
one interlocutor addresses another with a pronoun of
personal address this can involve the selection from
among forms which are grammatically and semanti-
cally equivalent but whose use has social meaning.
For example, although present-day English provides
only one form (you) for pronominal address, in the
seventeenth century speakers of English selected from
thee, thou, ye, and you. Although these forms were
equally acceptable grammatically and had the same
referential meaning, which of the forms was used was
highly predictable and was socially prescribed, given
knowledge of the social situation: thou and thee were
prescribed for address in intimate or everyday
situations; ye and you, although plural forms, were
prescribed as honorific forms for addressing an


Language and Interaction

individual to whom one wished, or was obligated, to
pay respect or deference.
That these pronominal address forms carried social
meaning was attested to not only by contempora-
neous commentary but also by the usage of the
seventeenth century English Quakers, who intention-
ally flouted the conventions of the dominant speech
community. According to the Quakers' reading of
the Scriptures, thou and thee were employed by
Christ, and the generalization of the plural you to an
individual addressee was, they believed, an affecta-
tion adopted vainly by popes and emperors. The
Quakers prescribed that thou and thee be addressed
to everyone, even to those outside their fellowship
who expected you and ye, at once expressing their
own conviction that 'Christ respects no man's
person' and undermining what they believed to be
an ungodly practice in the society at large (Bauman

Ethnographers of speaking have shown that a wide
range of speaking phenomena is systematically
organized in ways which are meaningful to speakers
and hearers. This includes community-specific prac-
tices with regard to verbal forms, prosodic features,
and extralinguistic signs. Attention to the social
organization of speaking has also been extended to
the structure of speech acts, activities, events,
situations, and roles, as well as to the organization
of greetings, leave-takings, narratives, genres, and
conversations, all of which potentially can be found
to have a high degree of patterning in particular

The principle that speaking is structured has been
extended to the patterning of a community's entire
range of speech situations and speech events.
Sherzer's (1983) study of San Bias Kuna Indians in
Panama, which is based on detailed observation and
tape-recordings of naturally-occurring speech, articu-
lates the Kuna way of life in terms of the patterning
of resources, contexts, and uses of speaking. All
major social activities among the Kuna—everyday
informal conversations, teaching and learning ses-
sions, public political meetings, and curing and
puberty rituals—are defined through showing how
every aspect of Kuna speaking—grammar, vocabu-
lary, sound patterns, and gestures—is intimately
linked to what is considered intelligible and appro-
priate conduct within these contexts.
The systematic description and analysis of all
major speech situations within the San Bias commu-
nity provided the basis for delineating its overall
sociolinguistic structure. Most of Kuna spoken life is
filled with, indeed is defined by, carefully controlled
and organized talk; most major social activities
involve systematically different uses of the voice
and of the community's linguistic resources. But, for
this highly voluble people, not every social moment is
a speaking moment. Set against the prevailing

preoccupation with highly ordered talk are a few
contexts in which speaking is proscribed (during
certain curing ceremonies in which it is believed that
speaking might attract the attention of evil spirits)
and in which uncontrolled yelling, arguing and
fighting are permitted, even encouraged (during
puberty rites and festivities). The meanings, to the
Kuna, of their various ways of speaking can only be
appreciated by setting each one in the context of the
larger pattern. Another way that attention to the full
range of speaking situations and events proved
instructive in the Kuna case was the discovery that
the speaking style primarily associated with particu-
lar situations penetrated into other contexts. For
example, Kuna speakers incorporated miniature,
momentary versions of ritual speech into everyday
discourse for two different purposes: to show off (in
the case of ritual specialists who could demonstrate
their esoteric knowledge) and to parody the ritual
context. The meanings of these momentary versions
of ritual speech would be uninterpretable without the
comprehensive background provided by Sherzer's

2. Speaking as Culturally Distinctive

Studies such as those of the Kuna, when placed side
by side and comparatively analyzed, reveal that
speaking, like other systems of behavior, is not only
organized within a society but also organized in each
society in culture-specific ways which must be
discovered in each case. Societies differ as to what
communicative resources are available to their
members, in terms of languages, dialects, registers,
routines, genre, artistic formulas, etc. They also differ
in how these resources are patterned in use, in the
functions served in (and serviceable by) speech and
other communicative means, and in the evaluation of
speaking as an instrument of social action.
Speaking is not everywhere valued equally. It is an
object of a high degree of interest, elaboration, and
positive evaluation in some societies. Along with the
San Bias Kuna of Panama, whom one Kuna
described as 'a talking people,' there are speakers
on Roti, a small island in Eastern Indonesia, of
whom Fox says,

the pleasure of life is talk—not simply an idle chatter
that passes time, but the more formal talking of sides in
endless dispute, argument, and repartee or the rivalling
of one another in eloquent and balanced phrases on
ceremonial occasions... Lack of talk is an indication of
distress. Rotinese repeatedly explain that if their 'hearts'
are confused or dejected, they keep silent. Contrarily, to
be involved with someone requires active verbal


(Fox 1974: 65)

In other societies, the ideal standard for adult
behavior is relative taciturnity. Among the Paliyans,


Ethnography of Speaking

a tribal people in South India, by the time a man
reaches 40 years of age he practically stops speaking
altogether (Hymes 1962). In a working-class neigh-
borhood in Chicago, local rules proscribe speaking in
many contexts of male role enactment, including
disciplining children, defending the honor of female
relatives, and asserting oneself politically and eco-
nomically (Philipsen 1975).
Differences in valuation are reflected in the
distinctiveness of cultural terminologies for the act
of speaking. Although all known languages have a
word for 'to say' or 'to speak,' languages differ as to
the number of words referring to a linguistic action.
In a Mayan community of Tzeltal speakers, 416
variants of the Tzeltal form k'op 'speech' were
elicited, all of which have the form MODIFIER + k'op
(Stross 1974). An analogous list in English would
include 'sweet talk,' 'back talk,' and a few others but
would, according to the linguist who elicited the
Tzeltal terms, have fewer than 10 items. Languages
differ also as to which aspects of the domain of
speaking are linguistically elaborated: a Chamula
folk taxonomy contains many terms for ritual speech
(Gossen 1974), as does that of the Kuna; St Vin-
centians have many words for the way of speaking
called 'talking nonsense' (Abrahams and Bauman

Culturally distinctive vocabularies about the act of
speaking have been of interest to ethnographers of
speaking because they index or reflect attitudes and
knowledge of members of the community. A portion
of the social reality which attaches to the category
'speaking' (and, by extension, to social life more
generally) is expressed in a people's distinctive
terministic screen and vocabulary of motives for
speaking. Carbaugh has written, 'As speech is
identified and labeled through cultural categories,
its efficacy as an action—what it is doing, what it
should and should not do, what it can and can not
do—is displayed' (1989: 124). It follows that as
conceptions of speaking, displayed in talk, vary from
people to people, so too the way of life, expressed and
constituted in talk, varies across speech communities.
The transmission of information is not always or
everywhere the exclusive or even primary function of
speech. In the working-class neighborhood in Chica-
go, mentioned above, much speech behavior func-
tions, not primarily to report or to describe, but to
link interlocutors in a social relationship, and to
affirm and signify the interlocutors' sameness and
unity. Speech there is predominantly a means to
symbolize one's place in a local social hierarchy
defined in terms of ethnicity, gender, age, and place
of residence. By contrast, among upper-middle-class
Americans, speech about one's experiences serves not
only to inform the listeners about those experiences
but to give the speaker an opportunity to express his
or her personal uniqueness; among these speakers a

high value is placed upon 'communication,' glossed
as 'close,' 'open,' and 'supportive speech' in which
the interlocutors reciprocally disclose personal in-
formation and validate the other's images of self.
These examples suggest not only that something
more than information transmission is being accom-
plished with speech, but also a difference, across
groups, in what is accomplished (Katriel and
Philipsen 1981).

3. The Speech Community
If speaking is examined as socially situated human
action, which varies across the social fields in which it
occurs, it is important to place it within the speech
activity of a particular community. Investigators
inspired by some version of linguistic determinism (as
in the various versions of the Sapir-Whorf hypoth-
esis) make the linguistic code the primary focus of
investigation, describing a language and then ascer-
taining its communicative and cognitive correlates.
The ethnography of speaking emphasizes a different
approach, identifying a social community and
ascertaining the codes, patterns, and functions which
can be observed in that context. Hymes states as a
working assumption: 'if there exists a set of social
relationships, then there will exist communicative
(and, by extension, linguistic) features considered
specific to the relationship by the participants'
(1968: 23).

Taking the social community as the starting point
for the study of speech places the emphasis not on a
single code but on the diverse variety of language
codes and speech styles available to members of a
community. This contrasts with defining the speech
community as 'all the people who use a given
language (or dialect)' (Lyons 1970: 326). It thus
allows for the possibility (often realized in fact) that
among a group of interacting speakers there will be
two or more languages or dialects, and that one thing
which is significant to know about their spoken life is
how these different codes are deployed and what they
mean to those who use them. It contrasts as well with
a conception of the speech community as homo-
geneous and unitary (one language, one society),
emphasizing rather that linguistic, political, social,
and geographical boundaries are seldom coterminous
and must be discovered in each case.
The complexities of linking social and linguistic
patterns is suggested in the case of Indians in the
Vaupes territory of southeastern Colombia (Jackson
1974). There are over 20 tribes, each of which has its
own distinct language. All speakers in the area share
rules for speaking and there is a lingua franca,
Tukano, which makes communication possible
among speakers who speak different primary lan-
guages. The men in the tribes are forbidden to marry
within their tribe, thus assuring that their wives will
have grown up learning another language in the


Language and Interaction

home. The wives come to live in the husband's tribal
longhouse, where the husband's language is spoken
and where the children learn the father's language.
The longhouses, which may house several families,
thus are multilingual social groups. To account for
the facts of linguistic usage in this language area and
within any particular longhouse in the area, requires
a conception of social unit which allows for over-
lapping social and linguistic boundaries.
In order to accommodate such cases, Gumperz has
defined a speech community as, 'any human aggre-
gate characterized by regular and frequent interac-
tion by means of a shared body of verbal signs and
set off from similar aggregates by significant differ-
ences in language use' (Gumperz 1968). This defini-
tion, which has been influential in the ethnography of
speaking, emphasizes patterns of interaction and
communication on the social side of the expression
and leaves open the linguistic criteria which consti-
tute a speech community. Hymes defines speech
community as 'a community sharing rules for the
conduct and interpretation of speech, and rules for
the interpretation of at least one linguistic variety'
(1972: 54). The emphasis is on a social community as
the basis for describing ways of speaking, leaving
open the criteria for identifying the social commu-
nity. Hymes (1972) also includes among the social
units which can provide a basis for description such
related concepts as 'speech area,' in which speaking
rules are shared among speakers of contiguous
languages, as where speakers of Czech, Hungarian,
and German may be found to share norms as to
greetings, acceptable topics, and the organization
of conversations; 'speech field,' as the total range of
communities within which a person's knowledge of
varieties and speaking rules potentially enables him
to move communicatively; and the 'speech network,'
the specific linkages of persons with whom one
actually speaks (1972: 55).
Much of the research in the ethnography of
speaking effectively conjoins the emphasis by Gum-
perz on patterns of interaction and the emphasis by
Hymes on shared rules for conduct and interpreta-
tion of speech by focusing interest on a particular
speech event (or events) and the rules which govern
activity within it (them). By identifying locally
defined events (or situations or scenes) for speaking,
and the rules attending them, an ethnography of speak-
ing focuses on concrete activities which are mean-
ingful contexts for action, contexts in which patterns
of interaction and rules for speaking jointly meet.
Speech events, e.g., a conversation at a party, can
be viewed, in particular cases, as consisting of
particular speech acts, e.g., a joke within the
conversation. A speech act may be the whole of a
speech event, as when a single prayer constitutes an
entire rite; but more often a speech event will consist
of several different speech acts. Both speech events

and speech acts, from the perspective of the
ethnography of speaking, are to be discovered in
particular speech communities, rather than to be
assumed from a general knowledge. The discovery of
such events and acts, which may or may not be
named in a given language, is part of the descriptive
work of the ethnographer of speaking, who seeks to
account for the distinctive patterns and uses of
speaking in a particular speech community.

4. A Descriptive Framework for Speaking

The initial formulation of the ethnography of speak-
ing (Hymes 1962) included a framework for describ-
ing the particularities of ways of speaking in diverse
speech communities. It was designed to provide an
acontextual format for discovering, describing, and
comparatively analyzing unique cases. It included
four major headings: Speech Community, Speech
Events, Factors in Speech Events, and Functions in
Speech Events.
The speech community is the largest descriptive
unit. Within a speech community, from one view
constitutive of it, are speech events, locally defined
contexts for speaking, each of which has an internal
structure which differentiates it from other events in a
community. Hymes (1962) extended Jakobson's
(1960) model of a speech event by increasing the
number of constitutive factors and functions from six
to seven. Thus, any speech event is comprised of
seven factors, including minimally, a 'sender,' who
sends a 'message' to a 'receiver.' The message is sent
via a physical 'channel,' implying as well some
psychological connection between or among the
interlocutors, and is expressed in a 'code' which is
at least partially shared by the sender and receiver.
The message is about something, i.e., its 'topic.' And
the event occurs in a particular time and place, its
'setting.' As the factors which make up any act of
verbal communication, these are factors to attend to
in describing indigenous speech events and the speech
acts which comprise them.
Corresponding to these factors are seven types of
functions. The 'expressive' function focuses on the
attitude which the 'sender' expresses toward what he
is speaking about or toward the situation itself. The
'directive' function, sometimes called the 'conative'
or 'persuasive' function, focuses on what the sender is
asking the 'receiver' to do, in responding to the
verbal message. The 'poetic' function focuses on the
form of the 'message,' with particular emphasis on its
artistic or aesthetic value to the interlocutors.
Whether contact is established, and whether the
'channel' is opened and maintained between or
among interlocutors, is the 'phatic' function, with
emphasis on verbal contact being established or
maintained. Whenever the interlocutors turn their
attention to the 'code' itself (or the codes) being used,
a 'metalinguistic' function is performed. A focus on


Ethnography of Speaking

'topic,' the subject of the verbal communication,
signals attention to the 'referential' function. The
'setting' may be the focus of emphasis in an act of
verbal communication, as when attention turns to the
social context or social relationship which forms a
backdrop to the speech event, or which becomes the
object of the speech event, as when interlocutors use
speaking to define or redefine their social relation-
ship; in these cases, a 'contextual' (or situational)
function is emphasized. Although all features of a
speech event may participate in all the functions,
there may be specifiable linkages of factor and
function, to be investigated in given cases.
In any act of verbal communication, one or more
of these factors and their corresponding functions
may be emphasized or foregrounded. For example,
the seventeenth-century Quaker use of thou and thee
rather than the conventional you and ye foreground a
focus on the addressee and the directive function in
the effort to induce the addressee to abandon his
pretension to worldly rank rather than, say, an
emphasis on the topic and the referential function.
So, too, speech communities can differ in the relative
emphasis placed on factors and functions. Among
the Kuna, for example, there is considerable com-
munity interest in the aesthetic quality of verbal
behavior, with an emphasis on message form; among
the seventeenth century Quakers, 'plain speech' is
preferred, with relatively less attention and valuation
given to the artistic dimension of speaking.
Hymes's (1962) framework was proposed tenta-
tively in the hope that it would provide a basis for
empirical studies. In the 30 years following its
publication there were some 250 studies which used
its categories (Philipsen and Carbaugh 1986) and the
framework was revised extensively as it was applied
and tested through fieldwork. Important extensions
include development of the social units of descrip-
tion, with attention given to speech network and
speech field; a typology for characterizing societies as
to the quantitative and qualitative importance of
speaking; formalized procedures for rule-discovery
and rule-statement; and expansion of the number of
factors in speech events. The factors in speech events
were reformulated in the mnemonically coded 'speak-
ing,' thus: Setting or Scene; Participants; Ends; Act
Characteristics, including both the form and content
of the message; Key or Tone of the event; Instru-
mentalities, including Channels and Codes; Norms of
Interaction and of Interpretation; and Genres.
The framework is intended to provide, not so
much a checklist of things to describe, as an initial set
of questions and descriptive possibilities in the study
of ways of speaking in particular communities. It is
intended to provide as well a format for comparison
across communities, i.e., a set of categories for the
articulation of similarities and differences, where
these are found. In both of these regards, the frame-

work is heuristic, set up so that the results of part-
icular studies can be used to expand and develop it.

5. Communicative Competence

Chomsky posited an innate capacity to learn
language and made the claim that 'every speaker of
a language has mastered and internalized a gen-
erative grammar that expresses his knowledge of his
language' (1965: 8). 'Knowledge of language' in this
view consists of the ability to produce and under-
stand a seemingly infinite number of novel, gramma-
tical sentences in a language.
Against this notion of idealized linguistic compe-
tence Hymes has set the term 'communicative
competence' (see Communicative Competence). In-
stead of referring exclusively to a speaker's knowl-
edge of linguistic forms, 'communicative competence'
refers to an ability to use language appropriately in
the social situations of a speech community.

Within the social matrix in which it acquires a system of
grammar a child acquires also a system of its use,
regarding persons, places, purposes, other modes of
communication, etc.— all the components of commu-
nicative events, together with attitudes and beliefs
regarding them. There also develop patterns of the
sequential use of language in conversation, address,
standard routines, and the like. In such acquisition
resides the child's socio-linguistic competence (or, more
broadly, communicative competence), its ability to
participate in its society as not only a speaking, but
also a communicating member. What children so
acquire, an integrated theory of socio-linguistics must
be able to describe.

(Hymes 1974: 75)

Descriptions of the ways of speaking in particular
speech communities reveal that as speakers humans
are capable of a great deal linguistically—capable,
for example, of exploiting the linguistic resources of
their communities for all the varied ends of linguistic
activity, including the referential, the poetic, the
persuasive, etc. And as speakers they not only enact
and experience but also undermine, challenge, and
negotiate the local meanings which attach to and are
expressed in complex arrays of linguistic activity.
Thus, from the standpoint of the ethnography of
speaking, speakers are seen (or heard) to display a
wide range of speaking competencies, a range which
the term 'communicative competence' was proposed
to encompass.

6. Future Directions

Since its inception in 1962, the ethnography of
speaking has developed its basic categories and
modes of statement. A large body of fieldwork has
been conducted under its auspices, with the aims
of providing descriptions of particular ways of
speaking, developing a descriptive framework, and


Language and Interaction

developing cross-cultural generalizations about the
interaction of language and social life. With the
development of the conceptual framework and of a
body of fieldwork materials, drawn widely from
many languages and many areas of the world, it is
possible to begin comparative work in speaking, that
is, to search for cross-cultural regularities in com-
municative conduct and to delineate more sharply
than previously possible the dimensions of cross-
cultural variation in speech behavior.

See also: Conversation Analysis; Communicative
Competence; Discourse in Cross-linguistic and
Cross-cultural Contexts.


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