sociolinguistics

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sociolinguistics,

the study of language as it affects and is affected by social relations. Sociolinguistics encompasses a broad range of concerns, including bilingualismbilingualism,
ability to use two languages. Fluency in a second language requires skills in listening comprehension, speaking, reading, and writing, although in practice some of those skills are often considerably less developed than others.
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, pidginpidgin
, a lingua franca that is not the mother tongue of anyone using it and that has a simplified grammar and a restricted, often polyglot vocabulary. The earliest documented pidgin is the Lingua Franca (or Sabir) that developed among merchants and traders in the Mediterranean
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 and creole languagescreole language
, any language that began as a pidgin but was later adopted as the mother tongue by a people in place of the original mother tongue or tongues. Examples are the Gullah of South Carolina and Georgia (based on English), the creole of Haiti (based on French), and
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, and other ways that language use is influenced by contact among people of different language communities (e.g., speakers of German, French, Italian, and Romansh in Switzerland). Sociolinguists also examine different dialects, accents, and levels of diction in light of social distinctions among people. Although accent refers strictly to pronunciation, in practice a dialect can usually be identified by the accent of its speakers as well as by distinctive words, usages, idiomatic expressions, and grammatical features. Dialects reflect and may reinforce class, ethnic, or regional differences among speakers of the same language. In some cases difference of dialect shades into difference of language. Where the line between them is not clear, groups that are linguistically distinct are considered to speak different dialects of the same language if they can generally understand each other, although what constitutes this mutual intelligibility is itself not always clear. For example, someone speaking Mandarin may not be able to understand the spoken form of another Chinese dialect but can read it, since the written form of all Chinese dialects is universal; Serbs and Croats, on the other hand, speak essentially the same language but use different alphabets to write it. Individuals sometimes deliberately change their dialect as a means of improving their social status. Speakers of any dialect or any language may modulate their vocabulary and level of diction according to social context, speaking differently in church, for example, than on the playground; social activities that tend to shape the language of those engaging in it are sometimes called registers.

Bibliography

See R. A. Hudson, Sociolinguistics (1980); P. Trudgill, Dialects in Contact (1986); H. Giles and N. Coupland, Language: Contexts and Consequences (1991).

sociolinguistics

a field of study, informed by both sociology and psychology, concerned with the social and cultural aspects and functions of LANGUAGE. Although sometimes narrowly identified with somewhat disparate, albeit important, topics such as language and social class (e.g. the work of Basil BERNSTEIN), language and ethnicity (e.g. Labov, 1967), language and gender, etc., potentially at least, sociolinguistics, has a much wider brief, including most aspects of language. One general area of major significance, for example, has been an emphasis on the importance of a sociological view of’linguistic competence’ and the inadequacy of a merely physiological and psychological view (e.g. Halliday's or HABERMAS's critique of CHOMSKY's theory of linguistic competence). Among further main areas of sociolinguistic concern are PRAGMATICS and SEMIOTICS. Accordingly, the argument can be advanced that sociolinguistics should be regarded as having an utterly central rather than a peripheral role within the general study of LINGUISTICS. see also COGNITIVE ANTHROPOLOGY.

Sociolinguistics

 

(sociological linguistics), a scientific discipline based on linguistics, sociology, social psychology, and cultural anthropology and studying a broad range of problems associated with the social nature of language, the social functions of language, and the way in which social factors influence language.

The foundations of modern sociolinguistic research were laid by L. P. Iakubinskii, V. V. Vinogradov, B. A. Larin, V. M. Zhirmunskii, R. O. Shor, M. V. Sergievskii, E. D. Polivanov, and other Soviet scholars who, in the 1920’s and 1930’s, studied language as a social phenomenon. Contributions to the development of sociolinguistics were also made by the French school of sociological linguistics, which was based on the work of A. Meillet; the American ethnolinguists and sociolinguists who developed the ideas of F. Boas and E. Sapir; German scholars, especially T. Frings and the Leipzig school he founded; V. Mathesius, B. Havranek, and other representatives of the Prague school; and the Japanese school of “linguistic life.”

Unlike some schools of sociolinguistics in the USA and elsewhere, which are oriented toward behaviorism, phenomenology, G. Mead’s theory of social interaction, and other currents of bourgeois philosophy and sociology, Marxist sociolinguistics is based on historical materialism and specific theories of Marxist sociology, including the theory of the social structure of society, the theory of social systems, and the sociology of the personality. It is also based on the study of language as the most important means of human communication, the study of the role of language in the formation and development of nations, and the study of the social functions of languages and dialects.

Sociolinguistics investigates the relationship between language and a nation and studies the national language as a historical category associated with the formation of a nation. It examines the social differentiation of language on all levels of structure and, in particular, the nature of the interrelationships between linguistic and social structures. It is also concerned with the typology of linguistic situations in which the various languages and dialects used by a given group have different social functions. In addition, it studies the principles according to which languages interact under various social conditions; the social aspects of bilingualism, multilingualism, and diglossia (the interaction of different subsystems within the same language that are used in different social contexts); speech in the context of a social situation; and language policy as one of the forms of a society’s conscious influence on language.

The methods of sociolinguistics are a synthesis of linguistic and sociological research methods. Sociolinguistics makes use of questionnaires, interviews, observation in which the observer himself functions as a participant in the act of communication, sociological experimentation, and certain methods of mathematical statistics. It also employs modeling of socially determined speech by means of “sociolinguistic rules”—socially conditioned rules for the generation of utterances, variation, and joint occurrence of linguistic units—and analysis based on the correlation of linguistic and social phenomena as dependent and independent variables.

REFERENCES

Desheriev, lu. D. Zakonomernosti razvitiia i vzaimodeistviia iazykov v sovetskom obshchestve. Moscow, 1966.
lazykiobshchestvo. Moscow, 1968.
Voprosysotsial’noilingvistiki. Leningrad, 1969.
Zakonomernosti razvitiia literaturnykh iazykov narodov SSSR v sovetskuiu epokhu, vols. 1-3. Moscow, 1969-73.
Shveitser, A. D. Voprosy sotsiologii iazyka v sovremennoi amerikanskoi lingvistike. Leningrad, 1971.
Problemy dvuiazychiia i mnogoiazychiia. Moscow, 1972.
Baziev, A. T., and M. I. Isaev. lazykinatsiia. Moscow, 1973.
Sotsiolingvisticheskie problemy razvivaiushchikhsia stran. Moscow, 1975.
Novoe v lingvistike, issue 7. Moscow, 1975. (Translated from English.)
Directions in Sociolinguistics. New York, 1972.
Labov, W. Sociolinguistic Patterns. Philadelphia, 1972.

A. D. SHVEITSER

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