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1) Strictly speaking this refers to the pronunciation of a dialect, i.e. it is a reference to the collection of phonetic features which allow a speaker to be identified regionally or socially. It is frequently used to indicate that a given speaker does not speak the standard form of a language. The term is used in German to refer to grammatical features as well.

2) The stress placed on a syllable of a word or the type of stress used by a language (pressure or pitch).



The ability to speak two languages with native-like competence. In every individual case one language will be dominant. Lay people often use the term if someone can simply speak a second language well.


code switching

Moving from one language to another within a single sentence or phrase. This is a phenomenon found among bilinguals who feel it is appropriate to change languages (or dialects in some cases) — perhaps to say something which can only be said in the language switched to. Code-switching is governed by fairly strict rules concerning the points in a sentence at which one can change over.



An extra-linguistic notion, usually deriving from institutions in society like a language academy or a major publishing house, which attempts to lay down rigid rules for language use, especially in written form. Notions of correctness show a high degree of arbitrariness and are based on somewhat conservative usage, intended to maintain an unchanging standard in a language — a complete fiction.



A term used to describe a pidgin after it has become the mother tongue of a certain population. This development usually implies that the pidgin has become more complex grammatically and has increased its vocabulary in order to deal with the entire set of situations in which a native language is used. A well-known example is Tok Pisin, a creole spoken in Papua New Guinea and which has official status there.



A traditional term referring to a variety of a language spoken in a certain place. There are urban and rural dialects. The boundaries between dialects are always gradual. The term dialect is used to denote a geographically distinct variety of a language.

Two major points in this connection should be noted:

1) 'dialect' does not refer to the social or temporal aspect of language and

2) the term 'dialect' makes no reference to the standard variety of a language. In connection with the latter point it is important to stress that the standard of a language is nothing more than a dialect which achieved special political and social status at some stage in the past and which has been extensively codified orthographically.


ethnography of communication

The study of cultural differences in acts of communication. This is a comprehensive term which goes beyond simple differences in language to cover additional aspects such as formulaic use of language (e.g. in greeting or parting rituals), proxemics (the use of distance between partners in a conversation) and kinesics (the study of body movements used in communication).



A specific use of language to express deference in a social context. This can encompass special pronominal forms (T- and V-forms in continental European languages) and fixed titular phrases (Mr., Mrs., Ms., etc. in English) or special adjectives (honourable, reverend, esquire).



A kind of linguistic situation in which a speaker overgeneralises a phenomenon which he/she does not have in his/her native variety. For example if a speaker from northern England pronounces butcher /butʃə/ with the vowel in but, i.e. as /bʌtʃə/, then this is almost certainly hypercorrection as he/she does not have the but-sound in his/her own dialect and, in an effort to speak 'correct' English, overdoes it. The same applies to native speakers of Rhenish German when they pronounce Kirschen like Kirchen when they are talking to speakers of High German.



The language of an individual as opposed to that of a group.



The transfer of certain phenomena from one language to another where they are not considered grammatical. This may happen on an individual level (during second language learning, for example) or collectively in which case it often leads to language change.



A term used by Saussure to refer to the collective knowledge of a community of the language spoken by its members.


linguistic stigma

The condemnation of certain forms in a language by the majority of a social group.


linguistic taboo

Forbidding the use of certain forms. Taboo words change from generation to generation, e.g. the means of referring to sex and sexual practices, as older taboo words lose their strength and become part of general vocabulary.



A term deriving from Ferdinand de Saussure and which refers to language as it is spoken, contrast this with langue.



A language which arises from the need to communicate between two communities. Historically, and indeed in almost all cases, one of the communities is socially superior to the other. The language of the former provides the base on which the latter then creates the pidgin. A pidgin which has become the mother language of a later generation is termed a creole. Pidgins are of special interest to the linguist as they are languages which have been created from scratch and because they are not subject to the normalising influence of a standard. Classically pidgins arose during trade between European countries and those outside of Europe. The lexicon of a pidgin is usually taken from the lexifier language (the European one in question) and its grammar may derive from native input (such as the languages of West Africa during the slave trade with the Caribbean and America) or may take elements from the lexifier language or may 'invent' its own structures going on an innate blueprint which many linguists assume speakers have from birth. The further development of a pidgin is a creole, although this stage does not have to be reached if there is no necessity to develop a native language.



A style level in a language. When we speak we automatically locate ourselves on a specific stylistic level. This can vary depending on the situation in which we find ourselves. For example when talking to the postman one would most likely use a different register than when one is holding a public address.



A variety of a language which is typical of a certain class. Sociolects are most common in urban areas. In history, sociolects may play a role, e.g. in the formation of the English standard, Received Pronunciation, which derives from a city dialect (that of London in the late Middle Ages) but which has long since become a sociolect (Cockney being the dialect of London nowadays).



The study of the use of language in society. Although some writers on language had recognised the importance of social factors in linguistic behaviour it was not until the 1960's with the seminal work of Labov that the attention of large numbers of linguists was focussed on language use in a social context. In particular the successful explanation of many instances of language change helped to establish sociolinguistics as an independent sub-discipline in linguistics and led to a great impetus for research in this area.


speech community

Any identifiable and delimitable group of speakers who use a more or less unified type of language.



A variety of a language which by virtue of historical accident has become the leading form of the language in a certain country. As a result of this, the standard may be expanded due to the increase in function which it experiences due to its position in society. There is nothing inherently superior about a standard although nearly all speakers of a community accept that it has highest prestige.



A term used to refer to any variant of a language which can be sufficiently delimited from another variant. The grounds for such differentiation may be social, historical, spatial or a combination of these. The necessity for a neutral term such as variety arose from the loaded use of the term dialect: this was not only used in the sense defined above, but also with the implication that the linguistically most interesting varieties of a language are those spoken by the older rural population. This view is understandable given the origin of dialectology in the 19th century, that is in the heydey of historical linguistics. Nowadays, sociolinguistic attitudes are prevalent and the need for a term which can include the linguistic investigation of urban populations from a social point of view became evident.



The indigenous language or dialect of a community. This is an English term which refers to purely spoken forms of a language.



Sociolinguistics is the study of how language is used in society.