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To a close equal: an old friend - PowerPoint PPT Presentation

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abgdezhqiklmnxoprstufcyw. Top left: Greek Bottom left: Cherokee Middle: Arabic Top right: Russian. LANGUAGE. What is language?. A form of communication that is a systematic set of arbitrary symbols shared among a group and passed on from generation to generation.

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Top left: Greek

Bottom left: Cherokee

Middle: Arabic

Top right: Russian



What is language?

A form of communication that is a systematic set of arbitrarysymbolsshared among a group and passed on from generation to generation


A form of Communication

What is Conveyed or transmitted?


Other forms of communication:

  • Direct: facial expression, body stance, gesture, tone of voice
  • Indirect: writing, algebra, music, painting, signs


  • sounds
  • system of sounds that when put together according to certain rules results in meanings
  • Systematic nature of language is usually unconscious


  • associations between words/sounds and the things they represent are arbitrary
  • not natural or self-evident meaning.
  • meaning provided by tradition and consensus
  • Because symbols are arbitrary they have to be learned.











“grab hold of this”

“look at this”


Descriptive symbols



  • profoundly social
  • we use language to send social messages about
    • who we are
    • where we come from
    • who we associate with
  • we may judge a person\'s background, character, and intentions based upon the person\'s language, dialect, or, in some instances, even the choice of a single word. Eh!


the study of language(s) in relation to society. The Social Uses of Language

- Language expresses, symbolizes and maintains the social order

Social variables influence a person\'s use of language

  • Class
  • Gender
  • Status
  • Age
  • National/ethnic/regional identity
  • education

A child learning a language also acquires social competence i.e. the ability to recognize and interpret the social activity taking place.

e.g. opening or closing a conversation

Telling a joke or story

taking conversational turns


Social Identity

  • language use is fundamental to the creation and expression of social identity and difference.
  • the social prestige or stigma attached to linguistic varieties often supports and expresses the value attached to social identities.
  • Eg. the Queen’s English vs Cockney English
  • distinctive aspects of language from pronunciation to syntax, to slang, i.e. any aspect of linguistic code
  • Glottal stopCity = Ci’y water= wa\'er
  • Dropped ‘h’ house = ‘ouse, hammer = ‘ammer
  • TH fronting three = free bath = barf
  • Vowel lowering dinner = dinna, marrow= marra

Most prestigious form will be that of the most powerful group in society because this group controls education and the media. perkins2.ramqueen1a.ram

  • Prestige form often forms the standard language
  • a national language permits internal cohesion and fosters external distinction
  • forms a powerful base for national identity
  • minority languages serve to mark off ethnic difference within multiethnic societies.

90% of Paraguans speak Guarani, yet until 1992 Spanish was the official language, the language of prestige and is used in government, schools, and commerce.

  • Guarani is used in informal settings with friends and relatives, in talking with status inferiors.
  • Guaraní raises feelings of pride and linguistic loyalty in the people


A “slang” dialect used by certain groups of the African-American community.Yo, Big Daddy upstairs,You be chillinSo be yo hoodYou be sayin\' it, I be doin\' itIn this here hood and yo\'sGimme some eatsAnd cut me some slack, BloodSos I be doin\' it to dem dat diss me Don\'t be pushing me into no jiveAng keep dem crips awayCause you always be da man, GStraight up.Aa-men.


English First

English First is a national, non-profit grassroots lobbying organization founded in 1986. The goal is to Make English America\'s official language



  • items that mark features of the speakers and for the hearers identity
  • include pronouns, kinship terms, forms of address, and speech levels
  • they create and sustain a relational social identity

Terms of address

  • Who am I?
  • Christopher John Holdsworth
  • Christopher Holdsworth
  • Chris Holdsworth
  • Holdsworth, Christopher
  • Christopher John
  • Professor Holdsworth
  • Dr. Holdsworth
  • Dr C. J Holdsworth
  • Holdsworth
  • Christopher
  • Chris
  • Dad

Terms of address

What contextual elements influence the form used?

  • Is the formality of the setting relevant?
  • Is the kinship relation or other social relationship relevant?
  • Is age or generation relevant in selecting the appropriate form?
  • Is relative status or rank relevant in selecting an appropriate term?

The sociolinguistics of English names

  • Classification: Sex (Mr/Mrs; John/Mary)
  • The Solidarity hierarchy
  • The Power hierarchy

Solidarity relations to a:





Power relations to a:




what name do you use
What name do you use?
  • To superior stranger: TF (Mr Smith)
  • To subordinate relative: G (John)
  • To superior relative: T (Dad)
  • To equal acquaintance: G
  • To superior acquaintance: ?
inequality reigns
Inequality reigns
  • salesman is subordinate to customer
  • dentist is superior to patient
  • teacher is superior to student
  • What if student = customer???

Power Semantic

  • Determines which pronoun will be used on the basis of the difference in social status (or power) between the speaker and addressee.
    • wealth, age, sex, institutionalised role in the church, the state, the army, the family ...
  • The T of "intimacy" versus the V of "formality" (French tu or vous)
  • Based on an asymmetrical relation and is non-reciprocal.
does naming matter
Does naming matter?
  • To the hearer: Yes.
  • To the speaker: Yes.
  • A wrong choice can offend or hurt.
  • Decisions are difficult.
  • The better you speak English, the more a wrong choice will offend.

Forms of address

  • vary with the nature of the relationship between speakers
  • the reciprocal use of first names generally signifies an informal intimate relationship between two persons
  • a title and a last name used reciprocally indicates a more formal or businesslike relationship between individuals of roughly equal status
  • nonreciprocal use of first names and titles is reserved for speakers who recognize a marked difference in status between themselves
  • this status can be a function of age (as when a child refers to her mother\'s friend as Mrs Miller and is in returned referred to as Sally)
  • or it can be along occupational lines as when as person refers to his boss by title and last name and is in return addressed as John


  • Use of polite language was one aspect of the enactment of social hierarchy in the Thai court
  • politeness entailed the correct use of formal modes of addressing royalty with linguistic terms that exalted royalty and humbled those of lower status.
  • The first person pronoun used when addressing the king meant `I the slave of the Lord Buddha\'
  • second person meant `the dust beneath the sole of your august feet\' meaning that the speaker did not dare address the king directly but to the dirt on the floor.
  • The Thai person who addresses his comments to the dirt beneath the king\'s shoe is invoking a cultural image of `low status\' but he is also indexing relative identity in the social interaction of discourse.

Language and gender

  • Three issues:
    • Do women and men speak a different language / genderlect?
    • Do women and men behave differently in conversations?
    • How sexist is the English language?

Men and women in conversation

  • Who talks more?
  • Who interrupts more?
  • Who introduces topics?
  • Who asks questions?
  • Who is more supportive?

Men and women in conversation

Who talks more?

  • Stereotype says that women talk more than men
  • Proverbs:
    • A woman\'s tongue wags like a lamb\'s tail.
    • Foxes are all tail and women are all tongue.
    • The North Sea will sooner be found wanting in water than a woman be at a loss for a word.
  • But
    • In numerous studies it has been shown that it is the men who do most of the talking.

Who Interrupts and overlaps more?

Zimmerman and West (1975)


Turn taking behaviour in mixed sex conversations

  • Turn-length: men take more and longer turns
  • interruptions: mainly by men
  • Silence (after speaker’s turn before addressee continues): women\'s silence far longer
  • back-channels: (e.g. um hmm, oh really?) women use more (supportive behaviour)
  • questions: 70 per cent by women, e.g. as a means for topic introduction ("D’ya know what?")
  • topics: men tried 29 times and succeed 28 times; women tried 47 times and succeeded 17 times
  • women talk to other women about family and interpersonal matters; while men talk to male friends about cars, sports, work, motorcycles, carpentry, and politics
  • women are more sensitive to social connotations of speech

(Tannen 1992: 75)



What a divine idea!

What a terrific idea!



Shit! You’ve put

the peanut butter in

the fridge again!

Oh dear! You’ve putthe peanut butter inthe fridge again!

Male speakers often use socially disfavored variants of sociolinguistic variables while women tend to avoid these in favor of socially more favored variants.”

women\'s language which consists of polite deferential ways of speaking which ultimately subordinate women in society


Some explanations for differences

  • Subordinate groups must be polite
  • Woman’s role as guardian of society’s values
  • Vernacular forms express machismo
  • Women have less access to power and status: they‘make up’ for this by their preferences for the prestige (standard) linguistic forms. This is thought to give them respect and some status.
  • Women and men are socialised in different ways which is reflected in their language use patterns.
  • women may be more status conscious than men because:
    • society sets more standards for women and
    • Women’s typical activities do not confer status itself.
    • this insecurity offers a parallel with the insecurity of the lower middle class
  • (7) Women and men have different networks which lead to women and men using different ways of speaking.

Sexism in the English language

  • The feminine as a marked category
    • dog - bitch (masc. = neutral term)
    • lion - lioness (masc. = neutral term)
    • actor - actress (fem. nowadays often avoided)
    • manager - manageress (fem. suggests lower status, e.g. of laundrette but not of bank)
    • King –queen (fem. Derogartory)
  • Generally, masculine terms often unmarked in the sense that
    • it is the feminine term that takes an ending
    • only the masculine term can be used both for males and females.

Semantic derogation

  • Semantic derogation: words referring to women tend to decline through time
  • Hussy, wench and girl
  • But girl may also be used to indicate intimacy among women if used by a woman to women ("Come on girls, let\'s go!”)
  • masterand mistress too used to be more or less equivalent but now the latter has the derogatory meaning

Generic use of man and he

  • The term “generic” means referring generally (e.g. The tiger is a friendly beast to refer to tigers in general)
  • The words he and man are sometimes used to refer to humans in general
  • -man used as a kind of suffix (Bolinger 1980, quoted by Graddol and Swann 1989: 103)

Lexicon: lexical Asymetries

  • Mistress v master
  • Spinster v bachelor
  • Witch v warlock
  • governess v governor
  • Lady v lord
  • Cow v bull
  • Secretary v secret-ary
  • the lexical bias reflects a social bias in the culture
  • What happens when you try to correct lexical bias?
  • Once alternatives have been offered, each speaker is faced with a choice of which form to use.

Does Language determine how we Perceive the world?

Is Our thinking and Our Behaviour determined by our language?


Sapir-Whorf hypothesis

\'Human beings do not live in the objective world alone, nor alone in the world of social activity as ordinarily understood, but are very much at the mercy of the particular language which has become the medium of expression for their society. It is quite an illusion to imagine that one adjusts to reality essentially without the use of language and that language is merely an incidental means of solving specific problems of communication and reflection. The fact of the matter is that the "real world" is to a large extent unconsciously built up on the language habits of the group.\' 1929


Sapir-Whorf hypothesis

  • two basic principles:
  • 1. linguistic determinism
  • the language we use to some extent determines the way in which we view and think about the world
    • Strong determinism
      • language actually determines thought, that language and thought are identical.
    • Weak determinism

thought is merely affected by or influenced by our language,


2. linguistic relativity

  • distinctions encoded in one language are unique to that language alone.
  • Eg. The Colour spectrum, is a continuum, each colour gradually blending into the next; there are no sharp boundaries. But we impose boundaries; we talk of red, orange, yellow, green, blue, indigo, and violet.
  • these discriminations are arbitrary and indeed in other languages the boundaries are different

Colour Terms

  • Dani (New Guinea) have only two colour categories
    • mili which means dark, cold colours such as black
    • mola which means warm, bright colours such as white
  • languages with three colour terms add Red
  • those with four add yellow
  • English has 11

(red, yellow, black, white, green, blue, purple, pink, brown, orange, grey)


Sapir-Whorf hypothesis

  • Sapir Whorf says habitual thought might be influenced, if not determined, by linguistic structures.
  • We perceive the world through language - the colors we see is predetermined by what our culture prepares us to see
  • do we see blue and green colours because our language has two different names for these two neighbouring parts of the colour spectrum?
  • Can the Tiv perceive or distinguish between Red and yellow?

Sapir-Whorf hypothesis

  • The physiology of our eyes is essentially the same.
  • All normal humans share similar sense perceptions of color despite differences in color terminology from one language to another.   
  • People can see subtle gradations of color and can comprehend other ways of dividing up the spectrum of visible light. 
  • However, as a society\'s economy and technology increase in complexity, the number of color terms usually also increases. 
  • i.e. the spectrum of visible light gets subdivided into more categories. 
  • As the environment changes, culture and language typically respond by creating new terminology to describe it.

Which belong together?

The red things and the blue things

Or the strings and the sticks?


Carroll and Casagrande looked at Navaho Indians

  • they place great stress on form and shape, rigidity and material from which an object is constructed
  • they gave three groups of children
  • one Navaho speaking
  • one English speaking
  • one bilingual
  • showed them a green stick, a green rope and a blue rope
  • asked them which objects went together
  • Navaho speakers said objects with the same form i.e. ropes went together
  • English speakers categorize by colour rather than form put green stick and green rope together
  • confirms the relativity of language hypothesis

Language and Gender Concept

  • do children learn to recognize themselves as boys or girls when their language emphasizes gender?
  • Alexander Guiora looked at children in Hebrew speaking homes, Finnish, speaking homes and English speaking homes
  • Hebrew has the most gender emphasis of the three languages - nouns are either masculine or feminine and even second person and plurals are differentiated by gender
  • English emphasizes gender less, only in third person singular his and hers
  • Finish emphasizes gender least, only man and woman convey gender
  • Consistent with the idea that language may influence thought Hebrew speaking children acquired the concept of gender identity the earliest on the average and Finnish speaking children the latest

Criticisms of Sapir Whorf

  • If language determines thought then language must precede thought
  • - but even pre-linguistic babies can think
  • - not all activities involve language but do involve thought
  • Differences are not in thought but in ways of expressing the same thoughts
    • if this were not so then it would be impossible to translate
  • Sapir-Whorf hypothesis not generally accepted that language channels thought
  • general view now is that language sets up a filter between the human being and the world he or she perceives that heightens certain perceptions and dims others.