Minggu, 16 Oktober 2011

Sociolinguistics The first group



Sociolinguistics composed of two words society and language. A society, or a human society, is a group of people related to each other through persistent relations, or a large social grouping sharing the same geographical or virtual territory, subject to the same political authority and dominant cultural expectations.

Language may refer either to the specifically human capacity for acquiring and using complex systems of communication, or to a specific instance of such a system of complex communication. The scientific study of language in any of its senses is called linguistics.

Sociolinguistics is the study of the effect of any and all aspects of society, including cultural norms, expectations, and context, on the way language is used, and the effects of language use on society. Sociolinguistics differs from sociology of language in that the focus of sociolinguistics is the effect of the society on the language, while the latter's focus is on the language's effect on the society. Sociolinguistics overlaps to a considerable degree with pragmatics. It is historically closely related to linguistic anthropology and the distinction between the two fields has even been questioned recently.

It also studies how language varieties differ between groups separated by certain social variables, e.g., ethnicity, religion, status, gender, level of education, age, etc., and how creation and adherence to these rules is used to categorize individuals in social or socioeconomic classes. As the usage of a language varies from place to place, language usage also varies among social classes, and it is these sociolects that sociolinguistics studies.

Yet another definition sees language as a system of communication that enables humans to cooperate. This definition stresses the social functions of language and the fact that humans use it to express themselves and to manipulate objects in their environment. And In this paper we are going to discuss about the nature of language and the function of language.



A. The Nature of Language

1. Human Nature

The nature of language is the nature of human thought and human action, for language is no more or less than the tool of both of these aspects of human nature. A word is either the shadow of an act or of an idea. Verbal sounds have no meaning in themselves. They are the channels, the media for the expression or communication of that which lies outside of themselves. Plato has made clear to us how easy it is to deceive ourselves with words, to labor under an impression that just because we can utter a sound we also necessarily know what we are talking about.


Words may be empty vessels and pour out no more than hollow sounds. We find it simple to define some words and extremely difficult to define others. The reason is that the definition of a word is the experience it records. Hence the definiteness of a definition of a word is in proportion to the vividness of the experience, its meaning. We readily define chair because of our frequent experience with the object of which the sound is a symbol. We define it in terms of our experience, as an object to sit in. But a definition of terms like truth, or virtue, or honesty, or beauty is a most severe trial because of the haziness or complete lack of experiences of this nature. What, then, is the source of the meaning of words? What is the relationship between words, things, and actions?

Meaning begins as behavior and culminates as language. There is meaning as behavior and meaning as language. And meaning as language is the consequence of meaning as behavior. There can be behavior without language, but there could be no meaning as language without behavior. The source of the meaning of words is thus behavior. The relationship between behavior and things gives rise to the meaning of words. Meaning is inherent neither in things nor in words, but both things and words obtain their meaning from behavior.

What is the meaning of a thing or a situation? The cat sees the dog and it runs away. It sees a saucer of milk and it runs towards it. I see one person approaching me and I smile. I see another coming towards me and I frown. The meaning of the dog to the cat is to run away. The meaning of the saucer of milk is to run towards it. The meaning of one person to me is to smile, of another person to frown.


If the dog or milk aroused no action in the cat they would have no meaning, as dog or milk. If the two persons aroused no action in me they would have no meaning as persons. From these simple illustrations we conclude that whenever a thing or situation becomes a cue, a signal, for a definite reaction, that thing or situation becomes meaningful, and the meaning of the thing or situation is the behavior it provokes. The thing or situation may have different meanings on different occasions, but on each occasion its meaning is the behavior. The behavior may be outer or inner, muscular or mental, an act or a thought. But things or situations that cause neither inner nor outer behavior possess no meaning.


Now what about the relationship between sounds and things?

The cat hears the bark of the dog and it runs away from the source of the sound. It hears someone utter the sound "milk" and it runs to the place where it usually finds the saucer. I hear the voice of one person and I smile. I hear that of another and I frown. What is the meaning of the sounds? Again, the behavior provoked by them. The sounds have become substitutes for the thing or situation, and the meaning of the sounds is that of the thing or situation. A word is thus a sound that has become a substitute for a thing or a situation. Language is a substitute stimulus for behavior, its meaning being the behavior produced by the original stimulus. When the world does not stimulate mental or muscular activity, when it does not recall past experience of some sort, it has no meaning. A foreign language with which we are unfamiliar has no meaning because the sounds do not serve as clues for past events.

Language is therefore, in its basic nature, a utility, an instrument, a tool of the business of living. It is one with things and situations of the everyday world of life. We could get along without it, but it is a great convenience to which we have become so accustomed that we deem it a necessity. The business of mere existence could readily go on, as it does among animals, without language. We would even save ourselves a great deal of trouble in not deceiving ourselves and others by the use of empty sounds.

2. Language Status

The status of a language is often reflected by the number of translations undertaken into and out of that language. A prime example is English which is the leader in this field with the greatest number of translations undertaken both into and out of it. This includes academic articles, scientific texts and literature. For example, a large proportion of literature published in non-English countries is translated from English – one has only to compare the Finnish and English publishing markets. In Finland, a large percentage of literature found in the homes of the average Finn is translated from English whereas the bookshelves of the average English or American citizen will contain a mere handful of books translated from other languages (and these will all tend to be European languages). This state of affairs reflects the global status of English.

In fact, it would not take long to create a ‘league table’ of the languages which are most translated. These statistics would allow us to accurately calculate the current world status of each language. Of course, the respect allowed any one language has nothing to do with the syntax or semantics of the language but the political or economic strength of the country attached to this language. Can a language be ‘more’ of a language than another tongue? Global languages such as English, Spanish, Arabic, Chinese, German, Japanese and French are often regarded as superior to other non-global (‘lesser’) languages due to the superior economic or political (or religious) status attached to the respective states that use these languages. There are people who believe that English ‘suits music better’ and has thus been able to conquer the world of pop music. French ‘sounds beautiful’ and is still regarded as the language of diplomacy by many. Arabic is the language of the Qur’an and is thus ‘holy’.

Language reflects culture and society. It cannot be manipulated or generated, although this does not stop people having opinions about any particular tongue being more ‘natural’ than another. Linguists and translators know otherwise and recognize the unfounded and groundless nature of these beliefs. But where is the fine line? Where is the border that delimits a global language from a ‘lesser’ language? Subjective opinion or objective book sales?

A more important distinction is perhaps not between ‘greater’ or ‘lesser’ but between language and dialect, language and jargon, language and variety. When a language awakens, the dialect continuum that exists within the language needs to solidify at one point. The paradox of language is that tongues change both horizontally and vertically (temporally and spatially) but the language always remains the same. The English of the 1850s is very different from today’s English yet the two are still called English. The Polish of the 1500s and today’s Polish might be regarded as utterly different but the two are still called ‘Polish’. Languages are in fact vessels that contain a whole variety of mini-languages, that is dialects, sociolects and idiolects. The language becomes a language when the society begins to identify with it and work begins on the solidification process. One dialect is chosen above all others and becomes ‘The Language’. In effect, the push towards language creation (through the choice of a variety to become the prime vessel for the other dialects) is an empowerment process. Translation reflects this process of empowerment. A language is a dialect with an army. How true is this?

Linguists can easily note which tongues (varieties and dialects) are discrete and distinct languages by the number of translations into and out of them. Do we see a large number of texts translated into and out of the Lancashire dialect of English? How about the Highland (Góralskie) variety of Polish? Can the same be said of Scots or Kashubian? Perhaps the status of these four varieties is different but they can be tangibly defined in an almost hierarchical fashion. The need to read something in a variety of a language or read something written in this variety and have it translated into or out of that variety is surely a mark of its status. The more often translation surrounds the variety, the greater the empowerment. An interesting example here is the rise (and fall) of Yiddish, which was initially seen as a corrupt form of German (at which point little translation into and out of it was undertaken). Later, it came to be seen as an eloquent amalgam of German, Hebrew and Aramaic representative of the highest achievement of Ashkenazi culture (at which point, masses of religious and political manifests and literature were translated into and out of Yiddish). However, through negative pressure from Hebraicists who soiled the reputation of Yiddish, this language became synonymous with Ashkenazi indifference (as opposed to Zionist state regeneration). Translation reflects the status of a language.

B. The Fucntion of Language

1. Language

Using a language as a primary means of communicating our thoughts is so natural for many people that it is often difficult to realize what in fact are language functions. Some of the roles of language are so mundane that they are hardly ever noticed, others are very elevated, or even abstract.

Language functions refer to the purposes in which we use language to communicate. We use language for a variety of formal and informal purposes, and specific grammatical structures and vocabulary are often used with each language function. Some examples of language functions include:

a. Compare and contrast

b. Persuasion

c. Asking questions

d. Expressing likes and dislikes

e. Cause and effect

f. Summarizing

g. Sequencing

h. Predicting

i. Agreeing/disagreeing

j. Greeting people/introductions

Due to their diversity the functions of language might be divided into two categories: micro functions which refer to specific individual uses, and macro functions which serve more overall aims.

Micro Functions:

a. Physiological function (releasing physical and nervous energy)

Although it might be striking this use of language is fairly common. It is easily recognizable when devoted fans of sports are observed while watching their favorite discipline on TV. Such fans often shout instructions, express support, or disappointment and while as a means of communicating with sportsmen they are useless, such cheers are to release repressed energy. Similarly curse words are used to serve this purpose, as they rarely convey any meaning and are only to make the speaker feel better.

b. Phatic function (for sociability)

The use of such phrases as ‘nice day today’, or ‘how do you do’ is characterized by lack of any informative content and is intended to link people and make the coexistence peaceful and pleasant. The phatic use of language is characteristic mainly of speech, however, in certain types of writing it can also be noticed, as in letters for example, where the beginning Dear Sir/Madam and ending Yours faithfully also serve that purpose.

c. Recording function

Recording function denotes using language to make a durable record of things that ought to be remembered. Owing to its omnipresence writing is probably the most significant function of language. There is evidence that the first writing system was developed in the Middle East as early as 4000 BC. At the beginning writing systems took forms of pictures representing the things they referred to, gradually developing into the alphabets in their present forms.

d. Identifying function

Language is used also to identify the objects and events in the world we live in. Without this function language would be almost useless, as it is thanks to the names of things that we know what is talked about. Many primitive societies unable to write believe that names hold great power. Even in western culture names are thought to be immensely important: the God’s name ought not to be used in vain, before giving a name to a newborn child parents consider the choice deeply. We use names to classify different types of things, whether we call a car an automobile, a lorry, a van or a truck makes a big difference.

e. Reasoning function (instrument of thought)

Before we say something we think and to do that we necessarily use language. In most cases it is extremely difficult to think about anything without any use of words. In fact is it also difficult not to think for a longer period of time as human brains work all the time processing information, thus providing us with concepts formulated by means of language.

f. Communicating function

This function would probably be pointed at by most language users without major consideration. Indeed it is in all likelihood most commonly used language function by majority of speakers. Requesting, apologizing, informing, ordering as well as promising and refusing are all reasons for communicating our ideas.

g. Pleasure functions

The fact that language often gives pleasure both to the speakers and listeners is not only supported by the frequent use of assonance, alliteration and onomatopoeia in poetry. Depending on the sounds of languages some are perceived as being mild as English for example, others crude as German. People also derive pleasure from unusual use of syntactic rules, as well as novelties of meanings juxtapositions and language games, which is often used by skilful writers.

Macro Functions:

h. Ideational function

Ideational function refers to the conceptualizing process involved in our mental activities. Thanks to language we are able to understand what happens around us.

i. Interpersonal function

Interpersonal function emphasizes that language is mainly a social phenomenon, but apart from enabling communication with other people it enables to project the speaker in the desired way and to represent the speaker.

j. Poetic function

Here, the word poetic does not refer to the ability to write poetry, but the ability to manipulate language in a creative way. With the use of jokes and metaphors we can play with words and meanings simply for joy.

k. Textual function

Textual competence refers to our ability to create long utterances or pieces of writing which are both cohesive and coherent. Unlike animals people, by use of certain linguistic devices, are able to produce long sentences and text, and not only simple phrases.

The above mentioned functions are only one point of view on language. Most certainly there are many other functions that natural languages fulfill, yet depending on approach to this issue the number of functions and their names might vary.



A. The Nature of Language

Verbal sounds have no meaning in themselves. They are the channels, the media for the expression or communication of that which lies outside of themselves. Plato has made clear to us how easy it is to deceive ourselves with words, to labor under an impression that just because we can utter a sound we also necessarily know what we are talking about.

B. The Fuction of Language

Due to their diversity the functions of language might be divided into two categories: micro functions which refer to specific individual uses, and macro functions which serve more overall aims.

Micro Functions:

1. Physiological function (releasing physical and nervous energy)

2. Phatic function (for sociability)

3. Recording function

4. Identifying function

5. Reasoning function (instrument of thought)

6. Communicating function

7. Pleasure functions

Macro Functions:

1. Ideational function

2. Interpersonal function

3. Poetic function

4. Textual function


· Finch G. 1998. How to study linguistics. Houndmills: Palgrave Macmillan.

· http://www.tlumaczenia-angielski.info/linguistics/language- functions.htm

· http://www.signosemio.com/jakobson/functions-of-language.asp

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