Sociolinguistics, High prestige and low prestige varieties

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Summary

Sociolinguistics is the descriptive 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 sociology of language focuses on 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.

Details

Crucial to sociolinguistic analysis is the concept of prestige; certain speech habits are assigned a positive or a negative value, which is then applied to the speaker. This can operate on many levels. It can be realised on the level of the individual sound/phoneme, as Labov discovered in investigating pronunciation of the post-vocalic /r/ in the North-Eastern USA, or on the macro scale of language choice, as realised in the various diglossias that exist throughout the world, where Swiss-German/High German is perhaps most well known. An important implication of sociolinguistic theory is that speakers 'choose' a variety when making a speech act, whether consciously or subconsciously.

The terms acrolectal (high) and basilectal (low) are also used to distinguish between a more standard dialect and a dialect of less prestige.

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External Links

  • WikipediaSociolinguistics: an interview with William Labov

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