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Social factors governing language variation

  1. GHAZI UNIVERSITY, DERA GHAZI KHAN Sociolinguistics Topic: Social Factors Governing Language Variation. Submitted to : Sir Maqsood Alam Rizvi Submitted by : Zara Naseer Roll no: 11 Department of English M.Phil Linguistics Semester 2nd
  2. Introduction:  Variation is a characteristic of language: there is more than one way of saying the same thing. Speakers may vary pronunciation (accent), word choice (lexicon), or morphology and syntax (sometimes called "grammar").  Language variation is a core concept in sociolinguistics, to the extent that it requires reference to social factors. Language varies from one place to another, from one social group to another and from one situation to another. It is universal characteristic of human language that speakers of the same language who live in different parts of a continuous territory do not speak in the same way, the speech of each locality differs in some features from the speech of each neighboring locality.  And the thing that social forces contribute to linguistic change is also clear. Younger people alter their speech so as to differentiate themselves from their elders. Islanders want to sound different from mainlanders. Middle-class speakers attempt to sound different from the working class, and vice versa. Men and women tend to speak the way that their sex is “supposed to” speak. In the end, sometimes consciously and Sometimes unconsciously, people speak like the people they want to think of themselves as being; linguistic differentiation is a matter of the presentation of self in everyday life.
  3. Social Factors Governing Language Variation:  Class, ethnicity, and gender, age, and education are main social factors that play a role in language variation. Class is the structure of relationships between groups where people are classified based on their education, occupation, and income. Ethnicity refers to a group of people that share cultural characteristics and gender deals with the traits associated with men and women. This division among groups in each factor contributes to the differences of their use of the English language.
  4. Class:  Labov’s study addresses and depicts how class, ethnicity, and gender influences language variation. One example of how class affects language variation is evident in the New York City study by Labov. He displays the social classes in four classes: the lower working class, the upper working class, the lower middle class, and the upper middle class. He also displays the styles of speech in three styles, which are casual, careful conversation, and reading. According to the data, the upper middle class speakers almost always use the standard ing variant and the lower working class speakers almost always use the non-standard in variant. Each class prefers the use of one pronunciation over the other regardless, of the style of speech. However, the lower working class shifted from using in in casual speech to using ing in the reading style.  The middle class uses more formal or “elaborate” code whereas the work class uses public or “restricted” codes.
  5. Ethnic Groups:  Ethnic groups affect language variation, because they usually have to learn the language that is prominent in an area. Although they view language as a part of their identity, they have to compromise their languages and substitute it with another, or combine both languages.  Ethnic groups learn the dominant language in an area when the majority of the people speak that language. Their variety of the dominant language is called the "substrate," because it shows the differences between it and their language.  Immigrants that arrive in a new location quickly learn the dominant language. Their language is called the "adstrate," and it affects the way they speak the dominant language. The adstrate and substrate could create a variety of the dominant language, and would differ from the normal version of the language.
  6. Gender:  Gender affects language variation by influencing the language choice between men and women. A man and a woman’s speech differ from one another in matters of degree. Men’s language can be direct, non-standard, and aggressive. Women’s language can be less harsh, emotional, and standard. Many languages have alternative forms that are used only by men or by women. In some cases, the men and women speak different dialects, or they don't speak the same language to each other. Trudgill concludes that women consistently use forms which more closely approach those of the standard variety or the prestige accent than those used by men. In other words, female speakers of English use linguistic forms which are considered to be better than male forms. It also makes it difficult for each gender to fully understand the opposite sex.
  7. Speaker’s age/Generation Gap:  Age can determine how English learners express themselves and you as a teacher can easily see the difference in language variation if you teach a class of children as opposed to a class of adult learners. . As Ali leaves behind his teenage years and becomes an adult, he slowly leaves behind the old ways of expression he used to have both for oral and written discourse. For example, as Ali joins college, he gets used to more formal ways of expressions with people. When he greets people he no longer feels comfortable saying “Hey.. what's up?”. Instead he prefers “Hi good morning”. This is not just because Ali is in college. This is also because he is mature now and he spontaneously feels more comfortable using more formal language.  We often come across the term generation gap. There are obvious differences between the younger and older generations and these quite naturally are reflected in speech. We often hear older people complain about the strange language forms that youngsters pick up and use. These different forms are usually no more than transient expression taken from pop culture which last only while they are in vogue. These is also a difference in word frequency, different generation tend to use certain words and expressions more than others. 
  8. Education:  Education is another social factor which plays an important role in language variation. Within each dialect area, one notices linguistic variation according to education and social standing. The uneducated speech is most easily identified with the regional dialect, while educated speech tends to transcend regional limitations. Assiri(2008) claimed that speakers’ level of education is affecting the choice speakers make between using standard and non standard language.
  9. Conclusion:  To conclude we can say that, variation in language is an important topic in sociolinguistics, because it refers to social factors in society and how each factor plays a role in language varieties. Languages vary between ethnic groups, social situations, and specific locations. From Labov’s study, people can determine that variation is a characteristic of language that can be influenced by class, ethnicity, gender, and education. People notice these variations by interacting with people from different ethnic backgrounds and people with different social standings. According to his research, Labov realized that there are many ways of speaking, and each way of speaking is influenced by social factors in a society.