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Examination of Language within Social Context

Examination of Language within Social Context

What is sociolinguistics? - It is the study of language in its social context. It is a field of investigation which describes all areas of the study of the relationship between language and society. In the late 1960s and the early 1970s, a widespread interest in sociolinguistics developed. The study of language in relation to society has a long tradition, but a recognizable growth in sociolinguistics took place in the 60s and 70s. As most other fields of investigation as well, sociolinguistics is partly theoretical and partly empirical.

The development of quantitative studies of speech has coincided with that of sociolinguistics and, for many linguists whose main interest is the structure of language, this part of sociolinguistics apparently makes the most relevant contribution, providing new data which need to be reconciled with current linguistic theories. The work which is done quantitative studies is all based on the study of spoken rather than written language (though in some cases the speaker is reading from a written text, such as a list of words), and its aim has been to find out about everyday speech of ordinary people, in reaction to the high degree of idealisation that is typical of transformational-generative grammar. The aim of this branch of sociolinguistics, like that of the 'dialect geography' branch of dialectology, is explicitly comparative - to compare texts with one another, rather than to make some kind of 'total' analysis of each text without reference to others. It is the purpose of studying texts - to test hypotheses about relations among linguistic and social variables. The fact that the investigator starts with a predetermined list of linguistic variables and their variants shows that he expects the variants in his list actually to occur in the sort of texts he has collected, and he also generally starts with a range of hypotheses about the social variables to which those in his list are related, such as region, social class, or sex. If each text contained instances of only one variant for each variable, then it could be located in the relevant multi-dimensional linguistic space without using quantitative methods. Different variants of the same variable occur together in the same text, and texts can be arranged on a continuous scale according to how often the variants occur. The relations between different linguistic variables are also a matter of degree, some being more closely...

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