Hudson’s Sociolinguistics: Types of Linguistic Items:Registers and dialects

They include registers, dialects…

Hudson says that linguistic items like register and dialect are not subject to variation in the same way pronunciation seems to have different social function from other types of items. For instance the influence of the United States on British is almost restricted to only vocabulary. This shows that people probably identify with different items for different reasons. One may use pronunciation in order to identify with our origins; morphology, syntax and vocabulary in other to identify with our status in society.

He says that syntax is more resistant to variation than either morphology or vocabulary and there is not much references made to syntax in the literature because of the difficulty in studying syntactic difference. The stability of syntax could be an illusion and even if there is a difference between syntax and the rest of language, this could again be an object of process of standardisation.

Registers and dialects

Register refers to ‘varieties according to use’, in contrast with dialect, defined as ‘varieties according to user’. Hudson recommends the difference based on the possibility that a speaker may use different linguistic items to express more or less the same meaning on different occasions.

‘Field’, mode’ and ‘tenor’ (Halliday, 1978) are types of dimension on which an act of communication takes place. Mode refers to means of communication. Tenor refers to relations between participants. Field refers to why and about what a communication takes place.

Just like dialects, registers do not exist as distinct variations but the selection of items may reflect different factors depending on the items involved. One item may reflect formality of the occasion, while the other may reflect the expertise of the speaker and addressee. He illustrates four combinations of formality with technicality to show that the dimension of formality is independent of the dimension of technicality.

  • Formal, technical- we obtained some sodium chloride.
  • Formal, non-technical – we obtained some salt.
  • Informal, technical – we got some sodium chloride.
  • Informal, non-technical – we got some salt.

Dialect and register overlap so that one person’s dialect is another person’s register. In conclusion, model of language different from the notion of variety is seen in register.

Diglossia

Diglossia as a term was introduced by Charlse Ferguson (1959) who says, “diglossia is relatively a stable language situation in which, in addition to the primary dialects of the language, there is a very divergent, highly codified superposed variety, the vehicle of a large and respected body of written literature, either of an earlier period or in another speech community, which is learned largely by formal education and is used for most written and formal spoken purposes but is not used by any sector of the community for ordinary conversation. He gave example of an Arabic-speaking diglosic community where the language used at home is a local version of Arabic compared to standard variety used in a lecture in a university or sermon in a mosque. In such community, the standard variety is learned from going to school. It is not learned as first language. Joshua Fishman sees diglossia to include a society where the high and low languages may actually be different languages, and also any society in which two or more varieties are used under distinct circumstances.

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