Hudson’s Sociolinguistics: Linguistics and Social Inequality

Linguistics and Social Inequality

According to Hudson, there are three types of linguistic inequality.

  1. Subjective Inequality, which concerns what people think about each other’s speech. Virtues are rated based on the individual’s ways of speaking. Language in this sense is used as a yard-stick to evaluate people’s intelligence, friendliness etc.
  2. Strictly Linguistic Inequality relates to the linguistic items that a person knows.
  3. Communicative Inequality. This is concern with knowledge of how to use linguistic items to communicate successfully, rather than simply with knowledge of linguistic items themselves.

Subjective inequality involves prejudices about ways of speaking. People draw conclusion on how a person speaks ignoring the content of his speech, and this conclusion might be wrong. The reason why people try to use a person’s speech to understand him is because they may not have other sources to give them information about the person so that they should know how to treat them, whether as friends or foe, rich or poor, arrogant or humble. The person’s speech manner is related to how a group of people speak for instance, the rich have a defined manner of speech, so from a person’s speech, it is concluded that the person is either rich or poor.

Hudson says that a person’s speech manner is only a clue to social information- neutral, not good or bad. People evaluate themselves based on the dialect they speak. That is the dialect helps them to identify with a particular community or a social group. Hudson observes that people should be proud of who they are, and so value the community to which they belong. He suggests that people might just decide to swap to the accent they consider better if they are not comfortable with their own accent.

He says that speech is used as a clue to non-linguistic information about people, such as personal traits like toughness or intelligence. The prototypes based on which people make this assumption are referred to as (social) stereotypes. He explained how one can study stereotypes which people use.

  1. Subject Reaction Test (Larmbert 1967)

The investigator records people’s speeches by asking them to read a passage. The people whose voices are recorded are made to listen to their voices one at a time and answer a questionnaire about each. After listening to all the voices, they are asked to compare them and say what they think about the speakers. They could be objective or evaluative. The listener will be asked to say whether the speaker is very tough, somewhat tough, natural or gentle.

  1. Linguistic Incompetence (strictly linguistic inequality)

Linguistic incompetence concerns the ‘lack’ of the kind of knowledge that is carried by Chomsky’s ‘competence’ which he means a person’s specific linguistics knowledge (about words and words combinations). A listener of any language is incompetent in that language. Hudson explains that linguistic incompetence can be as a result of social class. In Britain for instance, Hudson says that children from different social backgrounds have very different success- rates in learning as a result of language incompetence of those at the lower cadre (Romaine, 1984). However, Bereiter etal (1966) argues that some children come to school with hardly any language at all. They cannot ask or answer any question. However, linguists like John Edwards (1994) argue that it is not true that any normal children are so short of language, that failure in education should not be blamed on language but the child’s inadequacies.

  1. Communicative incompetence

Hudson says that this is larger than linguistic incompetence because it covers all types of ability including successful speech. It includes pragmatic knowledge, values and motivation, attitudes etc. It includes a wide range of knowledge like when to speak, how to speak, what to speak about and so on.

Inequality can also arise from communicative incompetence, it will not be said completely that some people have more communicative competence than others, but there clearly are differences relative to specific types of situation. Some are good at light chitchat, others at presenting lectures etc. These skills require knowledge. Communicative incompetence distinguishes native speakers of a language and non-native speakers.

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