Global and specific statements
In this chapter Hudson examines the extent to which it is possible to describe the relation of language to society in terms of global linguistic categories such as languages and dialects and global social categories like communities. How should a global linguistic category like language X be defined? How should particular instances of language be delimited? Can distinct types of global categories (for example, language dialect) be distinguished? How does one language relate to another?
To address the questions highlighted above, Hudson starts by explaining what linguistic items are. He says that defining the term linguistic item concerns the theory of language structure, and people will give different answers according to which theory they think gives the best answer of language structure. He observes that sociolinguists have studied lexical items, sound patterns and statement constructions and would say that there is no notable difference among the three. The same kind of social variation and link are possible in the three but non-social linguists treat them differently in their theoretical models of how language works. It can be said that lexical items are listed (in a lexicon) but sounds and constructions are defined by rules and principles. For example, cat, dog and lion are listed with their meanings, but there is no list of the pattern word final /r/ or the construction “bare relative clause” (as in the book I bought in contrast with the relative clause the book which I bought). One can recognize these patterns but they do not exist in a list like lexical items.
Varieties of language
A variety of language is a set of linguistic items with similar social distribution. It can be said that English, French, London English, the English of football commentaries, the language used by the members of a particular long-house in the north-west Amazon, the language used by a particular person are different varieties. Variety of language includes languages, dialects and registers. Hudson explains that a variety can also be much larger than a language including a number of languages: this is by treating all the languages in a multi-lingual community as a single variety since all the linguistic items concerned have similar social distribution. It could also reduce to as small as a variety peculiar to a particular village or family. There may be no clear distinctions between varieties as they may overlap or a variety may be a subject of another variety. The defining characteristic of each variety is the relevant relation to society.
A community based on language is referred to as a speech community or linguistic community. However, there are different definitions by other people.
- John Lyons (1970) says that speech community refers to all people who use a given language (or dialect).
- Charles Huckett (1958) says each language defines a speech community: the whole set of people who communicate with each other, either directly or indirectly via the common language.
- Leonard, Bloomfield (1933): “a speech community is a group of people who interact by means of speech,”
- John Gumperz (1962) says a social group which may be either monolingual or multilingual, held together by frequency of social interaction patterns and set off from the surrounding arrears by weakness in the lines of communication.
- William Labove (1972), Hyme (1972) and Halliday (1972) do not consider speech commonly as having any relationship with language but a group of people who feel themselves to be a community in some sense.
- Robert le Page’s (Page and Tabouret- Keller 1985) view is that a speech community may only be a social group identifiable by certain non-linguistic behaviour. An individual decides what group to identify with possibly by behavioural adaptation, sex, age and others.
- Dwight Bollinger:
“There is no limit to the ways in which human beings league themselves together for self-identification, security, gain, amusement, worship or any of the other purposes that are held in common; consequently there is no limit to the number and variety of speech communities that are to be found in society.”
With the various views of what a speech community should be, it becomes a problem to decide. However, people and community are common to all the definitions.
Hudson observes that the term ‘speech community’ may not be helpful after all as it may be misleading by implying the existence of a ‘real’ community ‘out there’ which could be discovered to be known. Yet this assumption may be rejected with the following reasons.
- Mismatch between subjective and objective reality.
This shows that the reality of a society is mostly subjective, not objective and if objective communities exist, they are different from ones recognized subjectively.
- Evidence against community grammars.
People cannot evidently and thoroughly know the linguistic details of other people living whether in the same or distant city.
- Evidence for networks.
The definition shows that a community has a boundary, but social networks have no boundary.
- Small size of most important communities.
It says that the last problem with the general notion of speech community is that families, friends, neighbours, colleagues, local organizations etc. are the most important sources of linguistic influences but they do not appeared important in the concept of ‘speech communities’ explained by linguists.
In summary, a definition for the term ‘speech community’ is difficult.
This discussion of speech community raises the question ‘where is language, is it in the community or in the individual?’ In this book, it is held that language is in the individual with the reason that individuals are unique in their use of language to locate themselves in a multi-dimensional space. Guy (1980) says that Language while existing to serve a social function is nevertheless seated in the minds of individuals.
However, William Labove (1989) argues that language is not a property of the individual, but of the community.
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