SPEAKERS AND COMMUNITIES
Conformity and individualism
In the discussion of sociolinguistics, it is important to put the individual in the centre. How individuals work and behave must be understood. He says that the individual is important in this discussion also because no two speakers have the same language. No two speakers have the same experience of language. The individuals experience affects his general make-up. This happens through the speech produced by other people as they listen and speak to each other.
Individual linguistic personalities are affected in different ways. Every individual tends to create a mental map of his community where the people are arranged in a ‘multi-dimensional space’ showing the difference between the different individuals. Each of the individual maps will reflect the experience of the individual.
However, individuals’ new experiences are affected by the existing map so that two individuals may hear a thing and are affected differently; for example, An American and a Briton could watch the same American film but learn quite different facts from it about language.
One can say considering the above, that society is structured from a sociolinguistic point of view in terms of ‘multi-dimensional space’. One can classify people in terms of age region of origin, social class and sex, all as relevant to language. Language is only one part of the society but important because it gives a structural set of symbols which one can use in locating one’s self in the world. A person’s speech can be seen as an ACT OF IDENTITY in a multi-dimensional space (Le Page and Tabouret – Kellar 1995).
Hudson points out that as individuals differ, there is also a similarity they share in the society referred to as INDIVIDUALISM AND COMFORMITY. Individuals would work to drop what informs differences and adopt what is more acceptable as children would use irregular form like ‘goed’ for went but later abandon them to conform with the older people. Le Page and Tabouret-keller (1985) use the terms ‘Focusing’ and ‘Diffusion’ to refer to these situations. Focusing is found where there is a high degree of contact among speakers and agreement on linguistic norms and is typical of very closely knit small communities, or where there is a standardised written language like English and French. Diffusion is where nothing above holds. A good example is Romany, the Gipsy language. The difference between focussing and diffusion cannot be clearly stated, they are rather the names for the two ends of a scale on which any society, or part of it, may be located.
Regarding conformity, people of a society have to share certain rules or agreement where in the use of grammatical rules and social reference to situations; words like swear, dangerous, shit, oh hurray are used. The use of those expressions is the same among the people.
The sociolinguistic development of the child
The child can be said to pass through various stages in the development of a particular linguistic model; parents, to peers then adults. Within the ‘peers’ stage, childhood and adolescence can be distinguished giving four stages: babyhood, childhood, adolescence and adulthood.
- At babyhood, the models are parents and other carers who use baby talk like ‘gee-gee’ for ‘horse’.
- At childhood, they learn from other children of about their age particularly the older children. They try to imitate the older children. Hockett (1980) refers to a situation where people of a particular age use a particular linguistic item. For instance the language used by primary school children is full of archaic forms. At this stage, children tend to prefer members of their own sex. Children are also learning to recognize the social significance of different linguistic items.
- Adolescence is influenced by other adolescents. Children at this age prepare to be the next generation of adults; they aim to be different from previous adolescents resulting to the development of new teenage slang.
- Adulthood takes after other adults; work, parenthood and other social activities bring them in contact with other adults who offer competing models which they may accept or reject.
Children from an early age tend to be aware of different speech forms and their social world. Romaina (1989) says that children at eighteen months of age in bilingual environment are aware that two separate languages are being used. He adds that awareness may occur in some children at different ages before eighteen or after. Children may have the two languages but get to learn later that the languages may be used separately at different occasions when talking with different individuals.
Four year olds may wink at their mothers, engage in intricate verbal play with their parents and engage in narrative and discussing tales with their grownup friends. There is basically no endpoint in the process of acquiring new styles of speaking or of becoming more sophisticated in the use of the styles they already have.
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