What do Sociolinguists do?: Janet Holmes Sociolinguistics

Sociolinguistics: a term that refers to the study of the relationship between language and society, and how language is used in multilingual speech communities.

What aspects of language are Sociolinguists interested in?

Sociolinguists are interested in explaining why people speak differently in different social contexts. And the effect of social factors such as (social distance, social status, age, gender, class) on language varieties (dialects, registers, genres, etc). They are concerned with identifying the social functions of language and the way they are used to convey social meanings.

What do sociolinguists mean by the term variety?

A variety is a set of linguistic forms used under specific social circumstances, with a distinctive social distribution.

* Formality increases between participants (speaker and hearer) when the social distance is greater. Informality (Solidarity) increases when the social distance is little between participants (speaker and hearer).

* Social status depends on a number of factors such as social rank, wealth, age, gender and so on.Therefore, the person with the higher social status has the choice of using formality or informality (solidarity) when addressing other persons of lower social status. However, the person with the lower social status uses only formality when addressing a person of higher social status.

Multilingual Speech Communities

Domains

Domains of language use is a term popularised by an American sociolinguist, Joshua Fishman. A domain of language involves typical interactions between typical participants in typical settings about a typical topic. Examples of these domains are family, friendship, religion, education and employment.

Setting

The physical situation or the typical place where speech interactions occur (code choice), settings such as home, church, mosque, school, office, etc.

Diglossia

this is a communities in which two languages or language varieties are used with one being a high variety for formal situations and prestige, and a low variety for informal situations (everyday conversation). Diglossia has three crucial features. Two distinct varieties of the same language are used in the community, with one regarded as high (H) variety and the other as low (L) variety. Each variety is used for quite distinct functions; H & L complement each other. No one uses the H variety in everyday conversation.

Example: the standard classical Arabic language is the high variety in Arab countries. It is used for writing and for formal functions, but vernacular (colloquial) Arabic is the low variety used for informal speech situations.

Polyglossia

Basically polyglossia situations involve two contrasting varieties (high and low). But in general, it refers to communities that regularly use more than two languages.

Code-switching

It is to move from one code (language, dialect, or style) to another during speech for a number of reasons. it may be to signal solidarity, to reflect one’s ethnic identity, to show off, to hide some information from a third party. it could also be to achieve better explanation of a certain concept, to converge or reduce social distance with the hearer, to diverge or increase social distance or to impress and persuade the audience (metaphorical code-switching)

Lexical Borrowing

It results from the lack of vocabulary and it involves borrowing single words – mainly nouns. When speaking a second language, people will often use a term from their first language because they don’t know the appropriate word in their second language. They also my borrow words from another language to express a concept or describe an object for which there is no obvious word available in the language they are using.

* Code switching involves a choice between the words of two languages or varieties, but Lexical borrowing is resulted from the lack of vocabulary.

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