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Politeness is but a strategy for avoiding that others feel despised.
Learn politeness from the impolite.
Ali ibn Abu Talib (600–661 CE)
Outline of the chapter
Social interaction relies on language not just as a means of communicating information, but also for establishing rapport between speakers. To this end societies have developed various conventions for the linguistic expression of politeness. This chapter first explains the difference between every-day and technical notions of politeness and then introduces theoretical concepts for its analysis. It shows that the necessity to differentiate speech behaviour in terms of politeness arises from the need to cooperate under conditions of inequality. The Cooperative Principle of conversation serves as a point of departure, and the concept of ‘face’ is adduced as an analytic tool for distinguishing two kinds of politeness strategies, positive face and negative face. Further, it is demonstrated how the markedness theory can explain speakers’ choices of more or less polite expressions. The question of whether politeness is a feature that characterizes language or speech behaviour is discussed, and it is argued that, while languages differ in regards to how strongly they encode politeness distinctions, the politeness level of every speech act depends on speakers’ choices from the grammatical, lexical and stylistic means afforded by the language. Examples from many different languages illustrate the complexity and variety of linguistic politeness.
… a fashionable old man is almost a contradiction in terms.
Dwight Bolinger, Language – The Loaded Weapon
Outline of the chapter
This chapter presents age as one of the principal factors of sociolinguistic variation. Life stages from early socialization to adolescence, adulthood and old age are reviewed, as are theoretical and methodological issues of relating linguistic performance to speaker age and discovering age-specific language patterns. The sociolinguistic significance of age is then discussed in regards to the demographic imbalance of declining languages and language attitudes separating the younger and older age cohorts.
Key terms: age, age grading, age specific language use, ageing, intergenerational communication
People come and go; words come and go; and languages come and go. How are these processes connected? Connected they are, for how could words be coined, passed on and discarded if there were no speakers to do the coining, passing on and the discarding? Language is a tradition; otherwise we would not understand one another. It must be handed down from one generation to the next in a way that allows members of coexisting generations to communicate. But it is not handed down unaltered. For each generation recreates the language of its predecessors. Cases of language demise – the discontinuation of a tradition – provide compelling evidence of the intergenerational gap.
This chapter introduces the salient issues relating to research ethics in sociolinguistics. It addresses obligations on the part of the researcher towards research participants and discusses the question of legitimacy of data, the importance of anonymity and under what circumstances informed consent should be sought. The dilemma that arises out of the legitimate quest for knowledge and the equally legitimate concerns to protect privacy and personality rights is also expounded.
Key terms: Legitimate data, anonymity, informed consent, moral responsibility
I once shared an office at a research institute in Tokyo with a postdoctoral fellow who was interested in giving directions, that is, in the speech event of giving and receiving directions and following the directions received. This is an everyday situation we have all experienced many times; but how to get any quantitative data from which more general patterns can be derived than chance observations reveal? My colleague had a practical solution. He paid a taxi driver a small amount of money to allow him to place a tape recorder in his car. Since taxi customers often give directions, he was able in the course of a couple of weeks to gather a fine corpus of the data he needed. I was astonished when he happily told me about his ingenious ploy, although, I have to admit, until that time I had never given much thought to the matter of the ethics of fieldwork myself. At the time, in the 1980s, few people had; in biomedical and health research, yes, but not in the social sciences. My American colleague was surely no exception.
. . . once His Majesty has subdued people from various nations and languages, and being in need of transmitting the law of the conquerors in this language, I hereby present this Grammar to facilitate its learning . . .
In order to carry out language planning, one needs a language to plan for.
Peter Mühlhäusler (1994)
The Carolingian scholars did not merely become conscious that Romance and Latin were different . . . they invented the difference.
Roger Wright (1991)
Outline of the chapter
This chapter looks at politically motivated language choices, asking what language policy consists in and how it differs from other sociolinguistic choices. To illustrate the range of political language activities, examples of language policy at different levels of government are presented. A distinction is made between general language policy goals and specific language-planning activities designed to realize these goals within a set time frame; and the elements of a simple model of language planning are introduced. Language-planning activities are commonly divided into two categories, status planning and corpus planning. These notions are discussed on the basis of specific examples, and it is demonstrated how interventions concerning the status of a language interact with procedures designed to change its makeup. Much as careful preparation of corpus and status planning is necessary, the success of measures of both kinds is not decided at the drawing board. To be successful, a language policy has to be acceptable to the people concerned; for languages do not exist in the absence of a community of speakers. The problem of policies relating to languages whose community is dwindling is addressed, followed at the end of the chapter by a reminder of the conceptual and ideological differences between Western researchers and speakers of reticent languages.
At once, with contemptuous perversity, Mr Vladimir changed the language, and began to speak idiomatic English without the slightest trace of a foreign accent.
Joseph Conrad, The Secret Agent
One-dimensional social identities are not what they used to be…We all make choices about how seriously we take such identities, and many of us make choices about the identities themselves.
Walter Truett Anderson, Reality Isn’t What It Used to Be
Outline of the chapter
Language serves instrumental and symbolic purposes. Among the latter, the manifestation of identity sticks out as a topic that has inspired a great deal of sociolinguistic research. Departing from the notion of ‘native speaker’, understood as the speaker of one’s proper, inborn language, this chapter investigates the link between language and identity. It discusses various kinds of identity – individual, ethnic, social and national – introducing major theoretical approaches to sociolinguistic identity research. On the basis of the Welsh language and its function for Welsh identity, the chapter argues that ethnolinguistic identity is variably emphasized by different speech communities, often playing a more important role for minority groups existing in the shadow of an overbearing neighbour than for speech communities whose language is not at risk of being replaced. It furthermore demonstrates that the language–identity link, rather than being an inalterable fixture, is historically contingent and can be either foregrounded or downplayed. The problem of shifting and multiple identities is discussed, and it is explained that identity research has moved from a predetermined concept to a more dynamic notion of identity as flexible and negotiable on both the group and individual level.
Preparing the second edition of a textbook is a great pleasure. While making new mistakes is perhaps more exciting than correcting past ones, being given the chance to revise, augment, update and, hopefully, improve a text written several years ago is a great privilege. Not only does it imply that the original edition has found its readers, which is, of course, a matter of satisfaction; it also shows that the field continues to thrive and evolve. I have been intrigued by the multifarious interconnections between language and society for many years. Knowing that they are subject to coordinated and ever more sophisticated research that has a place in university curricula makes it a rewarding task to introduce new generations of students to sociolinguistics.
Revisiting one’s own writing is an interesting experience that makes you reflect not just on the book at hand, but on the accumulation of knowledge, the many factors that have an influence on how an academic field develops and on progress of scholarship in general. A critical view that takes nothing for granted and tries to look beyond the confines of our own preconceptions is essential for the scientific enterprise. Every research paper and every book could always be better, but many never will be. We all have erudite friends who took the notion that further improvement is still possible too seriously – and thus never finished their PhD theses. Lest excessive perfectionism forever stops us in our tracks, we publish despite some uncertainties and shortcomings and, therefore, happily seize upon the opportunity to make up for some of the inadequacies.
Languages, like organic species can be classified into groups and subgroups… Dominant languages and dialects spread and lead to the gradual extinction of other tongues.
Charles Darwin, The Descent of Man and Selection in Relation to Sex
The lure of English has not left us. And until it goes, our own languages will remain paupers.
Mohandas Gandhi (1965)
Outline of the chapter
Some societies are characterized by relatively stable language arrangements; others are more volatile. This chapter addresses the questions of how and why language choices by individuals and groups bring about incremental change of sociolinguistic arrangements in language-contact settings. By way of conceptualizing the inequality of the world’s languages, it provides a brief review of their distribution and offers a five-tiered scheme as a general orientation. It then goes on to consider language-demographic statistics, explaining the difficulties of obtaining reliable data. The concepts of language loyalty, ethnolinguistic vitality, territories and domains, and utility are introduced as the most promising theoretical tools for analysing unstable language arrangements. By way of illustration, reference is made to the spread of languages on the Internet and to the ascent of English to the status of global language.
The Standard language was the possession only of the well-born and the well-educated.
J. E. Dobson (1956)
Outline of the chapter
This chapter describes the social dimensions of dialects, demonstrating that choice of words, pronunciation and other linguistic features has been observed to reflect speakers’ social position in various speech communities. It then goes on to explain how dialectal and standard speech should be conceptualized for purposes of sociolinguistic investigation. These notions are always interrelated, but do not mean the same thing in all speech communities. The same holds true for the concept of social structure. Social stratification changes over time, and the factors determining class are not the same in all places. Only empirical research can show how social structure is reflected in linguistic variation. At the outset of every sociolinguistic study, it is accordingly necessary to determine the relevant parameters of social stratification and how standard and dialect relate to each other. Network analysis and accommodation theory are briefly introduced as analytic tools, which are particularly useful at a time of rapid social change and technology driven change in communications.
English is destined to be in the next and succeeding centuries more generally the language of the world than Latin was in the last or French is in the present age.
John Adams (1780)
Our most dangerous foe is the foreign-language press.
Theodore Roosevelt (1917)
Adewale is known to me as an editor for the Heinemann African Writers series, Africa correspondent for Index on Censorship and a fellow Nigerian Englishman (though his English is Scots and mine Irish). A difference that fascinates: he was brought up in Lagos, I’m from London.
Gabriel Gbadamosi (1999: 187)
Outline of the chapter
In the preceding chapters, we have examined choices concerning linguistic units, styles, discourse patterns and sociolinguistic arrangements. This chapter turns to language choice in a global setting, examining the role of English in the world today. It recapitulates some of the conditions that made English an international language and discusses arguments that welcome and criticize this development. From a sociolinguistic point of view, global language dispersion calls for a unified explanation. Two theoretical models are introduced, one borrowing the concept of biodiversity and its reduction from biology, the other conceiving of the world’s languages as a market place by way of referring to economics. Both approaches seek to explain how the spread of English affects other languages. The many ways in which English itself is influenced by coming into contact with other languages and being used in many different cultural settings are dealt with in the last section of the chapter.
In the eighteenth century, when logic and science were the fashion, women tried to talk like the men. The twentieth century has reversed the process.
Aldous Huxley, Two or Three Graces
You can’t really know a person until you have heard them speak.
Anne Karpf, The Human Voice
Outline of the chapter
Inequalities between women and men pertain to biology and culture. This chapter starts out from physical differences between male and female vocal tracts and the resulting differences in pitch. It then goes on to consider the question of how biological distinctions are culturally modulated to produce female and male ways of speaking. Two theoretical approaches to the analysis of observed linguistic differences between men and women, labelled respectively ‘difference’ and ‘dominance’, are reviewed. Recent developments in the field of language and gender that, taking notice of sexual minorities, question the utility of fixed binary categories f vs. m are also introduced. The connection between the feminist movement and linguistic gender studies is discussed with a view on deliberate changes in gender-related speech practices.
They say that time changes things, but you actually have to change them yourself.
Certaynly it is harde to playse every man, by cause of dyversité and change of language.
William Caxton (1422–91), Prologue to Eneydos
‘To travel through Time!’ exclaimed the Very Young Man. … ‘One might get one’s Greek from the very lips of Homer and Plato,’ the Very Young Man thought.
H. G. Wells, The Time Machine
Outline of the chapter
In this chapter language change through time is introduced as a major dimension of linguistic variation. First, it lays the theoretical and methodological foundations of studying language change from a sociolinguistic point of view, discussing the question of what the transmission of a language from one generation to the next and the incremental change it undergoes in the process imply for our notion of what a language is. Age-grading, the fact that coexisting speakers of different generations use language differently, is explained, and the construct of ‘apparent time’ is introduced as a technique of investigating language change while compensating for the paucity of recorded speech data from former times. To illustrate phonological adjustments in the course of dialect levelling, standardization and other alterations, surveys of several speech communities are adduced, and the influence on language change of gender and age is examined. The chapter concludes with a brief discussion of demographic change, a so far largely unexplored factor of language change that is of potential interest for future research.