Sociolinguistics between Language Society

Sociolinguistics between Language Society

Sociolinguistics between Language Society

The term “Sociolinguistics” comes in between “Language” & “Society”. So, when we say “Language” we talk about formal linguistics that is concerned with the syntactic, semantic, morphemic, and phonemic structure of a language. Whereas “Society” has its social theorist & anthropologists who are interested in the way society is organized & how people manage to live together & to interact in a persistent way. They are also shedding light on the way social stratification works & the nature of relationships among people like solidarity, power, intimacy, politeness, etc. In this way, sociolinguists try to find possible correlations between “Society” &”Language”.



– One major concern of sociolinguists is to try to find out how some social phenomena (solidarity, power…) can be enacted in Language? The answer is SOCIABILITY.


it’s quality or ability to be fond of the company of others. The love of companionship. People who have this quality we call “Sociable”, always try to seek out the opportunity of social contact: trying to establish RAPPORT with others or a pleasant atmosphere. This means that people manage to live together through sociability. So, we can say that linguists are interested in how sociability can be enacted in Language.

=> Sociability is enacted in Language through “Phatic Communion”. The latter is a term coined by the Polish linguistic anthropologist BronislavMalinowski in 1923. One way of enacting sociability is through phatic communion.


it can be defined as a conversational speech used to communicate sociability rather than information in order to establish relationships which is the case in Empty/Small talks. Examples:

1. Greetings: The formal linguists study the lexicon, syntax…that is used in these expressions. Whereas, sociolinguists try to understand why people greet each other. So, they resort to social categories & sociability.

2. Terms of address: It is highly rude & impolite to address someone using vocalization. But polite terms of address is when you use: LastName, First Name, Title+Last Name, Doc/Prof, Diminutive, Nickname, etc. The sociolinguist would be interested in why we have terms of address.

1. Title + Last Name = Power
Ex: A nurse to a Doctor.
2. First Name = Solidarity
Ex: Co-workers
3. Diminutive/Nickname = Intimacy
Ex: A wife to her husband.

These terms of address are linguistic items that are governed by social relationships. Politeness & respect is enacted through the use of terms of address. We can use also Kinship terms like Father, Dad, Uncle, etc to show more respect.


– How do sociolinguists study the relationships between Language & Society?

=> Sociolinguistics attempts to observe Language as a dynamic (not static)phenomenon in its natural setting or context. In other words, sociolinguistics attempt to observe, describe & explain natural/unmonitored/spontaneous speech patterns. That is to say, the natural unmonitored speech patterns that participants use among themselves.

– Is it possible to observe natural speech patterns in their natural settings?

=> That’s not easy to do because speech patterns regularly change when another person, especially a stranger, inters the conversation. We can say the naturalness of speech patterns is affected by the presence of a stranger.

– How can a sociolinguist who is a stranger & an outside observer witness& record natural speech patterns ? Doesn’t the presence of thesociolinguist affect or even kill the naturalness of the speech? ( themethodological difficulty)

=> This is what William Labov calls “The observer’s paradox”.

The Observer’s Paradox (O.P): William Labov

Fact: The aim of the sociolinguist is to describe/observe/record the speech patterns of the participants without the feeling of being observed or watched. The participants are not likely to produce any speech patterns when being observed. Some of them keep silent & others tend to correct themselves & we call this “Hyper correction” or “Hyper-urbanism”. The difficulty that sociolinguists find is people speak naturally when they’re not being observed, but the paradox is that the data can be obtained only with observation. The participants tend to change their speech patterns & move to the standard forms. Ex: Brits when being watched by a stranger they tend to use Received Pronunciation (R.P) as the glottal stops.

– How do sociolinguists overact this difficulty of “The Observer’s Paradox”?

William Labov tried to turn interviews (formal/asymmetrical) into natural conversations (informal/symmetrical) & it might even become some kind of small talk (unimportant matters). In this way, the participants tend to self-disclosure when they forget to feel that they’re monitored. This method depends on the personal qualities of the researchers or interviewers.


Sociolinguistics is an empirical science; this means that it is guided by practical experience/observation/description of the real world or reality as it is, not by theorizing. Sociolinguistics is founded on adequate database/facts. This database is drawn from a wide variety of sources. The empirical method used in data collection can be either:

  • 1. Quantitative
  • 2. Qualitative.

1. Quantitative methods represent data in the form of numbers & statistics drawn from censuses (counts of the population), documents & surveys using various elicitation techniques such as interviews & questionnaires.

2. Qualitative methods collect data by directly observing naturally occurring speech events (which means the spontaneous interactions of people in daily life) via “Participant Observation” or “Ethnographic Methods“.

– What is Participant Observation (P.O)?

=> P.O is a method used in the social sciences to study the lived, experienced practices of a community in a natural environment outside a laboratory or experimental context such as a classroom.

=> P.O is a form of ethnography that seeks to obtain a greater understanding of a phenomenon through the submersion (the complete involvement) of the researchers into the lives of their research subjects.
=> P.O is the practice of spending long periods of time with speakers observing how they use language & how they react to other’s use of it. It’s a means of gathering qualitative data rather than quantitative data.
=> P.O is an attempt to overcome the Observer’s Paradox. The investigators spend long periods of time working & or living with the people whose speech he/she is interested in & they hope by doing this that he/she will eventually gain insider status.

The ethnographer is interested in the norms of a community. “Ethno” means the categories or members of a given community & it is very important to know that it varies from a community to another. “Ethnography” is a method of research that evolved out of the field of anthropology. It studies a group from the inside (values, norms…). In anthropology, this technique has been used as a means of understanding Non-Western people’s cultures. Ethnography relies on P.O which involves the researchers immersing themselves with a group in an attempt to gain insight into their choices & behavior.


Some investigators draw a distinction between Sociolinguistics/Microsociolinguistics & Sociology of language/Macro-sociolinguistics. Sociolinguistics is concerned with investigating the relationship between language & society with the goal being a better understanding of the nature of language.

In Sociology of language, the goal is to try to discover how social structure can be better understood through the study of language. The difference between the two is very much one of emphasis. According to whether the investigator is interested in language or in society, there is a very large area of overlap between the two. There is no sharp dividing line between the two but a large area of common concern; both of them are needed to contribute to a better understanding of the language of a necessary condition & products of social life.


– Jean Aitchison 2008.
– The articulate mammal.
– An introduction to psycholinguistics (5th edition)

Sociolinguistics between Language Society

Sociolinguistics between Language Society

Sociolinguistics between Language Society

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