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(Week 1)(a & b)

What is sociolinguistics?

Sociolinguistics is the field that studies the

relation between language and society

(Spolsky, 2006).
It studies the relation between the uses of

language and the social structures in which

the users of language live.

It is a field of study that assumes that human

society is made up of many related patterns

and behaviors, some of which are linguistics
(Spolsky, 2006)
Based on the premise that besides language

being used to communicate meaning, it is also

used to establish and maintain social

Who are sociolinguists?

Sociolinguists study the relationship between

language and society (Holmes, 2001).

They are interested in explaining why we

speak differently in different social contexts.

They are concerned with identifying the social

functions of language and the ways it is used

to convey social meaning.

Examining the way people use language in

different social contexts provides

valuable information about the way
language works, as well as about the social
relationships in a community, and the way
people signal aspects of their social
identity through their language (Holmes,

What about English as a Second

Language (ESL) teachers?

Language and Context

Sociolinguistics is concerned with the

relationship between language and

the social context in which it is used
(Holmes, 2001).

Example 1
Ray: Hi mum.
Mum: Hi. Youre late.
Ray: Yeah, that bastard Sootbucket kept us in

Mum: Nanas here.
Ray: Oh sorry. Where is she?

Example 2
Ray: Good afternoon, sir.
Principal: What are you doing here at this

Ray: Mr Sutton kept us in, sir.

Question 1:
Holmes (2001)
i. Identify the words in examples 1 and 2

which reflect the fact that Rays relationship

with his mother is a friendly one compared to
his relationship with the principal.
What does this suggest about the social

significance of choice of words?

Question 2:
ii. Ray greeted the principal with the words

Good afternoon, sir.

How do or did you greet your school principal?
Would you use the same greeting to your best

friend? Why?

Language Variation
Languages provide a variety of ways of saying

the same thing addressing and greeting

others, describing things, paying
compliments, etc. (Holmes, 2001)
The choice of one linguistic form rather than

another is a useful clue to non-linguistic

information. Linguistic variation can provide
social information (i.e status, ethnicity,
culture, gender, etc.)

A term used to denote any

identifiable kind of language

(Spolsky, 2006).

Exercises 1:
In most languages, there are many different ways

of addressing people. What are the reasons for

choosing a particular form?

Make a list of all the names you are called by

people who know you. Do some people call you by

more than one name?

What are the reasons why people choose one

name rather than another for you.

What are the different ways


Example 1:
Holmes (2001)
Sam: You seen our enrys new ouse yet? Its
in alton you know.
Jim: I have indeed. I could hardly miss it Sam.
Your Henry now owns the biggest house in

Example 2:
(a). Refuse should be deposited in the

receptacle provided.
(b). Put your rubbish in the bin, Jilly.
(c ). Please tender exact fare and state
(d). Give me the right money and tell me
where youre going.
(What non-linguistic and social factors are likely
to account for the different ways of saying the
same thing?)

Language Choice
There is a range of social influences on

language choice (Holmes, 2001).

Sociolinguists are interested in the different

types of linguistic variation used to express

and reflect social factors.

These linguistic variation may occur at

different levels word choice or vocabulary

(exp. That bastard Sootbucket vs my teacher
Mr. Sutton), sounds or pronunciation, wordstructure (or morphology), and grammar (or
syntax) (Holmes, 2001)
Within each of these linguistic levels, there is

variation which offers the speaker a choice of

ways of expression.

They provide us with different linguistic styles

for use in different social contexts.

Choices may even involve different dialects of

a language, or even quite different languages

(Holmes, 2001).

A variety of language used by an

individual appropriate to a level

of formality (Spolsky, 2006).

A variety of a language used

recognizably in a specific region

or (a social dialect) by a specific
social class (Spolsky, 2006).

What is the situation in


Social factors have important influences on

the use of a particular language (or linguistic)

variety (Holmes, 2001).
In any situation, linguistic choices will
generally reflect the influence of one or more
of the following components:
(1). The participants:
Who is (are) speaking?
Who are they speaking to?, etc.

(2). The setting (or social context) of the

Where are they speaking?, etc.
(3). The topic:
What is being talked about?
(4). The function:
Why are they speaking?

There are several important dimensions for analysis

which relate to the social factors (Holmes, 2001):

(1). A social distance scale concerned with
participant relationships (how well we know
(The solidarity social distance scale)
---------------------------------------------------High solidarity

(2). A status scale concerned with

participant relationships (social status)

(The status scale)

High status

Low status

(3). A formality scale relating to the setting

or type of interaction (assessing the influence of

social setting or type of interaction on language
(The formality scale)

High formality

Low formality

(4). Two functional scales relating to the

purpose or topic of interaction (convey objective

information and expresses how someone is feeling)
(The referential and affective function scales)

High information



Low affective



How do you relate these scales

with the situation in Malaysian

What about in the ESL
classroom, specifically?