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The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines ‘sociolinguistics’ as the study of linguistic behavior as determined by socio-cultural factors (2007). However, according to the Wikipedia Online Encyclopedia (2007), sociolinguistics is the study of the effect of all aspects of the society on the manner language is employed in the said society. It also studies the differences in languages between countries, between regions and even between social classes. This means that it includes studying languages, dialects, bilingualism, multilingualism, speech communities, etc. (Southeast Missouri State University, 2003).

Basil Bernstein became a significant person in the history of sociolinguistics when he proposed his sociolinguistic theory of language codes, which simply says that the language people use in their daily dialogues both reflects and shapes the assumptions of a community. Also that the way language is used is affected by the relationships formed. Basil Bernstein identified this after he noticed the difference in grades in language-related subjects between his middle-class students and his working class students, whereas there was nearly no difference between the two groups in mathematics-related subjects (Young, 2002).

However, it is William Labov who is considered the founder of the study of sociolinguistics. He has been portrayed as an extremely unique and powerful person who has fashioned a great deal of the methodology of sociolinguistics. The methods he applied in collecting information for his research of the varieties of English spoken in New York City, exhibited in his book The Social Stratification of English in New York City (1966), have been significant in social dialectology. (William, 2007)

Undoubtedly influenced by Labov’s writings, Ronard Wardhaugh, writer of “An Introduction to Sociolinguististics” claimed that mere observations of different groups, however, do not mean that a person has uncovered the relationships of society and language. One must be able to ask the right questions and get the right answers in order to do so. Given this statement, there have been several models of sociolinguistics.

The first that will be discussed in this paper is the traditional dialectology. Dialectology is known as the study of dialects and its variations which are mostly caused by the differences in geographical location. (Dialectology. Britannica) Traditional dialectology relies on recognizing language characteristics which are universal to one dialect area while discriminating it from others. It has difficulty in dealing with fractional matches of characteristics and with language patterns that do not have common characteristics. It was developed in the nineteenth and twentieth century and merely views differences in dialects as a result of the differences in the geographical location of the social groups. It usually involves plotting boundaries (or isoglosses) on a map to show where dialects change. When a number of these boundaries coincide, these are known as “dialect boundaries.” (Sociolinguistics: Models and Methods)  In addition to that, traditional dialectology entails fieldwork, where the more massive and detailed is better. The end results, aside from the maps stated above, are found in the forms of dictionaries, grammars, atlases, and monographs. (Dialectology, 1998)

The main objective of this study is to note the changes in dialects in its natural form or in localities relatively free from external influences. In Europe, the researchers gave priority in collecting data from the older male, uneducated speakers that live in rural communities. The oldest generations are preference since this method of research is historically-oriented. This model of sociolinguistics was widely used for the descriptions of language variation. It tried to explain why and how language changed as it did. It also has an underlying assumption that rural dialects are more “pure” or “genuine” that urban dialects (Sociolinguistics: Models and Methods).

Traditional dialectology is very limited to the rural areas and the move away from traditional methods of language study however caused linguists to become more concerned with social factors. Hence, linguists have started working on models to study social dialectology which focuses on the social factors that affect languages (Dialectology, Wikipedia, 2007). Linguists have created new investigative methodologies, which are very different from those of traditional dialectology, by applying the statistical methods of modern sociology. They call this new method as social dialectology.

A major contributor to this study is the founder of the study of sociolinguistics, William Labov, who is also considered as the pioneer of social dialectology in the United States. The main objective of this study is to connect a group of linguistic variables (for example the manner of pronouncing a vowel) with extra-linguistic variables (such as age, gender, race, location, etc.). This provides a more detailed study on the urban dialects and their influences.

As in any other statistical method, the general rule is that, the higher the number of data, the closer you are to being reliable. For social dialectology in the urban areas, however, the researcher has to create a new way of interviewing must be developed. William Labov created his own shortcut, such that sampling would be easier. This involved asking the salesladies in three different department stores, which catered to different social classes, about the location of an object that he knew was in the fourth floor. Through this method, he found out that the salesladies in the department stores that catered to the lower classes pronounced their ‘r’s different from the salesladies in the department stores that catered to the upper classes. Generalizing this result, he concluded that people in the lower social strata pronounced their ‘r’s different from people in the upper social strata.

This method has been deemed acceptable by the linguistic communities. However, this means that social dialectology focuses more on the subjective assessment of linguistic characteristics and the level of a person’s linguistic security.

Social dialectology has great significance to the entire society because the data it gathers will aid in dealing with the tremendously complex issues connected with the vocalizations of the socially underprivileged, particularly of minority groups (Linguistics, Britannica).

References:

  1. Dialectology (2007). Wikipedia Online Encyclopedia. Retrieved on July 20, 2007 from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dialectology
  2. Dialectology. (1998). Retrieved on July 20, 2007 from http://www.encyclopedia.com/doc/1O29-DIALECTOLOGY.html
  3. Dialectology. Britannica Concise Encyclopedia. Retrieved on July 20, 2007 from http://www.britannica.com/eb/article-9030256/dialectology
  4. Linguistics. Britannica Concise Encyclopedia. Retrieved on July 20, 2007 from http://www.britannica.com/ebc/article-35141.
  5. Sociolinguistics (2007). Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary. Retrieved on July 20, 2007 from http://www.m-w.com/dictionary/sociolinguistics.
  6. Sociolinguistics (2007). Wikipedia Online Encyclopedia. Retrieved on June 20, 2007 from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sociolinguistics.
  7. Sociolinguistics: Models and Methods. Retrieved on July 20, 2007 from http://www.blackwellpublishing.com/content/BPL_Images/Content_store/Sample_chapter/0631222243/Milroy_01.pdf
  8. Southeast Missouri State University (2003). Retrieved on June 20, 2006 from http://cstl-cla.semo.edu/scates/EN686/en686.html.
  9. William Labov. (2007). Wikipedia Online Encyclopedia. Retrieved on June 20, 2007 from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/William_Labov.
  10. Young, R. (2002). Basil Bernstein’s Sociolinguistic Theory of Language Codes. Retrieved on June 20, 2007 from http://zimmer.csufresno.edu/~johnca/spch100/3-3-bernstein.htm.