Saturday, March 7, 2009

What is Social about Sociolinguistics?

Upon reading the introduction in Wardhaugh (2006) I find myself aligned with the author, Gumperz (1971) Chambers, and Coulmas (1997, as cited in Wardhaugh, 2006). We ought to be looking at the outcomes of how the social environment interacts with linguistic structure. I think that Coulmas really hit on a point when he/she stated the division of macro and micro was somewhat contrived. I would like to add to that and say that I believe looking at language without context is like finding fools gold and believing it is valuable. Without having a base to judge from, one can be easily misled. The relationship between language and social aspects is one that needs attention as a whole... Language seems to affect (or not affect in some cases) the way we act (Whorf Hypothesis), and vice-versa... Studying both linguistics and sociology separately, then combining them may miss the plot (according to Hymes, 1974 as cited in Wardhaugh 2006). I understand how Chomsky would like to separate linguistic studies from any other social factor, because it just makes things simpler and easier to make hypotheses about. That is a very scientific thing to do. But language is a communication tool, used within social situations, it is impossible to separate it from other affecting variables. Understanding aspects in isolation may help in contributing to the knowledge base, but we must be careful not to let those understandings distort our understanding of what really exists. Just as in a magicians slight of hand, sometimes the parts do not always equal the whole.

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Switching wihin a Code

This idea of switching (within a code) for different social situations is really interesting and connects with an idea within Wardhaugh (2006). The idea of there being a considerable amount of variation within one language, and it changing to fit in with surrounding social requirements. The way we relate to other individuals and groups somewhat depends on a whole host of factors (race, ethnicity, gender, religion, social class etc...Wardhaugh, 2006, p. 6), and these factors influence not only the way we act, but what and how we communicate. I also find myself changing the way I talk within different situations. When I am with Australian friends I tend to be more casual and easy going with language. Australians with other Australians tend to fill in the blanks more. I can be a little more abstract, and may not even need to finish sentences, as I can assume my Australian friends have the contextual cues to infer meaning. However, with my American friends, I sometimes have to spell things out more clearly, and change the way I present information so that they can understand.
Also, when speaking in meetings, I have to change to a more formalized form of language, and I concentrate harder on being very logical and to the point. This tends to make me feel and act differently, in order to fit in with my expectation of the identity I have for that particular purpose. My question is if this is only a perceived boundary, or is it actually real. One way to test it is to actually break the boundary, by speaking in a more casual manner...but what will the consequences be...
Actually, I participated in recent teacher interviews recently, and one of the applicants was very surprised at our interview techniques...we tried to make the process a little more casual, by joking a little and presenting a more friendly atmosphere...and it seemed to be a little off-putting for the applicant...until they themselves adapted to the new environment...this case alludes to the idea that we can readily change our social identities, to match the perceived environment...part of those social identities are variants in language and behavior...We ended up hiring the individual involved...ciao Steve

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Which variety of English do you speak/teach?

I teach in Japan, where a standard American dialect (which one I don't really know) is strongly encouraged, unless you teach in places like the British council (which many of my friends have). I have been living in this pseudo English environment (American dialect, international friends and teacher talk) so long that it has started to affect my own use and pronunciation of English. Every time I go back to Australia, my friends and family always comment on the things I say and how I say them... I am often confused about which to use, so I try my hardest to expose Ss to both. Spelling is the one of the indicators for me about which dialect a book/website favors, along with many contextual cues such as references to places and cultural norms... Also my Ss seem to find British English difficult to listen to. I like the website ELLLO because it tries to expose Ss (listening) to many world Englishes...
So, when in doubt, I say try to do what you know...but endeavor to expose Ss to many varieties...ciao Steve