Language and identity

One of the most important functions of language is that it allows us to manage our presentation of self and our identities. In the same way that we can, for example, utilise different items of clothing in order to create unique presentations of self, we can also employ a whole range of linguistic resources.  Whereas early quantitative sociolinguistic studies, such as Labov (1966) or Trudgill (1974) understood a speaker’s sociodemographic characteristics (i.e. their gender, age, socioeconomic class or ethnicity) to be the cause of their linguistic practice, contemporary research understands language practice to be constitutive of our social identities. This means that rather than presuming that because I am a woman I will speak in a certain way; we can say that I am perceived to be a woman (in part) due to the way I speak (Cameron 1997). This understanding of the relationship between language and social identities is in keeping with Judith Butler’s (1990) influential theorising about the nature of gender. Butler (1990) argues that there is nothing behind the expression of gender identities other than the performative enactment of such identities.  This has led scholars in sociolinguistics, such as Bucholtz and Hall (2005) to suggest that identities are the emergent products of interactions, something which we construct using linguistic and non-linguistic social practices.

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Historical sociolinguistics – how and why?

Having established in the previous post that sociolinguistics is a broad discipline that encompasses issues of language and society, it is not too much of a leap for us to imagine that we can study language and society in the past as well as the present. Sociolinguistics has a wide scope in terms of its sub-disciplines and also the timespan it can cover. Historical sociolinguistics naturally focuses on language and society in the past. This means that a certain number of practical issues arise for historical sociolinguistics scholars that do not exist in the same way for contemporary sociolinguists. In this post I shall outline just a few of these practical issues in an attempt to address the question: ‘So, how and why do you actually do historical sociolinguistics?’.

To begin addressing this question, we should establish exactly what historical sociolinguistics has in common with contemporary sociolinguistics, before highlighting the practical difficulties and how we overcome these. Historical sociolinguistics (sometimes called socio-historical linguistics) benefits being informed by modern sociolinguistic theory, in particular the uniformitarian principle – ‘the working assumption that the fundamental principles and mechanisms of language variation and change are valid across time’ (Auer et al. 2015: 4). Here we encounter our first problem, since we do not want to impose modern concepts onto past societies and languages anachronistically. Being aware of this pitfall, historical sociolinguistic scholars attempt to overcome this by examining each case individually (Auer et al. 2015: 5). Continue reading

What is sociolinguistics?

Hello! Góðan dag! Merhaba! Xαίρετε!

Welcome to HaCKS, an academically-oriented blog about all things sociolinguistic!

But what exactly is sociolinguistics? This first blog post will introduce this concept to those who are unfamiliar with it and give a better insight into the overarching theme of this blog and indeed our seminar series!

Essentially, sociolinguistics is an academic discipline that studies language and society. 

Sociolinguists must ask themselves how language affects society and how society affects language. Research in sociolinguistics generally concerns how language changes according to social context and the roles language plays in different social processes.The study of sociolinguistics explains not only how and why languages change, but also the different factors that cause it. It unearths the complex and multiple interactions between social actors, the language(s) they speak and the society within which they exist. Since language is a fundamental part of our human society, the scope and application of sociolinguistics is astronomical, not to mention highly interdisciplinary. Continue reading