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Language and Communication - Introdution Vol.6 - Language and Society

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Language and Communication

Contents

1. Quote

Language and Society

  The influence of language on society and of society on language is very great.  Differences in social status are often reflected in language in how we address each other.  Practically anyone in the United States can refer to a college student by his or her first name, which can be a sign of low social status.  On the other hand, college students normally must use the titles Mr., Miss, Mrs. plus a last name when they address adults.  They normally also must refer to professors as Doctor or Professor (unless the professor asks them to use his or her first name).  And a college student (like almost everyone else) must use the title Doctor when referring to a medical doctor.  This asymmetry in how others address college students and how college students address others reflects differences in social status.
  Just as people who live in different parts of a country will normally speak different dialects, persons who are numbers of different social classes will normally also speak different dialects.  Interestingly, in most societies we know about, people regard some dialects of the language spoken as being inferior to others.  Those who speak working class varieties of English or Black English, for instance, are often believed to be poorly educated.  Such judgments are sometimes based entirely on how someone talks.
  Linguistic prejudice can be quite irrational.  In England and in Boston the [r] of words like bird or car is often deleted.  Both of the dialects - especially the English dialect - are regarded as prestigious.  In some varieties of New York City English and in Black English, [r] is also dropped from such words, but these dialects are widely perceived as inferior.  Examples like this suggest that social prejudices are often transferred to how people talk.  Persons who would never say anything negative about Blacks as a group feel free to comment on the social worth of persons who speak Black English.  Thus, while racial prejudice is believed to be a bad thing, dialect prejudice is not.  But they may be just the same thing.
  In chapters nine through twelve of this book, we will look at the role of language in society - at how language reflects social structure and of certain public uses of language that are of great social importance, namely the language of advertising and of politics.  Language plays an important role in how certain groups win and keep social prestige and social power and in how people use language to acquire and keep economic power and political power.

2. Analysis

2-1. Asymmetry of Social Status in Language

This asymmetry in how others address college students and how college students address others reflects differences in social status.

I have lived in Australia for a year to experience an overseas life and culture.
As far as I had communicated with international friends, I thought human relationships were all casual.
Of course, the assumption was wrong, not to mention.
I worked at a high school in Sydney, where I found that students called their teachers in a title plus his or her last name (I am ashamed of my ignorance of asymmetry in social status at that time).
But some teachers would like to be addressed in their first names and they may say (Please) call me ~.
Otherwise, we are not allowed to call teachers in their first name as we do to our friends.
Basically, someone in a lower social status is required to address people in a higher one with polite language and a proper title.
There is no difference between English-speaking societies and Japanese society.

How does English reflect the social asymmetry?
English does not have honorific and humble expressions, but it has polite ones like Can you ~?Could you ~? by changing the tense to past.
Besides, English has more varieties of titles (in terms of PC, it is said that the title should be Mx. regardless gender).
Also, when we would like to ask someone superior to pick up a pen, we may say Excume me, Mr. Foobar.  I was wondering if you cound pick that pen for me?, or we may say Hey, Foobar.  Pick up that pen for me, will you? to someone inferior.
This is an example of asymmetry of social status reflected in language.

2-2. Racial Prejudice and Linguistic Prejudice

In England and in Boston the [r] of words like bird or car is often deleted.  Both of the dialects - especially the English dialect - are regarded as prestigious.  In some varieties of New York City English and in Black English, [r] is also dropped from such words, but these dialects are widely perceived as inferior.  Examples like this suggest that social prejudices are often transferred to how people talk.~Thus, while racial prejudice is believed to be a bad thing, dialect prejudice is not.

First of all, there are no superiority and inferiority between a language and another.
For example, there is no linguistic evidence that English is greater or French is greater.
Then, who ranks language?
It is human.

Dropping /r/ of some dialects in the quote is a good example.
The very same phenomenon is observed in English in England, Boston, New York City and Black English.
The question is why the impression differs from the former two to the latter two.
The criterion is racial biases.
In modern society, racial discrimination is one of the serious taboos, so it is regarded as a bad act to express it in word or action.
However, it is not seen as wrong to discriminate languages based on racial prejudice.
Arbitrary evaluation of languages can determine people’s social value and educational background.

Racial and social discrimination are transferred to linguistic discrimination that originally does not exist.
This grave habit has been present although political correctness is spreading.

3. Reference

Michal L. Geis, Language and Communication, Oxford, OUP, 2001