Tag Archives: linguistics

Common Speech Functions

Functions of speech are different ways of communicating. The differences among the speech functions have to do with the intention of the communication. Different intention or goal leads to the use of a different function of speech. There are many different functions if speech but we will look at the six that are listed below.

  • Referential
  • Directive
  • Expressive
  • Phatic
  • Poetic
  • Metalinguistic

Referential

Referential speech provides information. For example, a person might share the time with someone (“It’s five o’clock” ). Referential speech can often provide information to a question (“what time is it?”).

Directive

Directives or commands that try to get someone to do something. Examples include “turn left” or “sit down”. The context of a directive is one in which something needs or should be done. As such, one person tries to make one or more other persons do something. Even children say directives towards their parents (“give me the ball”).

Expressive

Expressive speech shares a person’s feelings. An example would be “I feel happy today!”. Expressive communication can at times provide clear evidence of how someone is doing.

Phatic

Phatic speech is closely related to expressive speech. However, the main difference is that phatic speech is focused on the well-being of others while expressive speech focuses on the feelings of the person speaking.

An example of phatic speech is saying “how are you?”. This is clearly a question but it is focusing on how the person is doing. Another phrase might be “I hope you get well soon.” Again the focus on is on the welfare of someone else.

Poetic

Poetic speech is speech that is highly aesthetic. Songs and poetry are examples of language that is poetic in nature. An example would be the famous nursery rhyme “Roses are red, violets are blue…..). Poetic speech often has a powerful emotional effect as well.

Metalinguistic 

Metalinguistic speech is communication about language. For example, this entire blog post would be considered by many to be metalinguistic because I a talking about language and not really using language as described in the other functons of speech.

Exceptions

There are many more categories than the ones presented. In addition, the categories presented are not mutually exclusive. Many phrases can be correctly classified into many different categories. For example, if someone says “I love you” you could argue that it’s expressive, poetic, and or even phatic. What is missing is the context in which such a statement is made.

Conclusion

The ways in which we communicated have been briefly explained here. Understanding how people communicate will help others to better understand those around us and improve our style of communicating.

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Accommodation Theory in Language Communication

Often when people communicate, they will make a subconscious or even a conscious decision to adjust their speech so that it is more alike or less alike. This is known as accommodation.

In this post, we will look at the following concepts related to accommodation

  • Speech convergence
  • Speech divergence

Speech Convergence

Speech convergence is when people speech starts to sound similar to each other. Often, this is a sign that the speakers are being polite to each other, like each other, and or when one speaker has the interest to please another.

Speech convergence is not only for social reasons. Another reason that a person will modify their speech is for the sake of removing technical jargon when dealing with people who are not familiar with it. For example, when a mechanic speaks to a doctor about what is wrong with their car or when a medical doctor speaks to a patient about the patient’s health. The modification happens so that the other person can understand.

Speech convergence can be overdone in terms of the perceptions of the hearers. For example, if a foreigner sounds too much like a native it can raise suspicion. Furthermore, over convergence can be perceived as insulting and or making fun of others.  As such, some difference is probably wise.

Speech Divergence

Speech divergence happens when people deliberately choose not to mirror each other speaking styles. The message that is sent when doing this is that the people communicating do not want to accommodate, seem polite, or perhaps that they do not like the people they are communicating with.

Examples of this often involve minority groups who desire to maintain their own cultural identity. Such a group will use their language judiciously, especially around the local dominant culture, as a sign of independence.

Accent divergence is also possible. For example, two people from the same country but different socioeconomic standings may deliberately choose to maintain their specific style of communication to indicate the differences between them.

Conclusion

Convergence and divergence in communication can send many different messages to people. It is difficult to determine how people will respond to how a people convergence or divergences from their speaking style. However, the main motivations for accommodation appear to be how such behavior benefits the communicator.

Theories on Language Change in Groups

As people interact with each other, it naturally leads to changes in how communication  takes place. Fortunately, there are several views that attempt to explain in a systematic way how language changes. In general, there are at least 3 viewpoints on how language changes. These viewpoints are

  • Group to group
  • Style to style
  • Word to word

In this post, we will look at each of these viewpoints on language change.

Group to Group

The group to group hypothesis sees language change like a wave in a lake. The changes originates from one or more groups and slowly spreads to other groups.  This happens because different groups interact with each other. Furthermore, many people are members of more than one group and bring the language they use in one group to another.

Style to Style

The style to style hypothesis suggest that language changes as there are shifts between language styles. For example, from a formal way of speaking to a colloquial way of speaking and vice versa.

A change in the language  that is seen as prestigious is usually from a higher more affluent section of society. Of course, the opposite is also true and un-prestigious language change comes from the least fortunate.

The style of a speaker also changes over time. The younger the person is the more they use vernacular and slang in general.

Word to Word 

There are times in which individual words will change within a language and this change will spread to other languages. This is known as lexical diffusion.

Such a change can take decades and even century to take place. It is also common when two languages interact through mutually changing each other pronunciation. Such as the role of French in England for several centuries.

Conclusion

It is not so much that any of the examples discussed here are exclusively responsible for change. Rather, all of these examples play varying roles in influencing changes in a language.

Social Networks and Language Habits

In this post, we will look at how relationships that people have can play a role in how they communicate with those around them. Understanding this can help people to comprehend differences in communication style.

In sociolinguistics, social networks  can refer to the pattern of informal relationships that people have and experience on a consistent basis. There are two dimensions that can be used to describe a persons social network. These two terms are density and plexity.

Density

The density of a social network refers to how well people in your network know each other. In other words, density is ow well your friends know each other. We all have friends, we have friends who know each other, and we have friends who do not know each other.

If many of your friends know each other then the density is high. If your friends do not know each other the density is low. An example of a high density network would be the typical family. Everybody knows each other. An example of a low density network would be employees at a large company. In such a situation it would not be hard to find a friend of a friend that you do not know.

Plexity

Plexity is a  measure of the various types of interactions that you are involved in with other people. Plexity can be uniplex, which involves one type of interaction with a person or multiplex, which involves many types of interactions with a person.

An example of a uniplex interaction may be a worker with their boss. They only interact at work. A multiplex interaction would again be with members of one’s family. When dealing with family interactions could include school, work, recreation, shopping, etc. In all these examples it is the same people interacting in a multitude of settings.

Language Use in Social Networks

A person’s speech almost always reflects the network that they belong too. If the group is homogeneous we will almost always speak the way everyone else does assuming we want to be a part of the group. For example, a group of local construction workers will more than likely use similar language patterns due to the homogeneous nature of the group while a group of ESL bankers would not as they come from many different countries.

When a person belongs to more than one social network they will almost always unconsciously change the way they communicate based on the context. For example, anybody who has moved away from home communicates differently where they live then when they communicate with family and friends back home. This is true even when moving from one place to another in the same province or state in your country.

Conclusion

The language that people employ is affected by the dynamics of the social network. We naturally will adjust our communication to accommodate who we are talking too.

Sociolinguistic Insights into Female Communication

In general, women tend to prefer to use the most standard or prestige form of a language regardless of cultural background or geography. Linguist have proposed several potential reasons for this. This post will share some of the most common ideas on why women often used the standard form of their language.

Social Status

There is a belief among many linguist that women use the most prestigious forms of their language because they are more status-conscious than men. By using the standard version of their language a women is able to claim a higher status.

The implication of this is that women have a lower status in society and try to elevate themselves through their use of language. However, this conclusion has been refuted as women who work outside the home use more of the standard form of their language then women who work in their home.

If the social status hypothesis was correct women who work at home, and thus have the lowest status, should use more of the standard form then women who work. Currently, this is not the case.

Women as Protector of Society’s Values

The women as protector of values view see social pressure as a constraint on how women communicate. Simply, women use more standard forms of their language then men because women are expected to behave better. It is thrust upon women to serve as an example for their community and especially for their children.

This answer is considered correct but depends highly on context. For example, this idea falls a part most frequently when women communicate with their children. The informal and intimate setting often leads to most women using the vernacular aspects of their language.

Women as Subordinate Group

A third suggestion is that women, who are often a subordinate group, use the more standard version of their language to show deference to those over them. In other words, women use the most polite forms of their language to avoid offending men.

However, this suggestion also fails because it equates politeness with the standard form of a language. People can be polite using vernacular and they can be rude using the most prestigious form of their language possible.

Vernacular as Masculine

A final common hypothesis on women’s use of standard forms is the perception that the use of the vernacular is masculine and tough. Women choose the standard form as a way of demonstrating behaviors traditionally associated with gender in their culture. Men on the other hand, use vernacular forms to show traits that are traditionally associated with male behaviors.

The problem with this belief is the informal settings. As mentioned previously, women and men use more vernacular forms of their language in informal settings. As such, it seems that context is one of the strongest factors in how language is used and not necessarily gender.

Th Birth of the Audiolingual Method

In this post, we will examine the background to the Audiolingual method. Audiolingualism is considered by many to be the first American approach to ESL.

Background

During the Great Depression, and influential study called the “Coleman Report” recommended that foreign language should be taught through the use of a reading approach. This led to many teachers teaching language using a combination of Direct Method and Oral Approach.

A major change came with the start of WWII, the US now needed people who were fluent in the languages of the enemy and those conquered by them. For many of these exotic languages, there was no textbook available. This lead the army to a creative solution called the informant method.

The informant method was simple. A native speaker of the target language teamed with a student and a linguist and they would spend time together. The native speaker would  say phrases and vocabulary for the student to learn through imitation. The linguist would provide structure for what the student was learning.

The informant method required students to study 10 hours a day six days a week for 12-18 weeks. By the end of such an intense experience, excellent languages skills were developed.

After WWII, there was a shift among many linguist towards a structural function of language combined with behavioral approaches to learning. There was also a focus on aural training  with support in developing pronunciation skills. Later did the student learn about speaking, reading, and writing. This way of teaching language became know as the Aural-Oral Approach.

Enter Audiolingualism

Audiolingualism came out of the background of the intense language experience of the informant method and the structural/behavioral emphasis of the Aural-Oral Approach. This method, with its focus on “drill, drill, drill”, was used in ESL teaching at universities throughout America at one point and is stilled used in many parts of the world today.

Audiolingualism was touted as taking language teaching from art to science. It was considered systematic and efficient in providing results. For teachers, it meant often being the center of instruction and speaking to allow the students to imitate and to correct them when they were wrong. For students, it meant parroting what was said without always knowing what it means.

For its time, there is no question as to the influence of audiolingualism. It was based on prior study and was one of the first major contribution of American linguists to ESL teaching. In a future post, we will examine in detail the audiolingual method.

National and Official Language

Many countries in the world have a national and an official language. The origins of these two distinction is wrap in politics, history, and culture.

A national language is the language with a political, cultural, and social unit connected with it. An official language is the language used by the government of a country. However, both of these terms are used for politic means in many countries.

A national language is often used to unite the people. Examples of this include Japanese in Japan, French in France, and even English in Great Britain. Each country has a complex history behind its selection of a national language.

The process of developing a national language involves four steps which are…

  • Selection
  • Codification
  • Elaboration
  • Acceptance

Selection

Selecting a language to serve as the national language is a political process. Picking the wrong language could rip a nation a part. Different countries have approach this in different ways. Indonesia selected a Malay pidgin as its national language to unite its country. The Philippines choose Tagalog or Filipino as their national language, which was met by great resistance.

Codification

Codification involves standardizing the language. This involves the development of grammar rules and dictionaries. American English was heavily influenced by Noah Webster and his work in developing dictionaries. Webster specifically wanted to develop a American dialect of English in order to unify the new country.

Elaboration 

Elaboration is the process of extending the language into new domains such as academics,  medicine, or some other field. Many languages, pidgins, and or creoles, do not have ways of communicating highly abstract terms. In order to serve as an official language terms need to be developed to handle any form of communication.

Acceptance

After developing a language in order for it to become the national language, steps must be taken to convince the people to use it. This is often done through a combination of propaganda and follow the leader. When government officials use the language locals often begin to follow.

Conclusion

The use of a language by a nation has a complex process that involves several steps. Every country has some story behind the development of its language. This rarely does not happen by chance.

Pidgins and Creoles

Pidgin and Creole are two common terms used in linguistics to describe a language. This post will define and explain some of the characteristics of these two linguistic terms

Pidgin

A pidgin is a language that does not have any native speakers. In other words, it is a younger language that is developed as a means of communicating between two groups who do not speak the same language.

Pidgins are frequently developed for business and trading. Buying and selling and other transactions are reasons for the development of a pidgin. Pidgins are not used as a form of group identification but rather for practical communication.

A pidgin is also the combination of two different languages. The language that provides the majority of the vocabulary is called the superstrate and the minority language is called the substrate.

Pidgins are highly simplified in their grammar and syntax. For example, pidgins are often missing affixes, inflections, and a smaller vocabulary compared to other languages.

A pidgin usually sounds ridiculous to a speaker of either of the two languages it is derived from. As such, they are often difficult to learn for a speaker of either the superstrate or substrate language to learn as they do not follow the normal rules of grammar as found in the superstrate or substrate language.

There are many pidgins in the world today. Many came as a result of slavery in the western hemisphere. Slaves came from different parts of Africa and often could not communicate without developing a pidgin.

In Asia, most countries have or had some form of pidgin English such as Thailand “Tinglish”, Japan has “Japanese Bamboo English.” Over time, many pidgins mature into what we call creoles.

Creole 

A creole is a pidgin that now has native speakers. Children grow speaking a creole as their first language. There are also other differences between a pidgin and creole.

Since it is the first language of a group, creoles are used in many more areas of life and have a much richer  structure. Furthermore, a creole has a much more standardized grammar rules.

People’s attitudes towards a creole is often different as well. Since it is the first language of many people, there is a sense of pride over using the language. A creole can also be used to identify members of a group. This was not possible with a pidgin as pidgins serve as a way of communicating between two groups while creoles are for communicating both between groups and within a group.

Examples of creoles includes “Manglish” (Malaysian English), “Singlish” (Singaporean English) and “Taglish” (Tagalog English).

Conclusion

Pidgins and creoles serve the purpose of communicating among people groups who have different languages. With time a pidgin may become a creole if native speakers of a pidgin develop.

Diglossia

Diglossia literally means “two tongues.” This definition gives the impression that diglossia and bilingualism are the same thing. However, diglossia is a distinct form of bilingualism in that the use of the two languages are determined by the function.

A diglossia consists of a high and low language. The high language is used for specific purpose such as business transactions, ceremonies, and religious rites. The low language is used for everyday conversation. You would never hear a person use the low language for normal conversation.

The context in which the high and low languages are used are called domains. There are many different domains such as family, work, school, church, etc. Each of these domains calls for either the high or low language. For example, the high language may be used when speaking of politics while the low language may be used for speaking about sports.

There are several examples of diglossia in the world. In America, African Americans often have their own distinct form of English which functions as a low language. Regular or standard English would be the high language in this situation. At home, African American English is spoken and in public a switch to standard English is often made.

There is often an interaction between diglossia and bilingualism in language. In general, there are four ways in which diglossia and bilingualism can interact in a community.

  1. The community has diglossia and bilingualism
  2. The community has diglossia but not bilingualism
  3. The community has bilingualism but disglossia
  4. The community does not have disglossia or bilingualism

Below are examples of each

Diglossia and Bilingualism 

An example of this is an African American community where the people can speak standard English (high language), African American English (low language) while also being fluent in another language like Spanish (second language).

Diglossia but not Bilingualism

Same as above, the African American community knows standard Enlgish as well as African American English but the community does not speak Spanish or any other language.

Bilingualism but no Diglossia

The African American community speaks standard English and also speaks another language, such as Spanish, but does not use African American English.

Neither Diglossia or Bilingualism

The African American community only speaks standard English and does not speak African American English or any other language such as Spanish.

Conclusion

Communities vary in there perception of their high and low languages. Some look down on the low language while using it while others are proud of the low language while feeling forced to learn the high. The points is that with diglossia, the use of a second language is connected to a particular social setting.

Speech, Language, and Communication

There are three terms that people commonly use interchangeably when describing how people interact verbally with each other. The terms are speech, language, and communication. Although these terms are similar they are not synonyms for each other. This post will explain the difference between these three terms.

Speech

Speech is specifically a verbal means of communicating. This distinguishes it from non-verbal forms of communicating such as written communication or body language. Speech involves the vocalizing of specific sounds called phonemes. Every language has specific phonemes that make of sounds for that language. For example, Spanish involves the rolling of the “r” often.

Speech is not limited to phonemes. Other aspects of speech include the voice quality, intonation, and rate. Voice quality is the phonetic characteristics of a person’s voice. Our example of the r sound in Spanish relates to voice quality. Intonation is related to the pitch of the voice. Sometimes a language uses different pitches depending on the context. For example, if a question is asked in English the pitch rises at the end. Lastly, rate is how fast the people talk in the language.

Language

Language code for conveying concepts through the use of symbols. For example, almost all languages have some sort of word for “dog.” In English, the word for this animal is “dog.” In Spanish the word is “perro.” In French, the word for dog is “chien.” Regardless of the language, when people hear one of these words for dog in their language they connect this word with the concept of a four-legged creature that often barks. The term “dog” is a symbol for an animal. This is thinking in a highly abstract way.

Languages can be expressed verbally through speech and also through writing. In order for each side to understand the other, they most know each other’s language in order to convey and share ideas. An obvious reason that people from different countries do not understand each other is because they speak different languages.

Communication

Communication is process of exchanging ideas and needs. This processes involves encoding, transmitting, and decoding. Encoding is the process of taking a concept identifying a word that is associated with it. If a person has in their mind a barking animal they may think of the word “dog.” Transmitting is sharing the concept through the use language. This is when the person says “dog” verbally.

Decoding is this process in reverse and is done by the receiver. The receiver hears the word “dog” and he translates this into a barking animal in his mind. All of this happens in a split second everyday in many peoples lives.

Communication can happen in many was beyond verbal. As mention earlier, people can communicate ideas in writing or through the use of body language. Even art can communicate information through the use of music, painting, or more.

Conclusion

Speech, language, and communication are distinct aspects of understanding how people convey information. Understanding these differences can help people to know how they are trying to share information.