Interpreting As a Discourse Process (Oxford Studies in Sociolinguistics)

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William Labov is often regarded as the founder of the study of sociolinguistics. He is especially noted for introducing the quantitative analysis of language variation and change, [8] making the sociology of language into a scientific discipline. The sociolinguistic interview is an integral part of collecting data for sociolinguistic studies. There is an interviewer, who is conducting the study, and a subject, or informant , who is the interviewee.

In order to get a grasp on a specific linguistic form and how it is used in the dialect of the subject, a variety of methods are used to elicit certain registers of speech. There are five different styles, ranging from formal to casual. The most formal style would be elicited by having the subject read a list of minimal pairs MP.


Minimal pairs are pairs of words that differ in only one phoneme, such as cat and bat. Having the subject read a word list WL will elicit a formal register, but generally not as formal as MP. The reading passage RP style is next down on the formal register, and the interview style IS is when an interviewer can finally get into eliciting a more casual speech from the subject. During the IS the interviewer can converse with the subject and try to draw out of them an even more casual sort of speech by asking him to recall childhood memories or maybe a near death experience, in which case the subject will get deeply involved with the story since strong emotions are often attached to these memories.

Of course, the most sought-after type of speech is the casual style CS. This type of speech is difficult if not impossible to elicit because of the Observer's Paradox.

Interpreting as a Discourse Process : Cynthia B. Roy :

The closest one might come to CS in an interview is when the subject is interrupted by a close friend or family member, or perhaps must answer the phone. CS is used in a completely unmonitored environment where the subject feels most comfortable and will use their natural vernacular without overtly thinking about it. While the study of sociolinguistics is very broad, there are a few fundamental concepts on which many sociolinguistic inquiries depend.

Speech community is a concept in sociolinguistics that describes a distinct group of people who use language in a unique and mutually accepted way among themselves. This is sometimes referred to as a Sprechbund. To be considered part of a speech community, one must have a communicative competence.

Sociolinguistics for language students

That is, the speaker has the ability to use language in a way that is appropriate in the given situation. It is possible for a speaker to be communicatively competent in more than one language. Speech communities can be members of a profession with a specialized jargon , distinct social groups like high school students or hip hop fans, or even tight-knit groups like families and friends. Members of speech communities will often develop slang or jargon to serve the group's special purposes and priorities.

Community of Practice allows for sociolinguistics to examine the relationship between socialization, competence, and identity. Since identity is a very complex structure, studying language socialization is a means to examine the micro-interactional level of practical activity everyday activities. The learning of a language is greatly influenced by family but it is supported by the larger local surroundings, such as school, sports teams, or religion.

Speech communities may exist within a larger community of practice. Crucial to sociolinguistic analysis is the concept of prestige ; certain speech habits are assigned a positive or a negative value, which is then applied to the speaker. This can operate on many levels. An important implication of the sociolinguistic theory is that speakers 'choose' a variety when making a speech act, whether consciously or subconsciously. The terms acrolectal high and basilectal low are also used to distinguish between a more standard dialect and a dialect of less prestige.

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Understanding language in society means that one also has to understand the social networks in which language is embedded. A social network is another way of describing a particular speech community in terms of relations between individual members in a community. A network could be loose or tight depending on how members interact with each other.

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A multiplex community is one in which members have multiple relationships with each other. The looseness or tightness of a social network may affect speech patterns adopted by a speaker. A social network may apply to the macro level of a country or a city, but also to the interpersonal level of neighborhoods or a single family. Recently, social networks have been formed by the Internet, through chat rooms, Facebook groups, organizations, and online dating services.

Sociolinguistics as a field distinct from dialectology was pioneered through the study of language variation in urban areas. Whereas dialectology studies the geographic distribution of language variation, sociolinguistics focuses on other sources of variation, among them class. Class and occupation are among the most important linguistic markers found in society.


One of the fundamental findings of sociolinguistics, which has been hard to disprove, is that class and language variety are related. Members of the working class tend to speak less standard language , while the lower, middle, and upper middle class will, in turn, speak closer to the standard. However, the upper class, even members of the upper middle class, may often speak 'less' standard than the middle class. This is because not only class but class aspirations, are important. Studies, such as those by William Labov in the s, have shown that social aspirations influence speech patterns.

This is also true of class aspirations. In the process of wishing to be associated with a certain class usually the upper class and upper middle class people who are moving in that direction socio-economically will adjust their speech patterns to sound like them. However, not being native upper-class speakers, they often hypercorrect , which involves overcorrecting their speech to the point of introducing new errors.

The same is true for individuals moving down in socio-economic status. In any contact situation, there is a power dynamic, be it a teacher-student or employee-customer situation, this power dynamic results in a hierarchical differentiation between languages. Basil Bernstein, a well-known British socio-linguist, devised in his book, 'Elaborated and restricted codes: their social origins and some consequences,' a method for categorizing language codes according to variable emphases on verbal and extraverbal communication.

He claimed that factors like family orientation, social control, verbal feedback, and possibly social class contributed to the development of the two codes: elaborated and restricted. According to Basil Bernstein, the restricted code exemplified the predominance of extraverbal communication, with an emphasis on interpersonal connection over individual expression. His theory places this code within environments that operate according to established social structures that predetermine the roles of their members, in which the commonality of interests and intents due to a shared local identity creates a predictability of discrete intent and therefore a simplification of verbal utterances.

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Alessandro Duranti ed. Oxford: Basil Blackwell. Identity and interaction: a sociolcultural linguistic approach. Discourse Studies Cameron, Deborah. Styling the worker: Gender and the commodification of language in the globalized service economy. Journal of Sociolinguistics 4 3 Cokely, D. Metanotative qualities: How accurately are they conveyed by interpreters? The Reflector, 5 Fall , Interpretation: A Sociolinguistic Model. Burtonsville, MD: Linstok Press. Cromdal, Jakob and Aronsson, Karin, Footing in bilingual play. Davidson, Brad. The interpreter as institutional gatekeeper: The social-linguistic role of interpreters in Spanish-English medical discourse.