Sociology, English
Diversity Within English
In order to understand how language variation descriptors are used, we first must understand what language
variation is. We can say that the U.S. is linguistically diverse because of the multitude of languages spoken here,
but we can also find diversity within these languages. All languages have both dialectical variations and registral
variations. These variations, or dialects, can differ in lexicon, phonology, and/or syntax from the Standard
Language that we often think of as ?correct? Language, although they are not necessarily less proper than, say,
Standard English. It depends on where, by whom, and in what situation the dialect is used as to whether or not it
is appropriate.
Most people are familiar with regional dialects, such as Boston, Brooklyn, or Southern. These types of
variations usually occur because of immigration and settlement patterns. People tend to seek out others like
themselves. Regional variations tend to become more pronounced as the speech community is more isolated by
physical geography, i.e. mountain ranges, rivers. Linguists have done extensive studies on regional dialects,
producing detailed Linguistic Atlases. Many linguists can tell where a person is from just by knowing whether a
person carries groceries home from the supermarket in a paper bag or from the grocery store in a paper sack (Yule
184). And the person who comes home from the supermarket with a paper sack serves to remind us that
language variation is not a discrete, but rather a continuous variable. Characteristics of the dialect are more
pronounced in the center of the speech community and tend to be less discernible at the outer boundaries, where
they often overlap other regional dialects.
Within, and between, these regional variations we find the social dialects. The primary social factors that
influence dialects are class, education, occupation, ethnicity, sex, and age (Ferguson 52, Yule 191). And social
dialects can vary on any or all three descriptor levels; syntax or grammar, lexicon or vocabulary, and phonetics or
pronunciation. Social dialects are also where the described differences are often defined as stigmatized or
nonstigmatized (Ferguson 52). Stigmatized items include use of the double negative (grammar), substituting the d
sound for the leading th and losing sounds like the middle r and the final g in ing (pronunciation), and stylistic
choices such as puke for vomit (vocabulary).
There are three main types of reactions to these socially significant items.
1. Social indicators - the speaker, and often the listener, is not aware that these items are socially
significant in revealing one?s social status, so the speaker makes no attempt to avoid them when speaking in a
more formal style. This would be someone who wants to take your picture, rather than your photograph.
2. Social markers - the speaker is sensitive to these items and will avoid them in a more formal style of
speech, although the speaker may not be fully aware of why. Examples would be avoiding contractions, and
phrases like gonna or didja. Social markers are much more prevalent in American English than social indicators.
3. Social stereotypes - even speakers who regularly use these types of dialects are fully aware of the stigma
attached to them. Social stereotypes would include the copula deletion in Black English, and the loosing of sounds
a la Joe Pesci that produce phrases such as doze tree guys.
Closely related to these social class factors are education and occupation. While occupations often
produce their own jargons, a person?s occupation will also determine what style of speech is used. A lawyer and a
laborer would not be likely to use the same dialect on the job. Likewise, a person with little education is not likely
to use the same style of speech as a college professor. This does not imply that the lawyer and college professor
speak a ?better? variety of English, but because of more exposure to, and familiarity with written English, which is
usually Standard English, they tend to speak that way, also. And because many people think of Standard English
as the norm, they also think of it as the more perfect English.
Ethnicity often produces language variation, particularly among recent immigrants. But this would not
explain the endurance of Black English and Chicano English. The rather widespread survival of these dialects
seems to stem from