What is sociolinguistics about?
Sociolinguistics is a field of study that studies language with reference to speakers and seeks to answer the following questions:
What meaning do speakers attribute to certain language features? How do people talk, when they want to look... cool? Wise? Modern? How does their speech depend on the specific language situation, interlocutors and the topic of the conversation? Why and how is language changing?
Sociolinguistics is a field of study which deals mostly with language use, particularly spoken language, but not the grammatical or phonetic structure of a language. Sociolinguists do not study a language or a linguistic variety as a closed system with no reference to speaker and social life. Sociolinguists emphasize that language use – the sociolinguistic language system – is always variable and heterogeneous.
Sociolinguists do not divide languages and speakers into "good" and "bad". They follow the so-called differentiation theory which says that all linguistic varieties (not only standard languages, but also dialects, urban languages, youth language, language of various social groups) are valuable. Their value depends on the social context and situation. Every linguistic variety performs necessary functions to its speakers, but their value differs, because their value depends on distribution of power, welfare and prestige in a certain society during a certain historical period of time under certain social, political, cultural and economic circumstances.
It is namely the social attitudes that determine which linguistic variety, language feature or style speakers choose in a certain situation. Even though people cannot command every possible linguistic resource, it is easier to achieve desirable aim if your linguistic repertoire is rich and wide. Here we talk about the communicative competence: we not only convey information, but also express our individual or group identity... and make use of it.
Studies, which investigate linguistic variants, are called micro-sociolinguistic. Studies, which investigate social aspects and language attitudes, are called macro-sociolinguistic. The range of sociolinguistic research is very wide, but all sociolinguistic studies are related to the superior aim – to identify which social factors determine the choice of linguistic variants and language change.
Object of a sociolinguistic research can be:
- language of speakers of different age, gender, social class and roles and language of various social groups;
- conversation strategies, speakers' communicative competence;
- urban and regional varieties, relation between dialects and standard language, multilingualism, language contacts;
- public language (TV, radio);
- language of the new media (text messages, Facebook, skype);
- language attitudes and their alternations (which language or linguistic varieties, language features are considered to be prestigious, nice, the most suitable in different social contexts and in different periods of time);
- language policy and standardization (which ideologies is language regulation based on, how does language policy affect language attitudes, education policy).