Saturday, 19 Jun 2021

Language and Society

Society reflects our language. Cultural differences are reflected in language in profound ways, and that a growing body of reliable scientific research provides solid evidence that our mother tongue can affect how we think and how we perceive the world.

(Deutscher, 2010, p. 7)

Linguistic Relativity

  • concerned with the possibility that human beings’ views of their environment may be conditioned by their language.

(Trudgill, 2000, p. 16)

  • Also known as the Sapir-Whorf Hypothesis.  According to this hypothesis, our language influences and shapes our cultural reality by limiting our thought processes.
  • The term ‘tingo’ may relate to this theory; tingo means extraordinary and culture-specific words.

Examples of Tingo by Adam Jacot de Boinod

Ayubowan means good morning, good afternoon, good evening, good night and good night in Sri Lanka.

Arou Pairi describes the process of rubbing noses in greeting.

Ojigi is the act of bowing in Japanese.

Pekopeko bowing one’s head repeatedly in a fawning or groveling manner. 

Languages vary across the globe, and everyone knows that the particular language a child happens to learn is just an accident of the particular culture she stumbled into.

(Deutscher, 2010, p.9)According to William Ewart Gladstone, due to the lack of Homer’s knowledge to colors, he perceived the world differently. Homer’s description about nature is different compared today.

An Excerpt from ‘Through the Language Glass’ by Guy Deutscher:

“The mark of an exceptional mind is its ability to question the self-evident, and Gladstone’s scrutiny  of the Iliad and the Odyssey left no room for doubt that there was something seriously amiss with Homer’s description of color.  Perhaps the most conspicuous example is the way Homer talked about the color of the sea. Probably the single most famous phrase from the whole Iliad and Odyssey that is still common currency today is that immortal color epithet, the “wine-dark sea.”But let’s consider this description with persnickety Gladstonian literal-mindedness for a moment. As it happens, “wine-dark” is already an act of redemptive interpretationin the translatio for what Homer actually says is oinops, which literally means “wine-looking” (oinos is “wine” and op- is the root “see”. But Gladstone’s circle of evidence is only just beginning. His second point is that Homer often describes the same object with incompatible color terms. Iron, for instance, is said to be “violet” in one passage, “gray” elsewhere, and in yet another place is referred to as aithon, a term otherwise used to refer to the color of horses, lions and oxen. Gladstone’s next point is how remarkably colorless Homer’s vibrant verse is.”

 Example of Language Difference based in a cultural variations:

English          Sami (Northern Scandinavian Language)
Reindeer (There’s only one word of reindeer in English.  Their vocabulary for reindeer is even more impressive, with as many as one thousand terms devoted to the description of reindeer. The Sami have words that describe every detail of a reindeer’s appearance, behavior, movement, personality, habits, and location, as well as the interplay between all these aspects.  
Text Box: For example, the word “sietnjanjunni” translates as “a reindeer with the hair nearest to its nostrils having a different color than one would expect in view of the color of the rest of its hair.” Imagine 999 other terms and you just might have a sense of the ancient and profound bond between the reindeer and the reindeer walkers.

Social Stratification refers to a society’s categorization of its people into groups based on socioeconomic factors like wealth, income, race, education, ethnicity, gender, occupation, social status, or derived power (social and political).

Social Stratification is the product of social differentiation and social evaluation. (Barber, 1957, pp. 1-3)

E.g., The Social Stratification of English in New York City: A study by William Labov.

Non Rhotic vs. Rhotic

Non rhotic  relating to, having, or being an accent or dialect in English in which an /r/ sound is not retained before consonants (as in pronouncing hard and cart) and at the end of a word (as in pronouncing ca/r/ and fa/r/).

StepsIndependent VariablesDependent VariablesRespondents
Chose a specific location where it incorporates social statusHe asks a particular section from each mall that leads to fourth floor (Fourth Floor)  The store Floor within the store Sex Age (estimated in units of five years) Occupation (Floorwalker, sales, cashier, stockboy) Race Foreign or regional accent if any  The use of (r) in occurrences Casual: Fourth floor Emphatic: Fourth FloorSaks= 68 interviews Macy’s= 125 Kleins= 71 Total: 264 subjects approximately 6.5 hours  

Facts about William Labov’s Study:

Taboo Language, a taboo is a violation or offense against certain norms. In a language context, it is simply known as: profanity, bad words, verbal insults or other offensive language terminologies.

Some Taboo Words from Different Countries:

Any word that is associated with ‘sex’ is considered taboo. 
Chicken leg = drumsticks
Breasts= Upper stomachs
Pants/Trousers= Inexpressibles
Married who speak the Kambaata follow the ballishsha, a rule that forbids them from using words that begin with the same name of their father-in-law or mother-in-law.
People in China are not allowed to say or write the name of the ‘exalted persons’, which is the emperor, ancestors, magistrates or the sages.
They can’t say the ‘N’ (nigga) word, because they would be called as racist against Africans or Black Americans.

Social Norms are practices that are morally accepted; a standardized practices in a certain culture or society.

Language Conformity refers to the languages that are acceptable. Every society has their own standard language. We conform to the standards of the society, therefore, our language may vary depending on our environment.

Sociology of Gender,  one of the largest subfields within  sociology. It features the theory and research that critically  interrogates the social construction of gender.


  • Social change can produce a corresponding linguistic change (Trudgill, 2000)

Therefore, how we view the world may change; cultures may also change. 

  • Standard English is only one variety among many, although, a peculiarly important one. Linguistically speaking, it cannot legitimately be considered better than others varieties. (Trudgill, 2000, p.9)

Therefore, there is no bad language at all, as long as it does not violate any social norms of a particular society. There is no law that states if lexicons differ from the common known-structure, it will be a bad language.

  • According to recent studies, Inferior Language has become evident due to political influence.
  • Language is not simply a means of about the weather or any other subject. It is also a very important means of establishing and maintaining relationships with people.

(Trudgill, 2000)

  • Language shapes everything that incorporates a culture: Social Class, Social Interaction and Humanity.  That’s why language and society are connected because they complement each other.

Questions to Ponder:

  1. Why do you think Language and Society are connected?
  2. What language norms do we have to imply here in Capiz to have a healthy interaction?
  3. Between in a market and in a school,  what words are most likely to be considered as Taboo?

How do men and women are perceived in a society based on their language?

Image: Pexels


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