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"Judgements about dialects are often essentially judgements about the speakers of those dialects. Discuss."

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Introduction

Sociolinguistics Coursework. LG 102, Week 16. N.B.: All Sources referenced in Footnotes, full details of each source expounded in the Bibliography, see page 12. "Judgements about dialects are often essentially judgements about the speakers of those dialects. Discuss." Language is primarily considered to perform two major functions in society. It is designed to convey information to those around us as well as establish and maintain relationships. However, linguistically (albeit from social stereotypes) certain paradigms relating to class, social and financial status are attributed to dialects - a consensus that has been perpetuated in recent times due to the diversity of today's society and the integration of many differing dialects and languages in cities and countryside alike. Indeed, a stereotype regarding a dialect usually derives from the views held on the characteristics of its speakers. Although a direct correlation between the aforemented stereotypes and linguistic fact has little scientific basis in reality it has not served to reduce the almost established dialect prejudice rife in the media, judiciary and education systems. In the early 20th Century, the 'Sapir-Whorf Hypothesis' advanced the theory that the derivative of language we use is respective of our social, cultural and ideological background, and ever since various linguists and sociolinguists have studied dialectal differences and correlation between dialect and social judgments therein to determine the extent and implications of prevalent dialect prejudice. The size of the British Isles often leads people to discern that the languages predominant in England, Scotland, Wales and Ireland are homogenous and that one dialect ('British English') is the most prevalent throughout, but even within a nation the size of England there is a great diversity of dialect both regionally and socially. ...read more.

Middle

The subjects were then asked to gauge certain attributes regarding each speaker (friendliness, intelligence, success, etc.). The results showed that several of the dialects emerged with stereotypical traits - despite the fact that linguistically, none of the speakers had recited the passage any better or worse than the others as each speaker had been the same person adopting a series of dialects. Table 1 - Results from W.P. Robinson 'Language and Social Behaviour' (1972). RP English Intelligent, successful, not friendly. Yorkshire Dialects Perceived as... Serious, kind-hearted, not intelligent. Scottish Dialects Friendly, good-natured. Northern Dialects Industrious, reliable, lower class. It is clear from this that society assumes characteristic inferences upon others based primarily on their dialects. In short, speech characteristics of a social stereotype inherit the stereotypes evaluation. Further evidence of this is seen from an experiment conducted in America to highlight the prejudice between public reception of prominent ethnic and native dialects. A single speaker was recorded and played to listening subjects saying the word 'hello' in three dialects: Standard American English (SAE), Chicano English (ChE), and African American Vernacular English (AAVE). Variation in the tenseness of the vowel and pitch prominence on the first syllable of 'hello' was enough to elicit a significantly accurate identification of the dialects by listeners. When the stimulus was expanded to include 'Hello, I'm calling about the apartment you have advertised in the paper', in actual calls to landlords (who were obviously unaware of the experiment), the SAE speaker guise was given an appointment to see housing at roughly the seventy percent level. ...read more.

Conclusion

Though some experiments have shown that dialects are, in certain respects, revered on a purely phonetic level, analysis of large amounts of data seemed to group together paired opposites which pointed to competence, personal integrity, and social attractiveness constructs in the evaluation of speaker voices. A great deal of subsequent research in this field confirmed that these constructs were regularly at work, and, more interestingly, that standardised (or "RP English") speakers were most often judged highest on the competence dimension while nonstandard (or regionally and/or ethically distinct speakers) were rated higher for the integrity and attractiveness dimensions13. Irrespective of social background, we can see that dialects can be judged (albeit very rarely) solely upon the speaker's representation of a particular dialect. In summary, the views surrounding many of today's modern dialects are primarily based upon out-moded stereotypes of the culture that said dialects represent. Though linguists have proved that language is influenced by predominant factors within a community (surroundings, ideologies, etc.) it does not justify dialectal prejudice as the information upon which these are founded are often erroneous and generalised. There is a great deal of evidence to suggest that no dialect is linguistically inferior to any other as they all possess the capacity to convey information effectively (if they did not, they would have been discarded or adapted by its community, making their very presence today confirmation enough of their abilities). Limiting the social and occupational possibilities of a certain group of people through dialect prejudice (albeit for many a machiavellian-esque social stigma), simply preserves social asymmetries and propagates tension between differing cultural factions. WORD COUNT 2,795. ...read more.

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